By Tony Roy

November 3, 2014

Over the past year Connecticut social studies teachers have worked to revise the state curriculum framework to meet the expectations of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) national framework.  This is particularly important because for at least the past decade, our state has not had an officially-approved framework for social studies.  During this time Connecticut social studies teachers based their curriculum on a document branded “DRAFT.”  To many throughout the Constitution State, this document symbolized a second-class status for the discipline.

Fortunately, the C3 resurrected social studies within the context of education in the Common Core era by highlighting the skills shared with the Common Core State Standards Initiative and defining its own set of competencies especially relevant to the social studies discipline.   My experience working with Connecticut social studies educators to interpret the C3 frameworks for our state has proved to me that implementing these new frameworks requires a multigenerational approach.

As a fourth-year teacher I was among giants at those standards writing meetings.  Each woman and man seated around the table was an educator, many of whom were long-time teachers and curriculum experts, representing various generational perspectives.  As we wrestled with complex pedagogical issues and I began to experiment with inquiry in my classroom, it became clear that much work and commitment is needed to implement the C3. It also occurred to me that educators have the collective knowledge and skills necessary to make this framework a reality.  At the basis of this understanding is that good teachers know what students need to be ready for college, career, and civic life.  Good teachers know that habits of mind and action are at the core of preparing young people for life in any generation.  Good teachers know that democracy demands informed participants.  Good teachers know that a balance of skills and content knowledge is necessary for disciplinary and interdisciplinary pursuits.  Good teachers know that there are challenges ahead.

Implementing an inquiry-based approach comes with its own particular set of obstacles.  One of the initial challenges for an inquiry-based curriculum is preparing students to ask questions.  I have found that students struggle to develop compelling questions without a background in the content.  Additionally, I have struggled with the availability of relevant and accessible primary and secondary sources, a critical component to the inquiry process.  These are just some of the obstacles I have faced as I begin to migrate to a C3 approach.

One morning, while the state standards writing team was debating the best way to implement the C3 in our state, it occurred to me that each of the people at the table faced his or her own unique set of challenges and that we could all stand to learn from each other as we determine what the C3 will look like in our classrooms.

Is there one right answer?  Of course not, but the answer does lie in the sum of all of our experiences.  From my experience in the standards writing meetings, I think it would be dangerous and irresponsible to pigeonhole each generation’s perspective as offering a particular set of knowledge and/or experience.  I can say, however, that the process will be messy, but that is the point.  Democracy is messy.

Moving social studies into the current era while staying true to the disciplinary core is complicated work, but the end results are worthy of our efforts.  The C3 provides a roadmap to developing curriculum that prepares our nation’s youth for real-life applications of their educational experiences.  The inquiry process moves students closer to the center of their learning as they are challenged to engage with the content at deeper and deeper levels.  As a result students will think more critically about the content, how it relates to their life, and what tools they have at their disposal to act based on what they know.  Good educators know how to make this happen and know that they can learn from one another along the way.