(Re)Imagining Elementary Social Studies: A Controversial Issues Reader
reviewed by Jing A. Williams - May 10, 2019
Title: (Re)Imagining Elementary Social Studies: A Controversial Issues Reader
Author(s): Sarah B. Shear, Christina M. Tschida, Elizabeth Bellows, Lisa Brown Buchanan, & Elizabeth E. Saylor
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641130733, Pages: 400, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com
As the title suggests, this book covers many controversial topics in elementary social studies, challenging public school teachers and teacher educators to reconsider what topics can be taught in elementary classrooms and how to approach them. As mentioned by the editors, the central goals of the book include providing practical resources for teaching controversial topics to young learners, contributing to current literature for those in teacher education, inspiring educators to conduct more action research, and serving as a reference for elementary course redesign.
From the books forward, its tone is firm and clear: elementary social studies should serve as a site of resistance. The authors contend that critical conversations are not occurring at the elementary level, and that in order to provide students and teachers with opportunities to engage in such conversations, reconceptualizing social studies must first begin with a reimagining of the elementary social studies teacher becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable (p. xvi).
The book contains 19 chapters from 25 authors. As seen in most edited books, the approaches vary substantially between chapters, and there is no logical sequence or connection between chapters. The editors have grouped chapters into three sections, with the first four entries challenging the traditional teaching of elementary social studies methods courses. Chapter One promotes critical pedagogy by using class meetings, which are used as instructional spaces that provide practice with listening and speaking skills and, ideally, facilitate a responsive and respectful learning community (p. 5). Chapter Two shares the implementation of race pedagogy to provide insight regarding the various complex and challenging experiences faced by those social studies faculty of color adopting anti-racist goals in their courses. Similarly, Chapter Three discusses exposing preservice teachers to the concept of whiteness (which is seen as a privilege of white students, promotes silence, and causes anxiety in students of color) with the intention of building preservice teachers racial consciousness and thus enabling them to be capable of challenging white supremacy in future classrooms. Next, Chapter Four reveals the lack of feminist discourse in classrooms and argues that women should receive equal historical coverage.
The texts second section is comprised of nine chapters covering a variety of controversial topics with encouragement for teacher educators and preservice teachers to include them in their classrooms. This section begins with an examination of immigration policy in a social studies methods course by using a history lab, which is an inquiry-based classroom activity that involves primary and secondary source analysis (p. 97). Chapter Six argues that social studies methods courses should create space for preservice teachers to explore their own beliefs about, investigate materials for, and construct understandings of the importance of addressing LGBTQ topics in the elementary classroom (p. 111). Similarly, Chapter Eleven examines decolonial and queer theory and shares lesson activities, all of which shows how to prepare preservice teachers to bend the straight narratives of history.
Chapter Seven shares how a teacher educator teaches against Islamophobia and provides resources for teaching about Islam and Muslims. Centering around the topic of the Natives, Chapter Eight confronts colonial blindness through an indigenous studies lens, and Chapter Thirteen presents a film-based unit with teaching resources to help preservice teachers develop content knowledge about the American Indian boarding schools. Chapter Nine discusses meat production and argues that elementary school is the ideal place to explore issues relating to how animals are treated. Chapter Ten reveals a redesigned elementary social studies methods course featuring Rosa Parks, showing preservice teachers the controversial nature of Parks work. Chapter Twelve explores various definitions of patriotism and shares successful teaching strategies, such as using patriotic posters, photos, and films, analyzing textbooks, and teaching patriotism through wars. All chapters in this section present strong rationales for why these topics should be included in social studies methods courses.
The third section provides ideas and resources for classroom teachers, encouraging them to engage elementary students in controversial conversations. Four chapters in this section explore race (Native, Mexican, Asian, and African American) with another two focusing on LGBTQ issues and genocide, respectively. Using critical pedagogy and multiculturalism as its theoretical framework, Chapter Fourteen promotes the teaching of the Dakota Access Pipeline to promote students understanding of the intersectionality of environmental and social justice issues. Chapter Sixteen explores discrimination against Mexican Americans in American schools and provides curricular activities for teaching the historical achievements and contributions of Latinx people. Likewise, in Chapter Seventeen, the authors discuss the underrepresentation of Asian American history in classrooms, using vignettes from a second-grade classroom to demonstrate teaching methods for this topic. Chapter Eighteen discusses the use of historical fiction for teaching American slavery, Chapter Fifteen utilizes queer theory and communitarian citizenship to discuss LGBTQ issues, and Chapter Nineteen discusses the rationale and resources for teaching genocide.
Since the third section targets classroom teachers and intends to show them how to challenge young learners to engage controversial issues (p. xxiii), it could have been less theoretical and more practical, providing actual teaching strategies and/or lesson plans, including standards, detailed teaching procedures, assessments, and students responses.
The texts tone is consistently strong and passionate throughout. Most of the authors are higher education faculty, but classroom teachers and doctoral students are also represented. However, most authors are from larger cities, with teaching ideas and topics perhaps reflecting more freedoms and facilities than those found in smaller or more traditional areas. Admittedly, these topics are difficult to teach in any area, and the authors could have given more examples, or a variety of examples, that correspond to more teachers situations.
In sum, classroom teachers, graduate students, and teacher educators seeking innovative ways to engage students in critical and controversial discussions in elementary and elementary social studies methods classrooms will find (Re)Imagining Elementary Social Studies to be a resource that will fuel, or reignite, passion and interest.