Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1997


As a nation, we are concerned about the values our children learn in school. Opinions regarding the appropriate educational content and strategies to sustain and improve our democratic country span the political spectrum. The social studies, a field dedicated to the development of good citizens, is especially concerned with values issues in education. Research on citizenship education has primarily focused its interest in the development and assessment of appropriate content and teaching strategies. An important, though often neglected, aspect of social education research is the investigation of teacher perspectives. This study suggests that who a teacher is, what she knows, and how she facilitates relationships with her students has a notable impact on what passes for social education in her classroom.

Through formal and informal interviews, classroom observations, and artifact analysis this study portrays the educational perspectives of two exemplary United States' history teachers. By placing the experience based narratives of the participants at the center, I have attempted to describe and explain their epistemological perspectives as grounded within their everyday thoughts and actions; essentially their practical theories. My most significant findings are that teachers' do theorize, and that their theories matter. Their theories matter because they influence the types of educational materials and experiences students will be exposed to, the types of learning skills they will develop, and the kinds of messages they will receive about our collective lives. Teacher perspectives also impact the understandings students will develop about democratic citizenship and the ways in which they interact with others to address social issues. Therefore, the nature of a teacher's social education theory does have an bearing on life in a democratic society.

Implications for teacher education include encouraging pre-service teachers to reflect upon who they are and want to be as professionals, providing opportunities for them to interview teachers about perspectives, and using field experiences to further explore practical theory building. Suggestions for the classroom teacher include connecting students to social issues by exposing them to multiple perspectives, examining bias in historical interpretation, and telling stories about the common persons' role in history. Finally, this study provides additional support for the idea that building classroom environments, in which democratic interactions are modelled, allows students to discuss and practice participatory citizenship.


Copyright 1997 by Elaine Metherall Brenneman

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