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The California Way: Content, Inquiry, Literacy, & Citizenship

created Mar 14, 2017 03:48 PM

by Thomas Adams, Deputy Superintendent, CDE

History-Social Science education has the ambitious goal of turning our students into a participatory citizenry. Students move directly from being apprentices in community and civic participation to being participants in local, state, national, and international polities. At the same time, students are now entering into public life with far different avenues of expression and engagement than previous generations have experienced. In addition, the classroom context has changed as schools now have the goal of openness and acceptance of different and previously unacknowledged student populations. With all of this in mind, California’s History-Social Science Curriculum Framework counsels teachers and school leaders to focus on content (background knowledge), inquiry (asking the right questions), literacy (ability to read and interpret oral and written expression), and citizenship (engagement with communities).

The instructional goals of content, inquiry, literacy, and citizenship rely on the subject areas of history, geography, economics, and civics. Each of the four areas is rooted in fundamental questions. History focuses on who we are and how we arrived at today’s juncture. Geography centers on where we are and how we are shaped by and are shaping our environment. Economics asks how we make a living with the available resources and what are the benefits and costs. Civics asks what actions can be taken to enact local, national, and global solutions. Beginning with the history-social science standards adopted in 1998, the framework moves to further inquiry and deepen instruction. While previous curriculum guides have stressed the need for content and inquiry, it was often assumed that students would not be ready for inquiry practices until a prescribed level of development had occurred. In some cases, it was expressed in social-emotional terms and in other instances it was based upon obtaining a certain level of expertise. In contrast, the history-social science framework asks students to be historians, geographers, economists, and civic participants at the very start of their education. What the framework describes is how this can be done in an appropriate manner for students in the different grade levels. The goal is not an acceleration to adulthood but to begin cultivation of the necessary knowledge and skills from kindergarten through grade twelve.

Just as the framework expects students to have the tools of inquiry from history, geography, economics, and civics, it also calls for history-social science instruction to be for all students. The English Language Arts/English Language Development Curriculum Framework (ELA/ELD) is ground-breaking in a number of ways, but important for history-social science education was the switch in language instruction for English learners (ELs). Previously, California relied on a sequential model (students receive language instruction first and at the expense of access to other curricular areas) and then moved to a simultaneous model (students receive language instruction and have access to other curricular areas). ELD is now done in a designated (set aside time) and integrated (incorporated in regular instruction) manner and ELs receive language development instruction in all subject areas. In short, both ELA and history-social science classes teach ELs literacy development and ELs gain access to both curricular areas. The framework stresses that “ELs at all levels of proficiency are able to engage in intellectually challenging and content-rich activities, with appropriate support from teachers that addresses their language and academic learning needs.” To support the goal of ELs as full participants, the framework provides classroom examples of integrated ELD instruction.

California’s diversity is seen as an asset and a new opportunity for inclusive instruction. California’s standards recognize the contributions of men and women from a variety of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups to the development of the state and the nation. Also, the standards stress the need to study the different civilizations in the world, in part because students want to study their cultural and historical connections to the past. The new framework builds upon the existing standards and takes instruction to new and different areas. Cultural relevancy has been strengthened, and teachers have greater flexibility in the emphasis of topics taught and investigated. The goal is for students to have a more personal connection to what they are studying. Also, many groups that were hidden or ignored have been brought into the greater narrative. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and communities are now openly discussed in their struggle for equality and recognized for their achievements, from Charley Parkhurst of the Gold Rush to Harvey Milk of the 20th century. People with disabilities are included as contributors to the development of California and the United States and the struggle to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. While there is much discussion of the positive roles, the framework also focuses on the different forms of discrimination that had and still have to be overcome.

The History-Social Science Framework stands as an important example of how to create an inclusive classroom. Key to supporting that goal is the Access and Equity chapter. Here the framework describes how to address the needs of all students and teachers will find it a first point of consultation. The instructional imperative that all schools face is to be accepting of all our students and to provide them with an excellent education. In these times when schools have to declare themselves safe havens, the History-Social Science Curriculum Framework supports inclusive classrooms and schools that will promote the common good. These classrooms or communities of diversity will serve as a positive reminder of why California remains the golden state.  


Thomas Adams serves as Deputy Superintendent of the Instruction and Learning Branch of the California Department of Education.  Adams earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of California at Davis and has worked at the Department of Education since 1997.

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Tags: Framework