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History and Social Science
Curriculum Framework

II. Guiding Principles

Guiding Principle One

History and social science should be studied by every student every year.

Learning history and social science takes time. Students should be introduced to these subjects early in their schooling, when they are learning to read and write. Elementary school pupils can begin to learn historical content through exposure to the drama of the past; they can become familiar with the settings in which history has unfolded; they can learn something of economics by studying history and geography; and they can learn stories and form habits suited to citizenship. Middle school students can learn more about reasoning logically as they study history and social science in greater detail. High school students can then undertake increasingly sophisticated study and interpretation. Study of history and social science can improve job opportunities, encourage civic participation, and enrich private life.

Course content in each grade span and grade level should be developmentally appropriate, increasing in complexity as students learn and mature. Important topics, texts, and documents should be restudied at several grade levels. Students should, for example, study the United States Constitution several times during their school years, each time achieving deeper understanding by considering, through reading, writing, and discussion, progressively more demanding questions.

Guiding Principle Two

PreK-12 instruction in history and social science is made coherent by teachers from all grade levels working together to achieve a properly sequenced course of study. Such a sequence prevents major gaps and needless repetitions.

Thus, every school district should provide time and resources for the needed collaboration, including partnerships with local college and university faculty members.

Guiding Principle Three

An effective history and social science curriculum emphasizes learning through the study of United States and world history, geography, economics, and civics and government.

Students need to learn of events, ideas, individuals, groups, ideals, dreams, and limitations that have shaped our country and the world. Intellectual and political freedom, informed judgment in the present and the future, and a reliable sense of one's rights, opportunities, and responsibilities depend on such learning.

In these pursuits, students should study primary and secondary sources, learn to use electronic media and to read and interpret data, become familiar with specialized vocabulary in the subject areas, and learn to draw conclusions logically from available evidence. Asking important questions, and framing reasoned opinions and arguments based on evidence depend on regular practice of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Guiding Principle Four

An effective history and social science curriculum recognizes each person as an individual, encourages respect for the human and civil rights of all people, and also emphasizes students' shared heritage as citizens, residents, and future citizens of the United States.

Citizens and residents of the United States need to know its history, traditions, ideals and principles, system of government, successes and failures, and its varied regions. The curriculum should include study of the rich and diverse contributions people of many backgrounds have made to American life and institutions.

An effective history and social science curriculum embraces study of historical interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions. Through studies in geography, economics and social history, civics and government, the arts and humanities, students learn the historical explanations for differences among people in the past and today. They learn of differences in human experience and imagination among individuals and peoples. Students also learn that individuals cannot be reduced simply to members of groups and that we are all individuals whose human and civil rights deserve respect.

Guiding Principle Five

An effective curriculum in history and social science draws on and integrates several disciplines and fields of study.

The study of history, geography, economics, and government is severely incomplete without study of the fine arts, literature, religions, ethics, and developments in science, technology, and mathematics. For example, scholarship and research in many social sciences, including anthropology and archaeology, have been advanced by discoveries in biology and chemistry, and each has expanded knowledge of ancient history. Students should learn that framing and answering questions and organizing thought often require knowledge in a number of subject areas.

Because most United States institutions and ideals trace their origins through Europe, the study of Western civilization is a central feature of a history and social science curriculum. Students must also learn by the study of other civilizations that non-Western sources have made significant contributions to Western civilization, and that the history of Western civilization includes efforts to learn about non-Western cultures, peoples, institutions, and geography.

Guiding Principle Six

The historical narrative should provide the continuous setting for learning in social science, as well as the frame of reference from which teachers choose the current events and public policy issues for student study, presentations, and classroom discussion.

The deep study of history and social science can be informed and enlivened by considering current events and issues that students perceive as significant to their own lives and to the life of their society. Current events should be chosen for their significant relation to important historical themes or turning points already under study. Assignments for papers or oral presentations should enhance student understanding of the possibilities and the limits of comparing past to present and present to past.

Last Updated: September 1, 1997
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