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An inquirED Blog

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

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

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

  • A plurality of teachers indicated that the majority of their materials were ones they found themselves.

  • More secondary teachers reported using a diverse array of assessment methods to evaluate students’ civic development.

  • Roughly one-half of respondents reported a need for better civics instructional resources.

  • Teachers’ classroom civics emphasis was associated with the source of their civics instructional materials.

Key Findings: State, District, and School Context for Civic Education

  • Nearly one-half of elementary teachers were unaware of state standards related to civic development.

  • Most respondents indicated a need for more non-teaching time and community partnerships.

  • The pressure to cover other subjects was widely reported as an obstacle to civics instruction.

  • Relatively few teachers reported that school or district leaders asked them to limit discussions about political or social issues.

  • Teachers’ perceptions regarding obstacles were unrelated to their emphasis on civics topics and approaches.

  • Teaching in a C3 hub state was not related to teachers’ civics instructional approaches.


The following resources relate to the issues and ideas discussed during the webinar.

View the webinar recording below:


About inquirED

inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More.

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