Social Studies & Social Activists

December 12, 2014

By Toni Boucher

Connecticut’s classrooms have changed dramatically since we were in school. One of the most significant changes has been the transition to the Common Core Curriculum, a set of standards adopted by the State Board of Education, and rolled out in local school districts without legislative approval or oversight. Connecticut Mastery Tests are being replaced by new Smarter Balance tests which are designed to measure the effectiveness of the new standards.

Math and English curriculums have already been transformed. The state Department of Education is now working with a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including teachers and content experts, to provide a new framework for social studies.

This year, the state Department of Education released Connecticut Elementary and Secondary Social Studies Frameworks. This document describes the new method for teaching history, civics, economics and geography in elementary and secondary education classes. Officials at the Department of Education say that this document is not intended to serve as a state curriculum, but rather as a model to be used as each district sees fit.

As described by the National Council for the Social Studies, the new framework contains six underlying principles:

  • Social studies prepares the nation’s young people for success in college and their career, as well as for informed, engaged participation in civic life.
  • Inquiry is at the heart of social studies instruction.
  • Social studies involves interdisciplinary instruction and benefit from interaction with and integration of the arts and humanities.
  • Social studies is composed of deep and enduring understandings, concepts, and skills from the disciplines. Social studies instructors should emphasize skills and practices that prepare students for informed and engaged participation in civic life.
  • Social studies education has direct and explicit connections to the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies.
  • The C3 framework informs the process by which states and school districts develop social studies standards.

The educators who developed the framework describe it as an inquiry-based approach to learning, where students become advocates and “take informed action.” The framework also recognizes the role that teachers play in developing students into informed, thoughtful and active citizens. It encourages teachers to apply a new process to class activities, where students would be expected to approach each study topic through inquiry. For any given topic the suggested inquiry arc would consist of four steps:

  • Develop questions and plan inquiry
  • Apply disciplinary concepts and tools (this is where “content” is most critical)
  • Evaluate sources and use evidence
  • Communicate conclusions and take informed action

According to the framework some examples of taking informed action are:

  • Students investigate the history of Columbus’s exploration and write editorials to their local newspaper or attend a Board of Education meeting to discuss whether the town and school should celebrate Columbus Day.
  • Students studying a modern American war make a proposal to honor veterans by interviewing local veterans and establishing a local archive of these interviews.

As the ranking senator on the legislature’s Education Committee, I am concerned that the informed action this framework prescribes may not be appropriate for all students. High school students may be mature and ready for courses requiring self-direction. However, students in elementary and middle school may still be acquiring the knowledge to form their own belief system. Are they ready for independent action? Some fear that at such a young age, students are more susceptible to indoctrination. Many different factors contribute to an individual’s values. Family, religion and community influences play major roles, but so do teachers. That is why it is important that any social studies program provide students with a solid foundation of historical facts on which they can build their own worldview as they mature and grow.

The public’s involvement in their schools and boards of education is vital. It is important that parents weigh in now as the changes to their children’s education continue to unfold, rather than waiting after they are fully implemented. The State Department of Education says it will continue to welcome feedback from teachers, educational stakeholders and the general public regarding these new frameworks. The complete draft of the Connecticut Elementary and Secondary Social Studies Frameworks can be found here: