An inquirED Blog

Civic Life in the Era of Truth Decay: Making the Case for Elementary Social Studies

Updated: Feb 17

A decaying paper with the word truth on it sits on the ground making a case for why civics is important for elementary school students

What is the importance of civics in elementary school and how can we prepare children for the shifting realities of the modern information age? inquirED CEO Shanti Elangovan explored that question in conversation with Laura S. Hamilton and Julia H. Kaufman, co-authors of a recent Rand Corporation research study surveying social studies teachers across the United States about the civic development of their students. This blog post and the associated webinar are sponsored by inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.


Classroom Realities

When it comes to education, it seems a new theory or program emerges every day that promises to reform the system, shift instruction, and improve outcomes for students. In some cases, these theories are motivated by politics – this seems especially true in social studies education – or are related to other concerns that have little to do with the day-to-day experience of students and teachers. But everyday classroom realities are what matters most when designing any theory of change.

Our recent webinar guests, Laura S. Hamilton and Julia H. Kaufman, focused on those day-to-day realities as part of a recent Rand Corporation research study "Preparing Children and Youth for Civic Life in the Era of Truth Decay: Insights from the American Teacher Panel." Hamilton and Kaufman wanted to know what teachers were actually doing to promote the civic development of their students. Specifically, they asked:

  • What teacher beliefs and preparation were affecting the implementation of civics programming?

  • What instructional materials were being used to teach civic education?

  • What role did state and local context play in civic education?

View the key findings from the study below. For recommendations and solutions based on these findings, view the webinar recording at the end of the blog post.

Key Findings: Teacher Beliefs and Preparation

  • Most respondents reported not feeling well prepared to support students’ civic development.

  • Most respondents indicated that students’ civic development was important; fewer indicated that it was “absolutely essential.”

  • High school social studies teachers were at least somewhat confident that students would learn a variety of concepts related to civic education.

  • Low trust in institutions and groups was particularly evident among elementary teachers of social studies and teachers of color.

  • Teachers’ reported classroom practices were associated with their preparation and views regarding the importance of civics.

Key Findings: Instructional Materials