December 1st, 2011
07:34 AM ET

Herczog: Social Studies education is key to preparing our next generation

By Michelle M. Herczog, Special to CNN

Courtesy Michelle HerczogEditor’s note: Dr. Michelle M. Herczog is a former classroom teacher and Reading Specialist and is currently the History-Social Science Consultant at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Council for the Social Studies, which is holding its annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week. Dr. Herczog has authored numerous social studies curriculum materials, provided professional development to hundreds of K-12 educators, and actively advocates for legislation to support effective social studies education at local, state and national levels.

The Arab Spring, Climate Change, Occupy Wall Street, Race to the White House, and the Super Committee. Real challenges in today’s world require great thinkers, innovative problem solvers and engaged citizens of a global community. How do we prepare the next generation to address these complex challenges?

The answer lies with Social Studies education. No other subject area offers the core content knowledge and deep critical thinking about the history of the world; the impact of geography on people, places and events; the cause and effect of complex economic conditions; and the role and responsibilities of governments and citizens. Social Studies provide the background knowledge, capacity for problem solving and critical thinking, as well as the collaboration and communication skills needed to address today’s problems head on in intelligent, thoughtful ways. And whether students’ lives lead them to college or the workforce, they must also be prepared to address complex challenges as effective, engaged citizens of our nation and our world in the 21st century.

Now, more than ever, we need to reenergize our efforts to mobilize educators, families, community members and policymakers at local, state and national levels to adopt the moral and civic imperative to prepare students for college, career AND citizenship. The recently released “Guardian of Democracy: Civic Mission of Schools” Report cites research findings that students who receive highly effective civic learning are more likely than their counterparts to understand public issues, view political engagement as a means of addressing communal challenges, and participate in civic activities.

By elevating and strengthening the role of Social Studies education in policy and practice across our nation, we can indeed, fulfill our collective civic mission for the young people we serve, the life of our democracy, and the future of our world.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Michelle Herczog.

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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Rethinking Schools

    Very good points made in both the article and comments. We're a non-profit publisher, and one of our editors was a high school social studies teacher for many years. He published some great books that can be used in social studies classrooms. They include Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration, and in collaboration with the Zinn Education Project, "A People's History for the Classroom." Plus, there are well over 100 free downloadable teaching materials available at the Zinn Education Project website:

    December 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  2. M.Marcy

    As a current High School senior, I agree with this article whole heartily. I believe that we need to have a stronger Social Studies/ History education. I use things I learned in my U.S history class in every other class I have taken. Not only do Social Studies/ History classes teach students about where we came from and the struggles that our predecessors went through but it also teach critical thinking skill and to connect the dots. I learned how to write a better and more informative essay from my U.S History class then i ever did in my English class. Also i think that you need to have the right teachers teaching Social Studies/ History. They have to be non-bias and not push student to think a certain way but to show students both side of the world and help them come to there own conclusions. When we understand what is going on in the world we can have more of a say in how us as individuals can shape it.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  3. John Trent

    John Trent. This article is right on target

    December 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  4. CamS

    We need to strengthen secondary education in the US for all subjects. I am a teacher in Seoul, South Korea, and am very shocked by how much my kids know. I think that the big difference is parental involvement. Parents are the first and most important teachers that kids have. I read a previous story about how parents just asking how their kids day was at school, can have the affect of an extra hour of studying. Having lived overseas for a few years I see the reasons why the US is losing out to the rest of the world. One of the big things is getting are kids to study more, not just so that they know more, but so they can think and understand more.

    December 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  5. JJ

    I think a number of our educational and historical deficiencies will diminish if families just take the time to pick up some good books and turn off the flippin' boob tube.

    December 2, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Suzie

      I totally agree. I have 2 kids, a son 18 and a daughter 16. When my daughter was 5, we had the TV disconnected. We do have a DVD player, but we spend much more time reading and spending time together as a family. I only have a high school education and am a single mom, but my son loves trigonometry, calculus, and physics. For over 6 years, my daughter has held steadfast to the dream of being a history teacher with a minor in photography, and someday a mother. We do not come from an affluent background. I say these things because I believe the key to changing our society begins at home, and the upbringing we give our children. Education is so important, but without a positive home environment, the interest in education rarely sticks.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  6. Erlenmeyer

    I definitely agree we should spend more time on social studies, but I remember when I was in school we spent so much time on ancient cultures and civilizations and very little time on anything that happened after 1950. So much happened in the last 60 years that many people around my age group (20-30) don't really understand, because we were not born yet or too young to understand what was going on at the time.

    December 2, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • alison

      I agree!
      In 8th grade us history, we didn't get past reconstruction. We didn't cover anything past the 19th century until last year, and we had to go over everything so quickly so we could be prepared for the exam.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  7. D. Hardy

    Not only do I agree with what was said, However, I believe that African American children need to be made aware of the rolls that Blacks held in the United States. Those that know where they came from and what there ancestors have accomplished can do far better then those that have no idea what their ancestors have accomplised. The positve facts need to be taught in the classroom to build one's self esteem. Not only the mentality of slavery but also the knowledge that the first heart transplant was done by a black man. That traffic lights were made by blacks. These need to be reninterate in the class rooms just like the european culture is taught. I believe that would build a better American!

    December 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm |