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date: 16 October 2021

Critical Social Studies in the United Statesfree

Critical Social Studies in the United Statesfree

  • Tommy EnderTommy EnderRhode Island College


Social studies, theoretically, examines the social dynamics of different groups of people within a particular society. The subject, as defined in the US education system, incorporates different disciplines, such as history, sociology, geography, and political science. The objective of social studies is the development of students as active participants in civic society. Since 2001, however, decreased learning time for social studies in elementary school grade levels and narrow interpretations of historical events in secondary school classes due to standardization efforts have threatened the viability of social studies in US schools. A critical social studies interpretation can redirect the current path of the subject. The concept of critical social studies scrutinizes three facets of the subject: curriculum, citizenship, and teaching. Critical teachers, curriculum writers, and students utilize self-reflection, critical theories, and active engagement in critiquing dominant concepts of citizenship. The open exchange of ideas with different individuals challenge standard explanations of citizenship in the United States. Critical educators use community development, student-centered dialogue, and transdisciplinary methods in expanding the learning of social studies. Critical social studies seeks to bring social studies back to its intellectual origins while pushing it into new peripheries.


  • Educational Purposes and Ideals
  • Education and Society


In the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” a high school teacher, known as Economics Teacher, lectures the students on government tariffs. Occasionally, he asks students to answer his questions using the prompt “Anyone?” As the camera pans to the students, each student illustrates different intensities of boredom. One student stares at the teacher, with her mouth open. Three students appear hypnotized by the lecture, barely blinking or moving. One student wakes himself up after his saliva pools on his desk. The scene suggests an educational and personal disconnect between the teacher and the students. While the movie is a comedic take on the transgressions of a bored teen and his friends, the scene perpetuates a common perception of the detached social studies teacher that students encounter on a daily basis.

The subject of social studies is assumed to be a discipline that examines the actions of a society from a variety of academic lenses, such as history, civics, economics, and sociology. The resulting intellectual inquiries intend to prepare students for active participation as adults in a democracy like the United States. However, the prevailing thought on social studies is the opposite. Social studies tends to promote student compliance (Maloy & LaRoche, 2015). The subject advances memorization of facts and historical figures while excluding current events and controversial issues. A teacher-centric classroom management style, with desks in rows facing the teacher, is commonly found in classrooms. Federal legislation has further exacerbated overtones of conformity on students learning social studies. No Child Left Behind (2001) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) emphasize standards-based educational politics and practices for the subject in US public schools. Social studies imply the understanding that the teacher knows everything and students lack the understanding and knowledge. K-12 students continually rank social studies as their least favorite class (Allen, 1994; Maloy & LaRoche, 2015; White, 1999). The negative views of social studies hold severe complications for the students currently sitting in our classrooms.

Critical teachers in K–12 settings and critical teacher educators at higher education institutions represent a new generation of educators informed by systematic inequalities, current events, and the infiltration of free market mindsets, that is, vouchers for school choice, on public education. Critical teachers manipulate the social studies curriculum to implement student-center learning. Critical teacher educators supplant the individualistic mindset associated with the curriculum with a collective approach that takes into consideration the educational experiences of student teachers while critiquing social inequalities. Moreover, critical teachers reconsider traditional definitions of citizenship. Through self-reflection and engagement with diverse student populations, critical teachers reposition citizenship in social studies as a concept rooted in the everyday experience. Finally, both critical teachers and critical teacher educators concatenate teaching practices with trustful student relationships. Allowing students to share their thoughts and experiences enables compelling insights into present-day occurrences. A discipline rooted in critical engagement serves as the best chance in preparing students for the future, especially when facing standardized testing, teacher uniformity, and the continued onslaught of entrepreneurship as a viable mindset for democratic participation.

I begin by defining the concept of critical social studies within a setting such as the USA. The definition attempts to unify a limited but diverse scholarship that has challenged current practices of social studies. I then focus on three significant fields of research within social studies: curriculum, teaching, and citizenship. Each field contains a historical and contemporary analysis of scholarship critically assessing social studies. I then lay out conceptual approaches that will provide readers with ideas on starting their journeys as critical social studies educators. Critical actors, in response to enduring actions encouraging conformity, reconceptualize social studies as a social justice-oriented subject. I conclude by suggesting how critical social studies improves the future participation of an active citizenry. I also provide future directions for additional scholarship.

Critical Social Studies

Critical social studies (CSS) support nuanced techniques of critiquing society, politics, and the world. According to Segall (1999), critical social studies encourages students to question events, topics, and themes continually while developing insights into structural inequalities. The development of this concept stems from consolidating the literature. Conceptual development of CSS emanates from ideas on how teachers in K–12 settings can develop CSS pedagogies and strategies. For example, in an ethnic studies classroom setting, teachers and teacher educators promoting essential thought furnish physical and intellectual spaces for story sharing and dialogue, especially for those marginalized by the narratives found in the subject (de los Rios, Lopez, & Morrell, 2015). The resulting learning experiences provide students and teachers with future opportunities to dismantle societal structures that perpetuate inequalities (Villaverde & Carter, 2014). Teachers engaging in CSS have the potential to blur the separation between theory and praxis, thus establishing themselves as critical, reflective educators (Segall, 2005). As a result, I choose curriculum, teaching, and citizenship as three areas in assembling an overall vision on CSS. Figure 1 begins the discussion on CSS. The visual illustrates the conceptual differences between traditional social studies found in critical social studies research and a critical social studies approach to curriculum, teaching, and citizenship.

Figure 1. Conceptual differences between traditional social studies found in critical social studies research and a critical social studies approach to curriculum, teaching, and citizenship.

The image on the left illustrates a visual representation of a traditional interpretation of social studies. Social studies is inferred as hierarchical, with clear and separate boundaries. The image on the right represents a response to the traditional interpretation. Critical social studies exemplifies fluidity between citizenship, curriculum, and teaching. The resulting interactions create critical approaches to social studies. I will begin by examining critical research on curriculum.


The social studies curriculum prepares students for civic participation. Historical insight into the creation of social studies as a core subject in US schools and subsequent curricular interpretations suggest two ideas: the subject is under the continual political influence and the subject promotes individualized learning and teaching. Jorgensen (2014) argues that a federal commission, known as the 1916 Committee on Social Studies, developed the modern concept of social studies as a subject correlating students experiences with life in the United States for the benefit of US society. From the end of the US Civil War to World War I, the United States experienced dramatic population growth due to the demands of industrialization, especially in cities. The need to educate the children of industrial workers as members of a future, worldlier society provided the members of the commission with an intellectual concept of social studies rooted in economics (Saxe, 2004).

The committee’s report advocated the development of a social studies curriculum under the guise of “social efficiency.” Social efficiency characterizes students as future workers, rationalizing an assembly-line approach to teaching and learning social studies (Chiro, 2013; Jorgensen, 2014). Regardless of personal experiences and academic capacities, students in a social studies classroom learn the material in an arranged manner. Thus, the curriculum promotes education as a product. The curriculum advocates entrepreneurism and suppresses controversial topics and issues (Ross, Mathison, & Vinson, 2014). Continued interpretations of the social studies curriculum have concealed critical thought in favor of uniformity and conformity.

In light of the findings and recommendations of the 1916 Committee on Social Studies, a historical understanding of resistance toward the curriculum asserts class and race as missing units in the school setting. Kliebard (2004) argues that during the early part of the 20th century, social studies was explicitly targeted by political and educational leaders as the subject best suited for the presentation and perpetuation of American ideals and social norms, especially toward immigrants and non-white US populations. The Socialist Sunday Schools and Carter G. Woodson challenged education anabolism in definitive ways. The Socialist Sunday Schools highlighted the disparities between curriculum narratives and students’ lived experiences through class. The Socialist Sunday Schools elevated a collective view of the world, thus centering the students as the focus of education (Au, 2012). Their considerations of the school curriculum as perpetrators of class inequalities stressing profit and wealth as a means of success in the United States (Au, 2012) supports the individualized approach to teaching and learning social studies. Social efficiency emboldens a social structure within education that values mobility as progress. Exceptional standardized test scores achieve grade promotions with K–12 settings, school choices, and enrollment at prestigious colleges and universities. The power of movement also demonizes race.

Critical scholarship on social studies curriculum in the United States suggests a long and dreadful relationship with race. Carter G. Woodson, a historian, exposed intellectual and cultural exclusions based on race in the social studies curriculum (Au, 2012). As resistance, Woodson established systems of counter-narratives through the creation of different academic journals and publishing several works as means of combating these narratives (Nelson & Ooka Pang, 2014). Woodson provided scholarly spaces to African American intellectuals at a time when social studies textbooks presented students with a narrow view of US history (Au, 2012). Woodson saw the need, and importance, for collective work among African American scholars during this period. Critical scholars and teachers in contemporary settings, working together, minimize the absence of “intense drama, arresting political conflict, and serious social inquiry” in the social studies curriculum (Kliebard, 2004, p. 245).

Expanding the focus from race, scholars have examined ethnic representations in the curriculum. Scholars have illustrated the curriculum’s continued ignorance of different communities of color, especially Latinx communities in the United States (Branch, 2004; Salinas & Castro, 2010; Santiago, 2017; Urrieta, 2004). Representations of Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicano communities remain primarily excluded (Urrieta, 2004). Even when the curriculum includes these communities, the limited narratives evoke a simplified view of societal success and progress or imply tokenistic practices such as international food day and culture dress day (Salinas & Castro, 2010; Santiago, 2017). For students of color living in dominant white communities, the lack of representation asserts an “ethnic isolation” mindset for them (Branch, 2004, p. 528). Despite the continued depreciation of people of color and the marginalization of controversial learning topics (Salinas & Castro, 2010), critical K–12 teachers represent the future of social studies through meditative and empowering practices.

Critical social studies teachers confront the curriculum through self-reflection, active student engagement, and critical theory. Self-reflection not only encourages teachers to reassess their pedagogies continually but also invites interrogations of personal, academic, and social experiences with education and society in general. Awareness of prior interactions with economic, social, and educational injustices starts the breakdown of bias and deficit views (Salinas & Castro, 2010). Self-reflection also prevents the power of the curriculum to reinforce binaries on historical events involving people of color (Santiago, 2017). This approach encourages critical teachers to engage in student-centered activities.

Missing from the literature is a focus on access to portable knowledge. Mobile technology allows students to access information at any time, including during school hours. Contemporary students enter the classroom with a wealth of knowledge not seen with previous generations of students (Sperry, 2006). To tap into these resources, critical teachers construct activities that not only value the students’ knowledge but help students to build off that knowledge. Examples of active engagement include in-class simulations, student debates, group research projects, and social media presentations. Active student engagement resists the banking concept (Freire, 2000). Critical teachers undermine the conventional view of teachers as knowledge disseminators. Students learning forms of critical social studies can start to deconstruct their opinions and views of the world (Salinas & Castro, 2010). Interpreting the complexity of the world requires critical teachers to be familiar with critical theories.

The applications of critical theories through critical pedagogies provoke students to question how society creates groups and practices. A scholarly push to incorporate challenging concepts such as critical race theory (Chandler, 2015; Howard, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 2003), Latina/o critical theory (Daniels, 2011), and tribal critical race theory (Brayboy, 2005) within K–12 settings have been under way for years. However, teachers continue to be unaware of such ideas. Ross (2016) begins to address the issue by advocating rational thinking:

Dialectical thinking is an effort to understand the world in terms of interconnections-the ties among things as they are right now, their own preconditions, and future possibilities. The dialectical method takes change as the given and treats apparent stability as that which needs to be explained (and provides specialized concepts and frameworks to explain it). Dialectical thinking is an approach to understanding the world that requires not only a lot of facts that are usually hidden from view, but a more interconnected grasp of the facts we already know. (p. 212)

Critical teachers establish a learning environment that encourages demanding discussions on the curriculum. They present questions and concepts that not openly disrupt the implied narratives of the curriculum but also position the students as knowledge holders (Urrieta, 2004). Incorporating the learned experiences of teachers and students into social studies has the potential to transform the social studies curriculum. Branch (2004) suggests that critical practices shift social studies from a Eurocentric focus toward an emphasis on the histories of people of color and marginalized individuals. The transformation of social studies to a critical subject also encourages an examination of teaching practices.


Illustrations of conventional teaching pedagogy in K–12 settings suggest the influence of teacher education programs in perpetuating these practices. An examination of the individuals involved in social studies teacher education suggests the transmission of dominant social cues, practices, and anecdotes to students (Tyson, 2003). According to Busey and Waters (2016), nearly 90% of teacher education faculty in social studies identify as white. Equally reflective are the individuals preparing to enter a career in teaching. Brown Buchanan (2016) argues that the majority of pre-service teachers are white, middle- to upper-class females. One can infer from this information that the singularity of identities found in teacher education faculty and pre-service educators codifies specific teaching practices based on replicating the status quo.

Conversely, student populations reflect a diversity of identities. Students identifying as Latino, Latina, or Latinx can be found in many schools throughout the United States, as a result of a rapidly growing Latinx population since the 1990s (Barreto & Segura, 2014). Sitting alongside Latinx students are African American, Native American, students descending from a variety of Asian countries, and multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural students. Gay (2004) also suggests that examinations of space, such as urban learning settings, can contribute to a critical assessment of social studies. Expanding from this, teacher educators must reformulate the social studies teacher program to meet the growing complexities of K–12 student populations in the United States.

Critical teacher educators start their teaching of social studies methods courses through active learning of their pre-service teachers’ lives. Jaffee, Marri, Shuttleworth, and Hatch (2015) contend that an active learning setting where pre-service teachers can share their own experiences in learning social studies builds community. Within these communities, teacher educators provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to rigorously deconstruct their educational experiences, life outside the educational setting, and their views on social issues. Developing a community within the classroom also resets how a future educator interacts with diverse K–12 student populations. Martell (2017) argues that individuals training to become social studies teachers need to understand the depth of individual and systemic discrimination in society. Critical pre-service teachers discover the marginalization of personal experiences in social studies. Active learning encourages the development of dialogue as a common pedagogical practice.

Along with learning about the lives of pre-service teachers, critical teacher educators establish controversial topics as common approaches in social studies methods courses. Teacher educators introducing controversial matters provide spaces for conversations on race and ethnicity not typically seen previously in social studies. Such issues include the lack of positive portrayals of the Indigenous peoples, the plethora of standardized testing in education, ignoring positive historical stories of African American and Latinx communities, and discussions on politics in the classroom. Bell Soares and Wood (2010) cite the importance of these discussions within the teacher education setting: K–12 students bring high levels of social awareness to the social studies classroom. The majority of K–12 social studies teachers, however, either refuse to participate with the students under the guidance of political neutrality or ignore the students outright. Establishing norms regarding political discussions in social studies methods courses suggest the intersection of critical theory and social justice.

The inclusion of critical theories in social studies teacher education courses emphasizes social justice as a concept pertinent to the needs of our diverse student populations. Concepts such as critical race theory (CRT), critical Latinx theory (LatCrit), and Indigenous critical theory (TribalCrit) raises many questions about the roles of race, ethnicity, and culture in society. Howard (2003) argues that a failure to understand the influences of these social constructs replicates oppressive systems within schools. Societal inequalities complicate the lives of our students. Students sitting in classrooms and not intellectually engaging with the subject adds an educational disparity to the mix. Critical teacher pedagogies in the K–12 classroom disrupt the power dynamics of the subject.

Social studies teacher education is influenced by a continual emphasis on state standards. The effects, as Stanley and Longwell (2004) suggest, elevate testing as a barometer of student progress and teacher effectiveness. White (1999) calls for a reconceptualization of social studies in three ways: (a) modeling and applying active teaching, (b) engaging in self-reflection, and (c) implementing interactive learning. Building upon White (1999), CSS active teaching combines the data required for mandated state tests with a focus on the experiences brought into the classroom setting. The mix has the potential to create emotional connections with social studies for students while they are preparing for the end-of-grade or end-of-course examinations. Self-reflection encourages a critical review of social studies literature, repositioning the future teachers as both theorist and practitioner. Jaffee et al. (2015) argue that this approach works to erase the separation between theory and practice. Future teachers can interrogate results and formulate new ideas and arguments for discussion from different theoretical frameworks, such as CRT, LatCrit, or critical pedagogy. Critical teacher educators also implement discussion-based activities in methods courses. The resulting consensus indicates student willingness to learn from one another while developing solutions to problems. As a result, pre-service and in-service teachers enter their diverse settings with a variety of appropriate procedures (Branch, 2004).

Critical educators teaching elementary social studies assert controversial issues as part of their daily teaching. Classroom dialogue emphasizing societal concerns represents the foundation for lifelong political engagement. Critics often articulate a line of argument rooted in deficit views: elementary students are too young to learn about controversial issues. Shear, Tschida, Bellows, Brown Buchanan, and Saylor (2018) argue that while elementary students arrive every day to school equipped with a wealth of knowledge, their teachers do not engage with them. Expanding from this argument, critical elementary teachers break down this invisible wall from interpreting the vagueness of grade standards. The teachers identify gaps in the standards and develop class conversations reflecting culturally responsive and culturally sustaining concepts. The conversations, thus, place value on the thoughts and experiences of elementary students, especially those marginalized by systemic inequities (McCoy, 2018). Elementary students learn how the curriculum whitewashes the history of the United States for a particular interpretation free of controversy. Students with critical lenses transcend the school setting and challenge mainstream publications aimed at their peers. They admonish the lack of narratives on different marginalized groups (Shuttleworth & Lomax, 2018). Additionally, in many school districts, elementary schools emphasize language arts and mathematics at the expense of social studies. Thus, students receive minimal social studies instruction daily. Controversial issues can go beyond social studies, and influence how teachers construct critical language arts and mathematics instruction.

Transitioning to the secondary level, expanded instructional time presents additional opportunities for critical social studies teaching. Technology and collaboration create a viable intersection for the establishment of the student's voice in social studies. Similarly, secondary students enter the social studies classroom with knowledge compiled from the rapid and constant accessibility of the Internet. Russell (2010) points out that social studies teachers rarely incorporate technical resources other than laptops during lessons. Critical teachers capture the strengths of these digital natives and expand their expertise through collaboration. However, the proliferation of fake information on websites and social media presents learning hazards. Journell (2017) contends that pedagogical parameters are necessary for students relying on information learned from the Internet. As a result, student collaboration encourages dialogue over the context and validity of the data. Cooperation also contributes to the learning and incorporation of other technological approaches. Space exists for teachers and students to utilize video games, film, and streaming services in the classroom. Students can create blogs and vlogs as vehicles for ongoing commentary. Constructive use of technology promotes interpersonal and intrapersonal dialogue and challenges the status quo. Critical applications to teaching social studies have the potential to address narrow interpretations of citizenship.


The National Council for the Social Studies, through its College, Career, and Civic (C3) Framework, advocates the development of the social studies student as a future participant in civic discourse while retaining skills that translate to employment. The amalgamation of public involvement and business preparation implies a particular definition of citizenship. Ross, Mathison, and Vinson (2014) term this approach as “good citizenship.” Good citizenship regulates student behavior through the instruction of civic values that replicate societal patterns. Public values, termed as practices that benefit democracy, build an unconscious faithfulness toward political and governmental bodies. Journell (2017) argues that the social studies teachers establishing politically neutral classrooms reinforce the notion of good citizenship. Students perceive the silence of their social studies teachers on controversial issues and topics as dogma. Students reflecting good citizenship have the potential to reinforce dominant narratives on citizenship as adults.

Good citizenship reflects a dangerous approach to a diverse democracy like the United States. The concept serves the interests of the political elite, usually white male individuals (Ladson-Billings, 2003). Good citizenship, as a result, advocates a particular political order that marginalizes the rights and privileges of people of color. The political elite, according to Urrieta (2004), asserts a white, US-centric theme to citizenship that ignores the cultural, historical, and social significance of communities of color. Examinations of curriculum that address citizenship suggest partial explanations. A common topic found in social studies curriculum is the idea of “manifest destiny.” Shear, Knowles, Soden, and Castro (2015) argue that “manifest destiny” portrays the colonization of the western part of the North American continent as a desirous intention. As a result, the common interpretation of citizenship does not apply to individuals resisting “manifest destiny,” such as Indigenous communities (Shear et al., 2015). The curriculum erases resistance efforts. Expanding from Shear et al. (2015), when the curriculum includes an event like the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a battle in which an alliance of Indigenous tribes defeated the United States Army in 1876, narratives tend to portray the leader of the US Army, George A. Custer, as a man who gave his life to his country and its values. Good citizenship implies that men like Custer did the right thing by giving up his life in fighting non-whites who resisted becoming Americans.

The United States’ long struggle with racism authenticates good citizenship as practices in white supremacy. Society indicates “a set of preordained explicit and implicit racial ideologies that see racial subordination as a normal part of the social contract” (Brown, Crowley, & King, 2011, p. 295). Vickery (2017) argues that African American women teachers situate community and knowledge sharing as significant components of citizenship. The African American teachers recognize good citizenship as practices of marginalizing students of color in social studies classrooms (Vickery, 2017). They replace the individualistic elucidations of citizenship with communal interpretations. Students learning examples of critical citizenship see their complex worlds through multiple lenses (Urrieta, 2004). Critical teachers, building upon the research, work to redefine good citizenship.

Critical teachers characterize citizenship on their terms. The process to critically delineate citizenship starts with future social studies reflecting on their perceptions of citizenship. Pre-service teachers learn how good citizenship marginalizes people of color and the marginalized. One example is the unfettered support for the country during a war. Good citizenship excludes people of color while demanding their dedicated support (Urrieta, 2004; Vickery, 2017). The stores of African American and Latino army battalions fighting in Europe and Japan against tyrannical governments only to return to a prejudiced society reinforce good citizenship as benefiting only one segment of US society: white Americans. Future teachers begin to understand how good citizenship presents a juxtaposition for communities of color.

Critical definitions of citizenship require pre-service teachers to interpret the political forces at play within their learning settings. Governmental intrusion through legislative efforts that standardize the subject and control the flow of knowledge in the school setting represents a continuation of good citizenship. Critical educators have the potential to resist good citizenship through continued engagement with themselves and students on political topics and issues. Journell (2017) argues that while teachers must be strategic in disclosing their opinions, allowing political conversations in the school supports the validity of student thoughts. Teacher revelations provide students opportunities to consider views different from their own. Inferring political actions as detrimental to learning about current events, such as legislation aimed at eliminating teacher collective bargaining rights, and purposely disclosing their political positions afterward promotes realistic opportunities for conversations on citizenship (Swalwell & Schweber, 2016).

A third approach establishes responsive technological use. Students assert a new interpretation of citizenship through their cognitive reliance on mobile technology such as cellular telephones, tables, and laptop computers. Today’s students are native digital citizens, while the majority of teachers are digital immigrants (Prensky, 2001). The inclusion of instant accessibility of information realigns social studies as a subject examining the present time. Teachers resisting good citizenship encourage students to understand the different cultures in existence (Bell Soares & Wood, 2010). Expanding the interpretations of citizenship promotes a more equitable classroom setting for students and teachers. Thus, once the students are participants in the democratic discourse, they critique public policy for the good of society.

Conclusion and Future Directions

Returning to the economics teacher from the movie “Ferris Bueller,” a critical economics teacher would teach the lesson on government tariffs differently. The teacher would first encourage the students to deconstruct how the curriculum portrays government tariffs and their influence on public policy. The teacher would pose questions such as the following: “Why are these tariffs included as part of our learning?” “What does the curriculum want you to learn about these tariffs?” “How do these tariffs influence your daily lives?” The critical teacher would then demonstrate how tariff policies influence citizenship. Students would be given intellectual opportunities through simulations and research projects to study the development of government tariffs, the reasons for such legislation, and how certain individuals benefit from such laws. In turn, the students would cultivate new understandings on the relationship between citizenship and economics. The critical teacher would then support student findings by providing time and space for knowledge articulation. Instead of sitting idly in rows, students would be facing each other and engaging in dialogue. Alternatively, students would present weekly reports that introduce current tariffs to the classroom discussion and connect those findings with previous taxes. The students would attend class on a daily basis instead of skipping due to boredom.

This article establishes the concept of critical social studies. In the early 21st century, global events such as extreme weather patterns, the US presidential election of Donald Trump, and continued illustrations of cruel treatment toward communities of color promote the need for students to examine events and legislation critically. I have tried to show how three main components of social studies can be redefined to meet the intellectual needs of the students and teachers. Critical students and teachers engaging in social studies resist the limited interpretations of history, government, economics, and sociology offered by the curriculum. Students at the higher educational level deconstruct the historical and contemporary development of the curriculum. Empowered critical actors change the subject’s construal of citizenship from an assimilationist, individualistic mindset to a collective definition that considers the country’s diverse populations and their cultural, historical, and social impacts. Critical teachers enrich the subject through active teaching that draws in student knowledge, incorporates global and local conversations, and encourages the students to leave with more questions than answers. For all three elements, a trusting and empowering relationship between the educator and the students transforms social studies.

The future represents opportunities for educators engaging in CSS practices. Technology presents a significant option for CSS educators. Critical teacher educators can, as Crowe and Cuenca (2016) argue, redirect the public’s general opinion on education in the United States from a deficit view influenced by neoliberal politicians and policymakers to a favorable view accelerated through social media. The current generation of pre-service and beginning social studies teachers relies on social media for communication and dialogue. Critical teacher educators can continue the conversations started in method courses via social media. Critical K–12 teachers can rely on existing critical web communities in exchanging theoretical and practical ideas and thoughts.

Although the focus of this article has been US-centric, critical interdependence via technology also represents the potential of critical social studies occurring elsewhere. In Australia, Johnston (2012) positions the student’s voice on topics in the social studies curriculum in Tasmania as significant in the development of critical pre-service teachers. Wright-Maley, Davis, Gonzalez, and Colwell (2016) explore the topic of transgendered youth with pre-service teachers in Catholic schools in Canada. Establishing dialogue with teachers and researchers engaging in critical approaches in Australia and Canada would enhance the relevance of critical social studies in the literature and support critical examinations of social studies in the classroom setting.

While I present one view of critical social studies, I anticipate different interpretations of critical social studies. In fact, I welcome different views that place critical student knowledge at the forefront of social studies. How would you, as a teacher educator, scholar, teacher, or administrator, allow the students to interrogate their views on global, national, and local topics and issues? Ross (2016) explains the need for a critical education that directly benefits the students, not the system: “the aim is not getting students to listen to convincing lectures by experts but getting them to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive toward an equal degree of participation and a better future” (p. 218). Ultimately, in a few years, these students become voters. And some will become teachers, school administrators, teacher educators, and scholars. I leave with this question for future thought: do you support the students or do you want them to fail?


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