Social Studies - Social Studies in Washington State
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If you have further questions
about Social Studies education, contact:

Carol Coe, Social Studies
Program Supervisor


Social Studies

Social Studies in Washington State

Social Studies helps students become responsible citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society within an interdependent world. Through the exploration of history, geography, economics, and civics, students learn about the people, places, issues, eras, and events that shape our world.

What is social studies education?

What capacities does the social studies curriculum build in young people?

What is responsible citizenship?

What does the study of social studies provide?


What is Social Studies education?
Social Studies in Washington State contributes to developing responsible citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society within an interdependent world. Social Studies equips learners to make sound judgments and take appropriate actions that will contribute to sustainable development of human society and the physical environment.

Social Studies comprises the study of relationships among people, and between people and the environment. Social Studies recognizes the challenges and benefits of living in a diverse cultural and ideological society. The resulting interactions are contextualized in space and time and have social, political, economic, and geographical dimensions.

Based on appropriate investigations and reflections within Social Studies, students develop distinctive skills and a critical awareness of the human condition and emerging spatial patterns and the processes and events that shape them.

What capacities does the Social Studies curriculum build in young people?
The Social Studies curriculum builds the following capacities in young people: disciplinary knowledge; inquiry, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills; respect for the underlying values of a diverse democratic society; interest in public affairs and competencies of self-government. Each capacity contributes uniquely to responsible citizenship.

First, the Social Studies curriculum builds disciplinary knowledge. Disciplinary knowledge is fundamental for students to construct meaning through understanding powerful ideas drawn primarily from the disciplines of history, geography, civics, and economics.

Second, the Social Studies curriculum cultivates inquiry, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills. These skills are infused throughout the four Social Studies disciplines so that students apply the methods of social science to effectively participate in public life. Aided by appropriate technologies, students gather, interpret, and analyze information to be informed citizens. Their ability to engage in civic discourse improves through practice of discussion and interpersonal skills. Critical thinking skills encourage reasoned decisions as well as alternative viewpoints regarding matters of public concern.

Third, the Social Studies curriculum promotes respect for the underlying values of a diverse democratic society. As a result, students comprehend the ideals of democracy and strive to live their lives in accordance with them. A reasoned commitment to democratic values motivates citizens to safeguard their rights, to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, and to honor the dignity of all people.

Fourth, the Social Studies curriculum stimulates interest in public affairs and strengthens competencies of self-government though citizen participation experiences. Students are encouraged to inform themselves about public affairs and to become active participants in civic life rather than passive bystanders. They are urged to uphold the rule of law in their personal and social lives and to challenge wrongdoing. Efforts to understand multiple perspectives about local, national, and international issues are supported by the curriculum. Through activities such as service learning and political action, the Social Studies curriculum equips students to improve their communities and to realize the civic virtue of serving.

Ultimately, responsible citizenship rests on these capacities. Social Studies education for responsible citizenship must be a compelling priority if we expect to sustain our constitutional democracy. The health of our democracy depends on whether young people understand the complexities of human society and can govern themselves competently.

What is responsible citizenship?
A responsible citizen:

  • Uses knowledge of the past to construct meaningful understanding of our history in order to enrich and enlighten our lives. (Historical Perspective)
  • Uses knowledge of geographical concepts, such as spatial patterns and both human and natural systems, to understand processes that impact our world. (Geographic Perspective)
  • Uses knowledge of government, law, and politics to make decisions about and take action on local, national, and international issues to further the public good. (Civic Perspective)
  • Uses knowledge of production, distribution, and consumption within modern economics to make decisions. (Economic Perspective)
  • Uses a wide range of Social Studies skills, including critical thinking, to investigate and analyze a variety of resources and issues and seek answers. (Critical Thinking Skills)
  • Uses effectively both group process and communication skills to participate in democratic decision making. (Interpersonal and Group Skills)

What does the study of Social Studies provide?

  • The Social Studies provides a remarkable opportunity to engage students in the enduring dilemmas embedded in the study of community, family, and society. Examining these dilemmas makes Social Studies come alive for students and allows them to explore the role of responsible citizen. Through this learning, students model responsible citizenship and are more committed to enhancing the social fabric in which they live.
  • The Social Studies provides a unique forum for acquiring historical perspective, practicing respectful processes of engagement, and developing a passion for contributing to the common good of the immediate and larger community.

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   Updated 10/24/2012

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