Teachers' Perspectives on the Purposes of Social Studies Education
Throughout the relatively short history of American social studies education, its purposes have shifted in response to social and educational changes. The contest for the American social studies curriculum has continued since its inception, influenced by various stakeholders and educational theorists. Given widespread socio-political turbulence, particularly in the years following the 2016 election, this dissertation takes place at an opportune time to revisit the purposes of social studies. This dissertation explores the perceptions of 21 pre-service and in-service teachers and asks the question, “how do teachers perceive the purposes of social studies education?” To approach this question I adopted a constructivist grounded theory methodology. I conducted 21 interviews and allowed theory to emerge from the data to answer two sub-research questions: “How do pre-service and in-service teachers perceive the purposes of social studies education?”, and “How do teachers make sense of complex internal and external pressures and relate to the purposes of social studies education?” Several notable findings emerged from the results. I found teachers adhered to no singular, unifying purpose of social studies education. I argue for a fluid approach to purpose that allows for greater teacher professionalism and autonomy. When faced with pressures such as state policy, teachers exhibited varying degrees of resistance and prioritized their autonomy and the needs of their students. Teachers that resisted state policy were most commonly experienced in-service teachers. Notably, teachers perceived a debate between the importance of skills versus content in social studies education which I framed within existing educational sociology debates on the various dichotomies underpinning educational purpose; between neoconservatism and postmodernism, between instrumentalism and intrinsic meaning, between top-down policy and bottom-up context-driven instruction, between teacher alienation and self-actualization. The majority of teachers believed that developing specific social studies related skills was more important than content knowledge which highlighted a trend away from the intrinsic value of social studies knowledge and towards the instrumentalization of education. Social studies was increasingly defined by its utility. Finally, teachers noted the changing ontology of teaching itself given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid technological change.