Secondary Social Science Education
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Secondary Education Social Science (SESS) program prepares future teachers to be reflective practitioners and effective decision makers who facilitate student learning in civics, economics, geography, government, history, psychology, and/or sociology. We seek to recruit high quality students and to encourage them to become self-directed, civically competent, life-long learners. We also seek to provide comprehensive social studies instruction and to foster education research and service to enhance policy making and professional development at state, regional, national, and international levels. Our methodology and pedagogy are guided by the purpose of social studies education as defined by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), which is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.
Secondary Education Social Studies (SESS) Faculty
“Powerful social studies teaching helps students develop enduring understandings in the core content areas of civics, economics, geography, and history, and assures their readiness and willingness to assume citizenship responsibilities. Powerful social studies learning leads to a well-informed and civic-minded citizenry that can sustain and build on democratic traditions.” ~Excerpt from the NCSS Vision Statement
Programs of Study
Bachelors of Science in Education
Master of Arts
Alternative Master of Arts
NCSS Goals of Social Studies and the Secondary Education Social Studies (SESS) Program
In accordance with the purpose statement of the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), our program emphasizes an understanding that teaching and learning in social studies are powerful when they are meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active. The vital task of preparing students to become culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world is complex. The social studies disciplines are diverse, encompassing an expansive range of potential content. This content engages students in a comprehensive process of confronting multiple dilemmas, and encourages students to speculate, think critically, and make personal and civic decisions based on information from multiple perspectives.
A powerful and rigorous social studies curriculum provides strategies and activities that engage students with significant ideas, and encourages them to connect what they are learning to their prior knowledge and to current issues, to think critically and creatively about what they are learning, and to apply that learning to authentic situations.
Teaching social studies powerfully and authentically begins with a deep knowledge and understanding of the subject and its unique goals. Social studies programs prepare students to identify, understand, and work to solve the challenges facing our diverse nation in an increasingly interdependent world. Education for citizenship should help students acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives. Competent and responsible citizens are informed and thoughtful, participate in their communities, are involved politically, and exhibit moral and civic virtues.
As a leading producer of secondary (7-12) social studies teachers within the state of Alabama, we work to blend the NCSS purpose statement and goals with the Alabama Course of Study for secondary social studies: http://alex.state.al.us/browseSS.php. In this role, we are in agreement with the NCSS in recognizing that:
- meaningful social studies builds curriculum networks of knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes that are structured around enduring understandings, essential questions, important ideas, and goals.
- key concepts and themes are developed in depth. The most effective social studies teachers do not diffuse their efforts by covering too many topics superficially. Breadth is important, but deep and thoughtful understanding is essential to prepare students for the issues of 21st century citizenship.
- skills necessary to help our students thrive in a world of continuous and accelerating change are emphasized. These include discipline-based literacy, multi-disciplinary awareness, information gathering and analysis, inquiry and critical thinking, communication, data analysis and the prudent use of twenty-first century media and technology. Skills are embedded throughout meaningful social studies lessons, rather than added on at the end.
- teachers are reflective in planning, implementing, and assessing meaningful curriculum. Reflective teachers are well informed about the nature and purposes of social studies, have a continually growing understanding of the disciplines that they teach, and keep up with pedagogical developments in the field of social studies.
- meaningful curriculum includes extensive and reflective study of the United States and other nations’ histories, religions, and cultures.
- social studies subjects are rich, interrelated disciplines, each critical to the background of thoughtful citizens. The social studies curriculum is integrative, addressing the totality of human experience over time and space, connecting with the past, linked to the present, and looking ahead to the future. Focusing on the core social studies disciplines, it includes materials drawn from the arts, sciences, and humanities, from current events, from local examples and from students’ own lives.
- each of the social studies disciplines themselves integrates content from the others. Units and lessons can draw on ideas from economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology to increase understanding of an event or concept. Each disciplined pursuit demands a level of sensitivity and awareness to content drawn from the arts, humanities, and sciences.
- powerful social studies teaching combines elements of all the disciplines as it provides opportunities for students to conduct inquiry, develop and display data, synthesize findings, and make judgments.
- social studies teaching and learning requires effective use of technology, communication, and reading/writing skills that add important dimensions to students’ learning.
- social studies teachers recognize that students do not become responsible, participating citizens automatically. The values embodied in our democratic form of government, with its commitment to justice, equality, and freedom of thought and speech, are reflected in social studies classroom practice.
- social studies teachers develop awareness of their own values and how those values influence their teaching. They assess their teaching from multiple perspectives and, when appropriate, adjust it to achieve a better balance.
- students are made aware of potential policy implications and taught to think critically and make decisions about a variety of issues, modeling the choices they will make as adult citizens.
- students learn to assess the merits of competing arguments, and make reasoned decisions that include consideration of the values within alternative policy recommendations.
- through discussions, debates, the use of authentic documents, simulations, research, and other occasions for critical thinking and decision making, students learn to apply value-based reasoning when addressing problems and issues.
- students engage in experiences that develop fair-mindedness, and encourage recognition and serious consideration of opposing points of view, respect for well-supported positions, sensitivity to cultural similarities and differences, and a commitment to individual and social responsibility.
- student work should reflect a balance between retrieval and recitation of content and a thoughtful examination of concepts in order to provide intellectual challenges. The teacher must explain and model intellectual standards expected of students. These include, but are not limited to: clarity, precision, completeness, depth, relevance, and fairness.
- challenging social studies instruction makes use of regular writing and the analysis of various types of documents, such as primary and secondary sources, graphs, charts, and data banks. It includes sources from the arts, humanities, and sciences, substantive conversation, and disciplined inquiry.
- disciplined inquiry, in turn, includes the teaching of sophisticated concepts and ideas, and in-depth investigation of fewer rather than more topics, with deep processing and detailed study of each topic.
- challenging social studies includes the rigorous teaching of the core disciplines as influential and continually growing tools for inquiry.
- active lessons require students to process and think about what they are learning. There is a profound difference between learning about the actions and conclusions of others and reasoning one’s way toward those conclusions. Active learning is not just “hands-on,” it is “minds-on.”
- students work individually and collaboratively, using rich and varied sources, to reach understandings, make decisions, discuss issues and solve problems.
- student construction of meaning is facilitated by clear explanation, modeling, and interactive discourse. Explanation and modeling from the teacher are important, as are student opportunities to ask and answer questions, discuss or debate implications, and participate in compelling projects that call for critical thinking.
- powerful social studies teachers develop and/or expand repertoires of engaging, thoughtful teaching strategies for lessons that allow students to analyze content in a variety of learning modes.
Student Comments about the Secondary Education Social Studies (SESS) Program
“The program at U.A. has been an extraordinary experience. The faculty is always helpful, knowledgeable, and deeply concerned with your professional growth. They provide an atmosphere where you are free to express your unique teaching style, while always providing constructive advice to support your continuous improvement. The program is always mindful to prepare you for the professional responsibilities of modern education, but never loses sight of the goal of a humanizing educational experience. The faculty and courses encompassed in the SESS program have the power to shift the paradigm of public education by creating teachers with the praxis and pedagogy to effect profound social change.” – Joshua Lawhorn
“The University of Alabama’s program in secondary education is tremendous. The faculty and staff are amazing, and the program’s resources are second to none. Students leave the program well equipped for the classrooms that await them.” – Nathan Clough
“After deciding to enter the SESS graduate program I still experienced a degree of trepidation. Being in my mid-forties, I feared feeling isolated within many of the classes because I assumed that I would be twice the age of the average student, if not even senior to my professors. I also had experienced, as an undergraduate in a different college, a certain mild degree of hostility directed at me because of my Christian faith. During the year and a half in The University of Alabama’s College of Education as a graduate student pursuing an Alternative Master’s, I have found my fears to be unfounded. The professors and instructors are all friendly, helpful professionals who model the techniques, strategies and attitudes of teaching excellence that they wish to recreate in us. My fellow students are a very diverse group in many respects; age, faith and backgrounds to name only a few. In several of my classes the discussions have become rather heated, with many opposing views. However, we always maintain our mutual respect for each other and our debates retain the air of an exchange of ideas rather than deteriorating into personal attacks. We are able to do this because we all share a common goal; becoming professional educators who can truly have a positive impact on the lives of our students.” – Larry Burnette