Teaching Social Studies: Summer/Fall 2018 – Research & Commentary Articles

Teaching Social Studies/Volume 18, Number 2/Summer-Fall 2018


Teaching Social Studies is distributed digitally to members of NYSCSS, NYS4A, and NJCSS. It provides opportunities for the presentation of divergent opinions by social studies educators. The views expressed do not represent the official position of the councils. For information or to submit articles, contact: Mark Pearcy (editor and NJ representative) at mpearcy@rider.edu or Alan Singer (NYS representative) at CATAJS@Hofstra.edu.

Article 1- Engaging K-6 Students in History: The Nutley History Fair, by Hank Bitten

The Nutley Academic Booster Club (ABC) (http://www.nutleyabc.org/) provides an opportunity for students in their K-6 elementary schools to participate in a science and history fair in alternating years each March. The article below reflects on my observations as a judge in the 2018 History Fair for K-6 students.  Read more…

Article 2 – This is How You Get Gun Control, by Bruce W. Dearstyne

“We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around,” Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program a few days later. It was a wrenching reminder of how long politicians have ducked responsibility for curbing killers using assault rifles. Read more…

Article 3 – You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, by Derek Pearce

American historian and activist Howard Zinn, who passed in 2010, released his memoirs in 1994 under the title “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train”. While I am sure Zinn’s words are open to interpretation, I have always taken them as a challenge: to what extent are you willing to allow history to unfold around you before taking action? For Zinn, these words were used to confront his students about their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Then, like now, there is a serious debate in teaching circles about how involved educators should be when social issues are discussed in the classroom. Read more…

Article 4 – Responses to Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Snyder argues that the founders of the United States, the revolutionary generation that wrote the Constitution and created the new nation, were fundamentally concerned with the threat of tyranny. In the eighteenth century the threat came from monarchy. In the twentieth century he argues it came from fascism, Nazism, and Stalinist communism. Snyder worries that in the twenty-first century the threat to democracy will come from virulent nationalist populism. Read more…

Article 5 – Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here, by Alan Singer

Sinclair Lewis titled his 1935 novel about a fascist threat to the United States It Can’t Happen Here. The novel tells the story of “Buzz” Windrip, who defeats Franklin Roosevelt for president in 1936 after a campaign based on stoking fear, promising unlikely economic reform, and championing patriotism and “traditional” values. Philip Roth developed a similar theme in his 2004 novel The Plot against America. This time it is 1940 and FDR is defeated for reelection by the real life aviation hero and pro-German “America First” anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh. Both books are works of fiction, but the domestic fascist threat to the United States prior to World War II was all too real. Unfortunately, and frighteningly, it may be all too real in the United States again today. Read more…

Article 6 – Culturally Responsive Webquests: Connecting Technology with Inquiry-Based Learning, by Erik Byker and Vicki Thomas

We open with a vignette. The middle school bell rings and fourth period begins. Sixth grade students are paired up on laptop computers working through a webquest on Central America. The webquest’s title is Un Viaje a Centroamérica or A Trip to Central America. The webquest exploration includes investigating Internet websites in order to create a map of Central America on a piece of paper. As the students create their maps, the buzz begins. One student exclaims to his partner, “I never knew Costa Rica was in Central America!” Another student turns to her partner and inquires, “What does the word tarea mean?” The partner replies, “I think it is a Spanish word that means something like homework or task.” The webquest is an interactive way for the middle schoolers in this vignette to engage in an authentic Internet based learning experience by exploring the culture, geography, and language of Central America through the aid of computer technology.

Article 7 – Policy Analysis as an Exit Criteria: The Case of the Participation in Government Research Paper in New York State, by Nancy Hinkley and Casey Jakubowski

Imagine the most difficult task you have faced in your life. For many students, writing an essay is one of the most challenging undertakings of their school academic career. Imagine that essay is then morphed into a research paper, a required hurdle for graduation. That is the reality facing students in New York State schools. In this reflective essay, two experienced teachers, one social studies, and one special education, examine issues created by the capstone research report for students with a learning disabilities in a rural high school setting.

Article 8 – Holocaust Education in a Polarized Society: Importance and Resources, by Brandon Haas

Emphasis in Holocaust education today should focus on learning the history, while simultaneously providing for an analysis of larger issues of human behavior, choice, stereotyping, bullying, and prejudice (Haas, 2015). As students and teachers use history as a foundation for case studies on the present, students will grow in ways that meet the needs of the 21st century citizen. They will engage in controversial discussions, which Hahn (2001) points out as one of the most effective means of engaging students in the social studies, ultimately providing them with real-world opportunities for evidence-based learning and discussion. Investigating this material in the safety of a classroom community allows students to cultivate their understanding of the world and, in turn, transfer their learning about stereotyping, violence, and injustice associated with the Holocaust to a timely study of #BlackLivesMatter, Charlottesville, immigration and Standing Rock, among many other topics. Students would consequently consider actions they might pursue through civic engagement on varying levels and the role of emotion in these decisions. Read more…

Article 9 – A New Wave of LGBT books for Children, by Peter Olson

An excellent book for young children that explores family diversity is Families, Families, Families! (Lang & Lang, 2015). This book shows humorous pictures of personified animals in different family configurations. The book contains sixteen pictures of families with different attributes, such as children who live with their Mom, their Dad, their Mom and Dad, their grandparents, their two Moms, or their two Dads. On one page, two roosters wearing neckties are standing with their three little chicks. The caption reads, “Some children have two dads” (p. 6). A few pages later, an illustration of a family of koalas contains the caption, “Some children have two mothers” (p. 13). The book ends with a grand picture of all of the characters and declares that all families have love. Read more…

Article 10 – Shake, Rattle, and Rally—and #NeverAgain: Student Activists in 1963 and Today, by Lisa K. Pennington

In March 2018, students across the United States participated in a walkout and March for our Lives to show their support for gun control reform. In the weeks leading up to the walkout and marches, outspoken student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became well known as they developed a platform for gun control reform and started the #NeverAgain movement, after 17 of their peers and teachers were killed in a mass shooting on February 14, 2018 (Gans, 2018). The Stoneman activists, as well as the students around the country who have joined the movement, are an indication of what a formidable power young people can be when they mobilize.

Article 11 – Combatting Fake News with Media Literacy

During the presidential election of 2016, there was an explosion of fake news stories that permeated many forms of media. In the CIA report on Russian interference in the election, it made estimates that the Russian government used strategically placed pieces of propaganda to depress voter turnout or cause divisions among the American people. Since the CIA report, emerging reports by Alcott and Gentzkow (2017) revealed that approximately 38 million shares of fake news led to 760 million instances of a user clicking on a story and reading it. Using social media as a primary news source is a relatively new phenomenon. Gottfried and Shearer (2016) reported recent evidence that 62% of adults in the United States view news on various social media platforms.

Article 12 – Sample 11th Grade United States “Enduring Issues” Essay

DIRECTIONS: An “Enduring Issue” is an issue or topic that exists across time in U.S. History. It is an issue that the American people have attempted to address with varying degrees of success. Read or observe the five documents below. Then identify and define an enduring issue that is common to all the documents in the set. (For instance, documents such as the Dred Scott decision, a Reconstruction literacy test, a Harlem Renaissance poem, MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham jail and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would share the issue, “The African-American struggle for equality saw many achievements and setbacks.”) Finally, write an essay in which you:
  1. Identify and define the issue using evidence from at least three documents.
  2. Argue that this is a significant issue that has endured by showing either:
    1. How the issue has affected people or been affected by people, or:
    2. How the issue has continued to be an issue or changed over time
  3. Include outside information from your knowledge of social studies and evidence from the documents.