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Report of the Committee Om Social Studies

Of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education
of the National Education Association


1. Definition of the social studies.—The social studies are understood to be those whose subject matter relates directly to the organization and development of human society, and to man as a member of social groups.

2. Aims of the social studies.—The social studies differ from other studies by reason of their social content rather than in social aim; for the keynote of modern education is “social efficiency,” and instruction in all subjects should contribute to this end. Yet, from the nature of their content, the social studies afford peculiar opportunities for the training of the individual as a member of society. Whatever their value from the point of view of personal culture, unless they contribute directly to the cultivation of social efficiency on the part of the pupil they fail in their most important function. They should accomplish this end through the development of an appreciation of the nature and laws of social life, a sense of the responsibility of the individual as a member of social groups, and the intelligence and the will to participate effectively in the promotion of the social well-being.

More specifically, the social studies of the American high school should have for their conscious and constant purpose the cultivation of good citizenship. We may identify the “good citizen" of a neighborhood with the “thoroughly efficient member " of that neighborhood; but he will be characterized, among other things, by a loyalty and a sense of obligation to his City, State, and Nation as political units. Again, “society’’ may be interpreted to include the human race. Humanity is bigger than any of its divisions. The social studies should cultivate a sense of membership in the “world community,” with all the sympathies and sense of justice that this involves as among the different divisions of human society. The first step, however, toward a true “neighborliness " among nations must be a realization of national ideals, national efficiency, national loyalty, national self-respect, just as real neighborliness among different family groups depends upon the solidarity, the selfrespect, and the loyalty to be found within each of the component families.

High national ideals and an intelligent and genuine loyalty to them should thus be a specific aim of the social studies in American high schools.

3. The point of view of the committee.—C1) The committee adheres to the view that it was appointed, not to “obtain justice ’’ for a group of social studies as against other groups, or for one social study as against others, but to consider wherein such studies might be made to contribute most effectively to the purposes of secondary education. It believes that

the social studies require “socialization ” quite as much as other studies, and that this is of greater moment than the number of social studies offered or the number of hours assigned to each. The subject of civics may be taken to illustrate this point. Its avowed purpose is to train for citizenship. The various attempts to secure a more perfect fulfillment of this purpose by increasing the quantity of— fered, by making the subject required instead of elective, by transferring it from last year to first year of the high school or vice versa, by introducing it in the elementary course of study, by shifting the emphasis from the National Government to municipal government—such attempts have been more or less mechanical and superficial. Unless the subject matter and the methods of instruction are adapted to the pupil's immediate needs of social growth, such attempts avail little. What is true of civics is also true of the other social studies, such as history and economics. (2) The committee has refrained from offering detailed outlines of courses, on the ground that they tend to fix instruction in stereotyped forms inconsistent with a real socializing purpose. The selection of topics and the organization of subject matter should be determined in each case by immediate needs. The attempt has been, therefore, to establish certain principles, to illustrate these as far as possible by examples from actual practice, and to stimulate initiative on the part of teachers and school administrators in testing proposed method or in judicious experiments of their own. No sensible teacher of history asks how many facts he is to teach. No two teachers—if good ones—would teach the same number of facts or just the same facts to the same pupils or class, and much less to different classes. No sensible teacher asks what kind of facts he shall teach, expecting to receive in answer a tabulation of his material. He knows that general rules accompanied by suitable illustrations are the only useful answer to these questions. (Elementary course of study in geography, history, and civics, Indianapolis.) (3) One principle the committee has endeavored to keep before it consistently throughout this report because of its fundamental character. It is contained in the following quotation from Prof. Dewey: We are continually uneasy about the things we adults know, and are afraid the child will never learn them unless they are drilled into him by instruction before he has any intellectual use for them. If we could really believe that attending to the needs of present growth would keep the child and teacher alike busy, and would also provide the best possible guarantee of the learning needed in the future, transformation of educational ideals might soon be

accomplished, and other desirable changes would largely take care of themselves.

The high-school course has heretofore been determined too largely by supposed future needs and too little by present needs and past experience. The important fact is not that the pupil is getting ready to live, but that he is living, and in immediate need of such mental and social nourishment and training as will enable him to adjust himself to his present social environment and conditions. By the very processes of present growth he will make the best possible provision for the future. This does not mean that educational processes should have no reference to the future. It does not mean, to use a concrete illustration, that a boy should be taught nothing about voting until he is 21 and about to cast his first ballot. It means merely that such instruction should be given at the psychological and social moment when the boy's interests are such as to make the instruction function effectively in his processes of growth. A distinction should be made between the “needs of present growth '' and immediate, objective utility. As a boy's mental and social horizon broadens with the processes of education, he will become inquisitive about facts and relations perhaps long before he has direct use for them in the affairs of life. The best question that can be asked in class is the question that the pupil himself asks because he wants to know, and not the question the teacher asks because he thinks the pupil some time in the future ought to know.

(4) For effective social training in the high school more consideration must be given to its organic continuity with the work of the elementary school in the same field. Opinion differs as to the grades when the social studies as such should be introduced, especially in the case of civics. This question is beyond the scope of this committee's consideration, except in its relation to the seventh and eighth years. These years are now in some places included with the ninth year in the junior high school, and must, therefore, be considered in any plan for the reorganization of secondary education. But even where the junior high-school plan is not adopted, the foundations of secondary education must be laid in the years preceding the present high school.

4. General outline of social studies for secondary schools.--Assuming that provision has been made for the social aspect of education in Grades I-VI of the elementary school, the following general plan of social studies is proposed for the years VII-XII: Junior cycle (years VII-IX): Geography. European history. American history. Civics. Senior cycle (years X-XII): European history. American history. Problems of democracy—social, economic, and political.

5. The “cycle * plan of organization—two threewear cycles preceded by an earlier sir-wear cycle.— From the foregoing general outline it will be seen that the course of social studies proposed for the years

VII-IX constitutes a cycle to be followed by a similar cycle in the years X-XII, and presumably preceded by another similar cycle in the six elementary grades. This grouping coincides roughly with the physiological periods of adolescence, but is based chiefly upon the practical consideration that large numbers of children complete their schooling with the sixth grade and another large contingent with the eighth and ninth grades. The course recommended in this report aims to provide a comprehensive, and in a sense complete, course of social study for each period. Those pupils who continue through the third period cover the same cycle provided for in the first and second periods, but with broader horizon, new relations, and more intensive study. The Philadelphia course of study now in preparation and soon to be published, and the Indianapolis course of study described in Bulletin, 1915, No. 17, United States Bureau of Education, illustrate with variations the cycle organization of the six elementary grades. Within this period the pupils get at least some picture of the development of civilization as typified in the customs, historic personages and dramatic events of ancient and modern nations. They also acquire the simpler elements of American history from the period of exploration to the present time. This historical study is made in close relation with geographical study. Civic and social relations, beginning with the simple relations of home life in the first grade and gradually including the elemental relations of the larger community life, form a continuous phase of the work. In the sixth year of the Philadelphia course emphasis is placed upon economic or vocational relations, largely through a concrete study of occupations. In the Indianapolis course a similar though perhaps less intensive study of occupations is made, chiefly in connection with geography (general and local) and with especial emphasis in the fourth, fifth, and sixth years; while in the sixth year a somewhat systematic though elementary study is made of the more important “elements of community welfare.” With such a coarse of study, the pupil who leaves school after completing the sixth grade will have acquired some experience with practically the whole range of social studies—history (both ancient and modern, European and American); government in its relations to community welfare; economics in its simpler occupational relations, and also on the side of saving, thrift, conservation; and even sociology in very elementary and concrete terms. Elementary as the course is, and inadequate as it may be from the point of view of the pupil's future social efficiency, it is doubtless all that he can well assimilate at his stage of mental and social growth. It will now require only a glance at the outline of courses suggested for the years VII-IX and X-XII on pages 5, 6 and 15, of this report to make apparent without further discussion the completeness with which the cycle organization is provided for.

6. Differentiation of courses.—The course of study outlined is flexible and permits of differentiation to any extent necessary to meet the needs of characteristic groups of pupils. It is an open question how far such differentiation is desirable, especially in the years VII-IX. It is a fallacy, for example, to imagine that the children of native-born Americans need civic education any less than the children of immigrants; or that the pupils of a school in a purely residential suburb require instruction in industrial history or vocational civics any less than the pupils of a school in an industrial district. But the scope and emphasis of such courses may well vary in the different cases. It is conceivable that in a class of immigrant children more emphasis might be given to American history and less to European history than in a class of native children. In both European and American history the selection of topics for emphasis should, within certain limits at least, be made to meet industrial or other specific needs. As suggested on pages 13-14, community civics needs special adaptation to rural conditions and requirements.

The committee can not emphasize too strongly its belief in the desirability of such careful adjustment of courses to local and current circumstances. It is believed that the flexibility of the course of social studies offered and the principles suggested for the organization of subject matter (see especially under the section on History, pp. 16-17), lends themselves readily to such adjustment.

7. Adaptation to the 8-4 and 6-3-3 plans of organization.—The validity of the committee's recommendations and suggestions is not dependent upon the adoption of the junior and senior high-school organization. There is only one point at which the adoption or non-adoption of this organization would seem to make any difference in the completeness with which the course of social studies herein proposed for the years VII-IX could be carried out. If it is true that under the 8-4 organization more pupils are likely to leave school at the end of the eighth year than would be the case under the 6-3-3 organization, it would mean simply that a larger percentage of pupils would fail to complete the cycle of social studies provided for the years VII-IX.

The committee believes, however, that the very nature of its proposed course in civics in the ninth year will tend to keep in school, even under the 8-4 organization, many of those to whom the traditional history courses usually given in the ninth year would offer no inducement to remain. However, it is partly to meet the needs of those who, under either organization, leave school at the end of the eighth year that the committee urgently recommends the inclusion of an elementary course in community civics in that year. This course, if planned with that end in view, will consummate a complete, though necessarily abbreviated, cycle in the years VII-VIII. Let it be repeated, however, that one of the chief purposes of both eighth and ninth year civics should be to provide the pupil with a motive for the continuation of his education.



Geography, history, and civics are the social studies that find a proper place in the seventh, eighth, and ninth years. The geography should be closely correlated with the history and civics, and should be thoroughly socialized. The history should include European as well as American history. The civics should be of the “community civics " type (see pp. 9-14, following). In addition, it is desirable to emphasize the social aspects of other studies, such as hygiene or other science, and even arithmetic. (For a description of “community arithmetic " see “Civic Education in Elementary Schools as Illustrated in Indianapolis,” Bulletin, 1915, No. 17, United States Bureau of Education, pp. 23-26.)

1. Alternative programs for years VII-IX.Opinion and practice vary as to the organization of the social studies in these three years. It is the belief of the committee that the organization should be adapted to local circumstances, and that no one plan should be recommended as best for every case. The following alternative plans are suggested; it is not intended, however, to preclude the possibility of other adjustments that local conditions may require.

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Education. In the seventh year geography occupies three periods a week throughout the year, alternating with European history on the other two days. Civics is taught only as a phase of the geography, history, and other subjects, with more or less attention to it in the opening exercises. In the eighth year United States history occupies three periods a week, alternating with civics on the other two days. Geography is taught in this year only as a factor in the other two subjects. It should be said in passing that while civics does not appear as a distinct subject in the Indianapolis schools until the eighth year, it is systematically taught as an aspect of other subjects throughout the elementary grades beginning with the first. The aim in the Indianapolis elementary schools seems to be to make of education, not a process of instruction in a variety of subjects, but a process of living, of growth, during which the various relations of life are unfolded—civic, geographical, historical, ethical, vocational, etc. In the first grade, for example, the pupil does not even study “English " or “language" he merely does things, and talks about things, and hears and tells stories about things, the teacher alone being conscious that she is giving the child his first organized lessons in civic life, as well as in the use of the English language. (Civic Education in Elementary Schools as Illustrated in Indianapolis, Bulletin, 1915, No. 17 United States Bureau of Education, p. 9.)

Even in the eighth year, where civics appears as a separate “subject,” alternating throughout the year with American history, the co-ordination is so close (in the hands of a skilful teacher) that the pupils are hardly conscious that they are studying two “subjects.” They are rather studying certain phenomena of life in two aspects—historical and civic. It is this aim that gives to the Indianapolis plan its chief distinction. It is perhaps an ideal aim. Its accomplishment, however, requires skilful teaching. It is only fair to say that even in Indianapolis there are principals and teachers who prefer the plan which existed in that city prior to the adoption of the present plan a year or two ago, and who, indeed, still follow it. This plan is next described. (b) By this second plan the social studies are taken up in sequence. Civics occupies the entire attention (so far as the social studies are concerned) five days in the week, in the last half of the eighth year. It is preceded by the courses in history, and these in turn by geography. Of course geography also appears as an element in the history work, European and American. More or less civics instruction may be given prior to the last half of the eighth grade as a phase of history, geography, and other subjects.

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The chief advantage claimed for this plan is the concentration and continuity of interest and attention. It is perhaps particularly important that attention be concentrated upon civics at the time just before the pupils enter high school or leave school altogether. This last argument may doubtless lose some of its force under the Junior High School plan of organization, if it be assumed that the latter would keep pupils in school at least a year longer and would provide further civic training in that year. At all events, of the two plans described, the second is perhaps more likely to be effective in the hands of the great majority of teachers, and especially of those who are inexperienced.

(c) A third general plan of organization, which admits of variations, is characterized by the introduction of civics as a distinct subject in the lower grades for one or more periods a week, and its continuation in increasing amount until the climax is reached in the seventh and eighth years. A plan of this kind is now being developed in Philadelphia. The advantages claimed for it are the cumulative effect of continuous civics instruction through the pupil's early years, and the definiteness secured by fixing attention upon the subject as such, even if for only one or two periods a week, instead of depending upon the interest and skill of the teacher to develop the subject incidentally to the teaching of other subjects.

Objections that have been raised to this plan are (1) the multiplication of “subjects " in the elementary curriculum; (2) the difficulty of maintaining interest and securing effective results from subjects taught one or two periods a week; (3) the belief that the very fact of designating a few periods a week for the study of “civics " would tend to the neglect of the civic aspects of instruction in other subjects. Data are not available to prove the validity of these objections.

3. Time allotment for civics in years VII-IXAn objection has been raised to the amount of civics recommended for the years VII-IX on the ground that it is out of proportion to the time available for the social studies. This objection appears to be due in part to a misconception of the meaning of the term, and of the scope of the work intended to be included under it. The term “community civics" has arisen (it was not invented by this committee) to distinguish the new type of civics from the traditional “civil government,” to which the name civics was also applied. Unfortunately, the term has been interpreted by many as applying to a purely local study. From what is said on pages 10 and 11, it should be clear that the committee is not recommending a course, even in the eighth year, that is restricted to a study of “ the pupil's own town;” and much less that it is recommending two consecutive years of such study. The proposed ninth year course (see pp. 11-14) is “civics" in that it is a specific course of training for citizenship; it is “community civics" solely in the sense of maintaining the point of view, the spirit, the general method, though not the same content in detail, which characterize the earlier course to which the name has been applied.

Although the committee recommends a course in civics in both eighth and ninth years, it does not necessarily follow that there must be or should be two full years of the subject. The committee has only suggested a half-year course in the eighth year (a daily period for one-half year, or two or three periods a week for the entire year). And while it has suggested a course for the ninth year that, in the committee's opinion, might well occupy the entire year under certain circumstances, this course is capable of adjustment to half-year requirements when conditions make it desirable. (See p. 6).


There are here given, with some comment, extracts from the course of study in geography and history in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades of the Indianapolis schools, as published in 1914. These illustrate, as well as anything available to the committee, the socialization of geography and the co-ordination between geography, history, and civics. It has seemed well to include the sixth year in order to show the continuity of method from the elementary to the secondary period and because of its relation to the cycle organization. Sirth-grade geography.—The geography of this year includes a study of Africa and South America in the first half and of the United States in the second half. By the time children reach the sixth grade they are sufficiently mature to approach the study of a continent or country with some problem in mind. Facts are needed in the solution of this problem; they should not, however, be given as isolated scraps of knowledge, but should be made to contribute to the working out of the problem. The most vital problems, however, grow out of current events that stimulate questions in the minds of the children. Therefore problems may change from year to year.

The following may be taken as typical of the problems studied in this year:

1. Considering the proximity of Africa to Europe, why have there been so few settlements and explorations until recently?

2. Egypt was once the leading power of the world, to-day a country of little influence and under the domination of

England. Why?

3. No part of the world is attracting more attention than South America. What are the reasons?

4. Brazil, a country nearly as large as the United States and known to European countries for over 400 years, has a population only one-fourth as large as that of the United States and is just beginning to take a prominent part in international affairs. Reasons?

5. What are the factors which have been largely influential in developing the United States into a great industrial nation ?

To illustrate the method by which such problems are developed, the following suggestive outline for the fourth problem enumerated above is given: I. Why was the development of Brazil so retarded ? A. Character and policy of early settlers.

1. Portuguese influence. 2. Policy toward Indians.

3. Introduction of slaves and consequent predominance of negro labor. B. Location and climate retarded development. 1. Largely in Southern Hemisphere. 2. Chiefly in Torrid Zone. C. Topography retarded development. 1. Forests. 2. Mountains parallel to southeastern coast. 3. Great plateau beyond wall of woods and rock. 4. Coastal plain very narrow. D. Drainage helped to retard development.

II. What factors are contributing to its great growth today? A. Its location. 1. In South America. a. All but two countries of South America border on Brazil. b. Great extent of coast line. 2. Nearer to Europe and North America than the other two progressive countries of South America. B. Topography and climate. 1. Modification of climate by mountains and table-lands. 2. Mountains accessible to short railroads connecting inland towns with coast. 3. Southern part temperate and healthful. C. Character of later settlers. 1. Over 200,000 Germans in Rio do Sul. 2. Even greater number of Italians; work on and own coffee plantations. 3. Portuguese, Spaniards, Syrians, etc. D. Great natural wealth. 1. Forest resources. 2. Mines. 3. Agricultural resources. 4. Grazing lands. E. Increased transportation facilities. 1. Development of navigation on the Amazon. 2. Navigation of Paraguay River. 3. Few railroads. but increasing in number. 4. Steamship lines to Europe and North America. Principal harbors and exports.

Sirth-grade history.—The prominence of the historical factor in the geography of this year will be suggested by the typical outline given above. In addition to this “incidental" historical study, the period of discovery and colonization is studied in story form parallel with the geography of the first half year, and that from the Revolution on in the second half year parallel with the geography of the United States. The stories of Livingstone, Cecil Rhodes, Stanley and Kitchener are taken up along with the geography of Africa. A very elementary textbook in history is used for the first time in this grade.

It should be remarked that this sixth-year history work is the culmination of the elementary six-year cycle, which began with a study of the meaning of national holidays and of Hiawatha's childhood in the first two grades, was continued in the third and fourth grades with pioneer stories and biography from American history, and in the fifth grade with the elements of European and Oriental history, based on “Ten Boys.” In the fifth grade, also, the modern awakening of Japan is studied, with the story of “Perry and Japan " as a basis.

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