Social Studies at the Center: Integrating Kids, Content, and Literacy – LINDQUIST; SELWYN (CSS)

LINDQUIST, Tarry ; SELWYN, Douglas. Social Studies at the Center: Integrating Kids, Content, and Literacy. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2000. 256p. Resenha de: BRADLEY, Jon G. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.1, 2002.

As my good pal Pooh might have exclaimed in a moment of angst, this book bothers me. At times, I am not sure which eyes I should be using. If I read the volume as a social studies teacher educator, I am bothered by its apparent narrowness and lack of a well articulated and broadly based research grounding. On the other hand, if I read it as an elementary practitioner, I can see the practicality of a system that is based upon tried and true practice. Nonetheless, even in this view, I am bothered by the personal and professional power and strength of the authors and concerned that other elementary teachers may be unable to replicate the design model and, therefore, be unable to achieve the desired success.

What is proposed in Social Studies at the Center is not new. Advocating an integrated curriculum with social studies at the hub of a wheel of learning is not a particularly novel concept. In this day of first language mastery, second (and even third) language acquisition, mathematics and sciences orientations and renewed calls for more physical education programs to accompany the academic stream, elementary educators are hard pressed to focus upon and target the social studies. While the authors’ message may be a sympathetic clarion call for the social studies to command a centrist curriculum place, the hard reality of the contemporary curriculum landscape may dictate other priorities.

Essentially, Lindquist and Selwyn present their own practical planning template which they aptly term the curriculum disk. Clearly modelling Dewey’s notions of self-reflection and reflective practice over time, these two elementary practitioners have developed a specific, personal, and particular learning model that emphasizes the social studies and integrates the other acknowledged disciplines within this centering orientation.

According to the authors, the curriculum disk is a planning wheel whose central purpose is to help teachers design and organize integrated curriculum units with social studies as the key and overarching discipline. There are seven ‘R’ components that make up this planning scheme epitomized by the action verbs read, respond, research, represent, react, reflect and relate. The authors are careful to note that teachers may begin with any one of the planning verbs, may well spend more time on certain ones than others, and at all times are to make the pupils themselves part of the active learning processes that are advocated.

Social Studies at the Center begins with an introductory chapter, light on research but heavy on practice, that attempts to situate the broad discipline defined as social studies at the center of the elementary curriculum. Following chapters detail the curriculum disk organizing model and offer explicit classroom directions on how the curriculum design was carried out with classes. Samples of teacher planning as well as examples of students’ work illustrate the overall planning-learning processes in action. The last two chapters of the book deal with anticipated questions/answers as well as suggested Internet resources for the social studies.

When all is said and done, Social Studies at the Center is a rather weak and narrowly focused volume. Based almost entirely on the practical experiences of a couple of well-intentioned and no doubt effective elementary classroom teachers, the central curriculum wheel planning model that is advocated suggests that teachers make major curriculum planning decisions. While such serious curriculum decisions might well be within the scope of experienced practitioners, they certainly would flounder on the political shoals of local school boards, and furthermore, are not even on the radar screens of beginning teachers.

The volume is too ‘preachy’! There is no fault or problem that cannot be overcome if the advocated curriculum disk model is adopted. Conventional wisdom such as planning is the crux to good social studies teaching (p. 32) too often appears to trivialize the complex and intertwined processes of adult-child-discipline classroom interaction. The overriding tone of the volume seems to suggest that all will be well as long as the curriculum planning disk model is faithfully followed.

While one may applaud the particular professional viewpoints that emerge over time from the classroom environment, this has to be balanced against the possibilities of replication and improvement in a myriad of situations involving many kinds of children interacting with various classroom practitioners. While the general planning model advocated in Social Studies at the Center clearly works for the two authors, its general applicability to a larger professional audience of experienced practitioners and/or to neophyte beginners is questionable.

Jon G. Bradley – Faculty of Education. McGill University. Montreal, Quebec.

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