Published Date

January 1, 1944

From American History in Schools and Colleges (1944)

The quality of instruction is the determining factor in any program of education. Courses of study, textbooks, maps, reference books, and other equipment are important; good administration and supervision contribute to the success of instruction; but all these factors are ineffectual unless the work is directed by a good teacher.

The importance of the teacher in the success of any subject is readily conceded, but in the social studies the spirit, the scholarship, and the personality of the teacher are to a peculiar degree the determining elements. The whole field seems delusively easy to some administrators and casual observers, and only the competent teacher realizes its complexities. Such a teacher will inspire and guide, while the incompetent one, himself confused, will discourage and confuse the student.

The importance, even the truth, of these axiomatic principles is constantly ignored and by implication denied. Year after year the superintendent or principal of a school faced with the problem of fitting his faculty to the schedule, has blindly assigned United States history, civics, or sociology to teachers who are uninterested as well as untrained. The unwarranted assumption that any one who can read can teach history explains its unpopularity in some schools. It should be clearly recognized that the historical knowledge which might be acceptable for a general education is woefully inadequate for a teacher of American history. In view of the nonchalant manner in which unprepared teachers presume to teach this difficult subject, it is no wonder that they fail to achieve the success that its importance and interest warrant.

The Committee is aware of the problem of adjusting teachers to schedules; it is aware of the poor salaries and heavy loads imposed upon teachers; it is aware of the mediocre libraries and insufficient equipment which often handicap teachers. All these problems exist even in some large schools and are accentuated in smaller ones. Realizing that the improvement of the situation is a many-sided task, one which requires the cooperation of many persons and agencies, the Committee undertakes to describe and analyze the contributing factors, and hopes to arouse the public, legislatures, certification agencies, teacher training institutions, school boards, school administrators, and teachers to a realization of the need for improvement in the quality of social studies teaching.

Improved teaching in the social studies requires action along at least four separate but closely related lines: (1) improved undergraduate training, (2) improved standards of certification, (3) the growth of professional competence while in service, and (4) graduate work for social studies teachers.


A. The Undergraduate Training of Social Studies Teachers

Recognizing that the selection of teachers is a problem which concerns all fields, the Committee refrains from outlining any general plan for selecting teachers. Wherever teaching is treated as a lowly task, requiring the services of only moderately well trained persons, wherever it pays only mediocre salaries, wherever the teacher is the victim of petty restrictions which deny him the rights accorded to other citizens, the teaching profession will be unable to render a high quality of service. In the localities where such conditions prevail, patrons, taxpayers, and officials may expect a low standard of professional achievement.

Fortunately many states and communities have taken steps to pay their teachers adequate salaries, to accord them social and economic equality with other citizens, and to expect from them a high type of professional service. Under such conditions teacher training institutions and certifying authorities can begin to select those individuals who have the necessary qualities and provide them with adequate training.

The person who aspires to become a teacher of the social studies should have broad and thorough training in his own field and should become familiar with such fields as literature, science, mathematics, and languages. The values of the exact disciplines should be thoroughly absorbed. The training of the social studies teacher should be the responsibility of the entire college or university, not merely the task of the departments of the social sciences and of education. A liberal education in the broadest sense, rather than training in the narrow professional sense, should constitute the ideal of preparation for the teacher of history. Above all, in order to succeed the teacher must have a deep and abiding interest in the subject which he teaches.

Recognizing that the successful teacher must be acquainted with several fields, the Committee nevertheless confines its specific recommendations to the fields of education and the social sciences. The elementary teacher must often teach all the school subjects and so cannot be expected to place undue emphasis upon preparation in any one field. The elementary teacher, however, needs a wide command of content in order to guide and stimulate the pupils. Accordingly the Committee suggests the following as a minimum program for elementary teachers who are expected to teach history or other social studies:

  1. A thorough training in United States history, including a general survey and study in at least one specialized period or topic.
  2. Intensive study of European or world history.
  3. Basic training in as many other social sciences as possible, but not fewer than two besides history.
  4. Familiarity with educational psychology, principles and history of education, and tests and measurements.
  5. Awareness of the social and philosophical aspects of education.
  6. Thorough familiarity with the methods of teaching the social studies.
  7. Practice teaching within the social studies field.

The high-school teacher of social studies who can reasonably expect to devote most or all of his time to this field should greatly exceed the standard suggested for elementary teachers. While his preparation cannot be accurately measured in credit hours or courses, he should become master of the materials covered in the more important undergraduate courses in history and should take the basic courses in at least two of the other social sciences. In at least four states the high-school teacher is now required to possess the master’s degree or its equivalent. If this trend continues, social studies teachers at the high-school level will soon be expected to have achieved a high standard of preparation in history, in two or more of the other social sciences, and in education.

Many teacher training institutions are already meeting these minimum standards by providing for a major in the social studies. This plan requires that the student emphasize one subject, such as history or political science, and that he take work in at least two other social science subjects. Some institutions require that history be chosen either as the core of emphasis or as an accompanying study.

While many institutions have made creditable plans for the training of social studies teachers, some have placed undue emphasis upon narrow techniques and routine minutiae. Some institutions have neglected to provide an instructional staff which wins the respect and confidence of the prospective teacher of the social studies. Emphasis upon methods and projects scarcely compensates for a lowering of scholarly standards. Recognizing the great value of courses in educational psychology, methods, and administration, the Committee insists that they should not displace work in the social sciences. Institutions which cannot provide inspiring and competent training in the social studies should not undertake to prepare teachers for this field.

The program recommended by the Committee rests upon the assumption that the education and training of the social studies teacher is the joint obligation of the social science departments and the department or school of education. This joint responsibility can best be discharged by the closest kind of cooperation between the professors of education and of the social sciences. Professors from both these fields might well plan joint seminars and courses for the social studies teacher. His education is a responsibility that belongs to both fields; rivalries and recriminations should not eclipse the task nor obscure the need for co-operative efforts.1

B. Certification of Teachers

The prevailing program of training and the standards for certifying teachers have been none too successful. They have not assured an adequate supply of competent social studies teachers. Chance and self-selection rather than ability, scholarship, and personality have often been the determining factors in selecting teachers. The system of issuing certificates on the basis of academic and professional credits has not guaranteed competence or excluded mediocrity.

The best academic plans for training teachers are nullified by the lax certification standards which prevail in many states. The colleges and universities may provide admirable programs for the training of social studies teachers; a few ambitious and conscientious persons may pursue these programs and then realize, when they start to teach, that their colleagues in history or civics majored in physical education, music, or English. Thus any improvement in the training of social studies teachers is dependent upon changes in certification standards. Some possible improvements appear to be obvious.

Certificates to teach should be granted only to those persons who possess demonstrated ability. Whether the evidence of ability should be based upon intelligence tests, school marks, the testimony of associates, or combinations of these and other types of evidence is a question that deserves further study, but the principle of certifying only persons of ability and energy should be wholeheartedly accepted.

Certificates to teach should be issued only to those persons who have wholesome personalities, emotional stability, and reasonably good health. Progress in the appraisal of personality traits has been marked; there is no longer any justification for allowing warped and frustrated persons to operate within the classroom. The matter of health is likewise receiving attention. Many universities and some colleges now require health examinations before recommending their graduates for certification. Certifying authorities might well make this practice universal and compulsory.

Certificates to teach should be granted only to those persons who have achieved a satisfactory record in both academic and professional courses. Some universities require a higher standard of scholarship for prospective teachers than for those who merely receive degrees. Whatever means are adopted, the purpose of securing a reasonable degree of scholarly competence on the part of prospective teachers should be kept clearly in view.

To secure competent teachers of history and the other social studies, the Committee recommends that certificates be classified as (1) Preliminary, (2) Field, and (3) Combination certificates. It also recommends that all certificates be issued for stated periods, from three to ten years, depending upon age and experience. No more life certificates should be issued.2

Preliminary certificates, purely temporary in nature, would authorize the beginning teacher to conduct classes in the fields in which he has either a major or a minor. He will thus discover the direction of his future interests and work and can plan his graduate work accordingly.

Field certificates would authorize a teacher to teach in one field, such as science, English, mathematics, social studies, etc. The person who devotes his whole schedule to American history or civics or any combination of subjects within the social studies field would be required to have a field certificate. Such certificates would be issued only to those who have pursued approved courses and who have met all required standards of ability, personality, and scholarship.

Combination certificates would authorize a teacher to teach in two or more fields as specified in the certificate. While state departments and teachers colleges might well list and recommend such combinations as English and social studies, or social studies and a modern language, or social studies and physical education, the actual choice of fields should probably be left to the interest and inclination of the prospective teacher. Naturally he would be guided somewhat by prevailing demands and practices in choosing his combinations of subjects and fields.

This plan of differentiated certificates has been in effect in several states. Unfortunately it has not been strictly observed or enforced. School administrators have frequently regarded such certification as advisory rather than mandatory. The plan, however, affords a method of meeting the needs of small schools in which teachers must teach several subjects, and it would, if enforced, prevent the indiscriminate assignment of subjects to teachers without regard to their training and wishes.

Existing certificates authorize the holder to teach in the field of his minor or even in any subject. Lax regulations have enabled inadequately trained persons to teach alongside those with extensive training. On the assumption that history, civics, and other social studies require no critical training, administrators frequently assign them to teachers who have not had even one college course in the whole field.

To prevent this lowering of the quality of instruction in the social studies the Committee recommends that authority to teach in the field be terminated unless the candidate secures additional training. The teacher who devotes most of his time to music, for example, should, if he teaches some history, be required to extend his preparation in this subject. Restricting the area of certification seems to be one feasible way to raise the standards of instruction in the social studies.

C. In-Service Growth of Social Studies Teachers

A planned program for the improvement of instruction is the function of administrators and supervisors. Recognizing that many school systems have neither the personnel nor the resources to develop such a program, the Committee has endeavored to suggest some specific steps for the improvement of social studies teachers in service.

The in-service growth of social studies teachers can be promoted by well planned salary schedules, by inspiring supervision, by recognition of improved competence, by reading programs, by travel, and by graduate work. The success of all these means is dependent, of course, upon the quality, spirit, and ambition of the teacher.

One systematic device for insuring professional growth is the development of a reading program. The head of the department or the principal might well appoint a committee whose function would be to prepare monthly lists of articles and books which are helpful to social studies teachers. Some articles might be summarized and some of the books reviewed. These reading materials should cover all the social sciences as well as the social studies and education. Occasional meetings can profitably be devoted to discussions of current publications. Each department can work out ways and means of developing a stimulating reading program.

A second means of professional growth is that of publication. The teacher who tries to set down in writing his experiences gains thereby a new insight into them. The publication of courses, units, and articles in local periodicals or in mimeographed booklets gives the author recognition and tends to stimulate his professional development. There would seem to be many opportunities for teachers to write and publish in the field of local history as well as in education. An increasing number of teachers are to be found among contributors to magazines with national circulation.

A third avenue of growth is offered by professional and scholarly organizations, including those devoted to history, political science, economics, sociology, and geography, as well as to education. The teacher who is a member of such organizations and reads their journals, attends their meetings, and participates in their deliberations is assured of rich returns in satisfaction and increased competence.

Numerous aids to professional growth are available to the alert teacher. He knows that the nearby university has films which can be used, that the state department of education publishes guides and booklets of current interest, that Social Education, the national magazine for social studies teachers, lists government publications, films, and radio programs, that various publishers constantly issue timely booklets and pamphlets. In brief, the competent teacher is not helpless, bewildered, and alone, but is conscious of the generous means available for his professional growth.

The recent inauguration of national examinations has afforded teachers an opportunity to check their performance with that of others. The examination thus serves as an incentive to study and as a measure of relative achievement.

Another source of growth for social studies teachers is community service. The teacher who serves on a park board, a jury, or a bond committee, or who performs any type of public service, extends his contacts, deepens his insight, and secures materials which will consciously or unconsciously enrich his teaching.

Travel offers rich professional returns. Field trips to historical, literary, and industrial scenes are both pleasant and stimulating. Museums, art galleries, public buildings, and scenic spots broaden one’s horizon and expand one’s supply of illustrations. Summer travel was increasingly popular before the war. Many teachers conducted tours and thus combined travel and work.

Further study at the university offers its perennial challenge. Whether the teacher is seeking an advanced degree or inspiration and help for a particular course, he can be assured of a pleasant and often profitable six weeks. Graduate work has the further advantage of being a type of growth which administrators can recognize and sometimes appraise in terms of increased salaries.

These and other types of professional activities should be used to evaluate the performance and growth of social studies teachers. The administrator should recognize and wherever possible reward the teacher who demonstrates his professional vitality and growth.

As a specific incentive to professional improvement and a guarantee that it will materialize, the Committee recommends that certificates be issued with definite time limits and that their renewal be dependent upon demonstrated proof of professional growth. The types of evidence which a teacher seeking a renewal of his certificate might submit are described in the preceding paragraphs. The number of types and ways of evaluating them should be left to the certifying authorities.

One additional way of evaluating the professional growth of teachers may be suggested. Scholarly organizations, such as the American Historical Association, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, and the American Political Science Association should consider the feasibility of establishing regional committees to pass upon the competence of teachers when they seek either their original certificates or renewals. The recommendations of such committees would be extra-legal and advisory, but the certifying authorities would have, in addition to the credentials from colleges and administrators, the opinions of the examining committees of learned groups. Such participation would certainly lead these associations into a better understanding of the problem of improving instruction, and it would unquestionably be of value to those who issue certificates.

Since this report is not a book on teacher training or supervision or standards of professional competence, it does not go into detail as to how these criteria of professional growth can be applied. It does, however, deal specifically with the problem of graduate and summer work for social studies teachers.

D. Graduate Work for Social Studies Teachers

Graduate work for the social studies teacher should be closely related to his work in the classroom. The desire to acquire an advanced degree should not be the only factor determining the selection of courses. Since salary schedules and promotions in many schools are based upon the acquisition of a master’s degree, however, graduate schools should provide programs which lead to the degree and yet are related to the work of the teacher. They should remember that they are preparing classroom teachers and not research specialists. They should endeavor to enrich and expand the student’s knowledge of the whole field of history rather than to make him an expert in limited sectors. Graduate work for teachers is a problem in itself and should not be con-fused with the undergraduate program or with training for the doctorate.

Several graduate schools have already provided programs leading to the master’s degree which emphasize extensive rather than intensive training. Such programs provide for courses in three or more subjects and the preparation of frequent written reports rather than the writing of a thesis. In some institutions, for example, a social studies teacher may take about one third of his credits in history, a third in political science, and a third in education. All kinds of combinations and adjustments are possible. Some universities are experimenting with integrated courses at the graduate level. Such programs and experimental courses may point the way to more effective training for the social studies teacher.

It is a familiar fact that a large percentage of the graduate work carried on by social studies teachers falls within the field of education. While this Committee does not wish to disparage graduate work in education or to belittle its value, it does regret the fact that social studies teachers emphasize education rather than social science courses. Why does this situation prevail and what are the remedies?

There are several reasons why graduate work in education rather than in content subjects is chosen by many teachers. One influential factor is the simple fact that administrative work pays higher salaries than classroom teaching. Thus the teacher who is eager to advance in the profession seeks to become a principal, a supervisor, or a superintendent. Training for these positions is given largely in the field of education. The teacher of a subject, seeing no promise of advancement as a teacher, aspires to become an administrator and so enrolls in supervision, administration, school finance, and other education courses.

The obvious remedy for this situation is to raise the salaries of teachers. The teacher of social studies should not be required to desert his field in order to secure an adequate salary. If systematic and reasonable salary schedules were adopted many teachers would be satisfied to remain in the classroom, and they could then afford to take the training necessary to become proficient in their field.

While the training of school administrators is not the primary concern of this Committee, it does believe that graduate work in content subjects should constitute a larger part of the preparation of administrators than it now does. Fortunately, many superintendents and principals realize the value of work in history, political science, and other subjects and are broadening and deepening their preparation. The administrator who has an intimate knowledge of the social studies and the problems of teaching them is not likely to encourage a teacher to pursue courses in education exclusively. In fact, if the administrator is desirous of strengthening his faculty he will urge teachers to take courses which will improve their teaching of a subject rather than courses which will tend to prepare them for other careers.

Another obvious and influential reason why social studies teachers concentrate on education rather than the social sciences is their lack of prerequisites in the latter field. Graduates of teachers colleges frequently do not have enough credits in any one subject to meet the prerequisites for graduate work. In some instances candidates for advanced degrees are willing to take undergraduate courses without credit, but in many instances they turn to education, in which they already have the necessary prerequisites.

The remedy for this situation is not easy, but three steps might be suggested. First, teachers colleges and other institutions which train teachers should perhaps provide for greater concentration in two or three subjects. Their graduates would thus be admitted to advanced courses. Second, the teacher who changes his purpose should not ask for the lowering of standards to accommodate his deficiencies. He should be willing to remove the conditions by doing additional work. Third, graduate schools should consider, as many of them do, the needs and purposes of the individual teacher, allowing the exceptional teacher to proceed on the condition that he demonstrate his capacity to carry graduate work.

The Committee believes that a teacher who has a college degree from an accredited institution and teaching experience should be admitted to graduate courses. This is not a plea for lower standards; it is a plea for an opportunity for teachers to pursue graduate work in the social sciences. The professors who teach such courses will surely be able to judge the quality of work and thus maintain whatever standards have been established. And admission to courses should not be identified with admission to candidacy for a degree. Admission to candidacy for an advanced degree may well be based upon specific preparation in undergraduate courses, but the teacher who seeks to broaden his preparation for teaching should not be treated as though he were a candidate for a doctor’s degree.

Another reason why teachers emphasize graduate courses in education is the fact that they are seeking help in the problems of presentation. Whether a knowledge of history is a sufficient guarantee of successful teaching or not, the typical teacher does not think so; consequently he takes courses in tests and measurements, personnel, and methods. These courses are of unquestionable value, but they should certainly not constitute the whole graduate program of a social studies teacher.

Another reason why social studies teachers elect courses in education rather than in the social sciences is that graduate schools and social science departments fail to meet some of their needs. Inadequately prepared high-school teachers are often assigned classes in history. When they recognize their need for further preparation they find themselves discouraged from taking graduate courses in the social sciences either by prerequisites or because the courses are too specialized to give them the knowledge which they require. While any teacher can profit from an intensive course, he must often limit himself to those which have a relatively large scope. New viewpoints in history and the idea of a world state are examples of courses which have both depth and breadth.

Many graduate schools, especially those in metropolitan areas, can facilitate graduate work for social studies teachers by scheduling courses late in the afternoon and on Saturday. The professors of the social sciences who are mindful of this fact are in the minority. The importance of this matter of the schedule is apparent to anyone who contrasts the number of active teachers who are enrolled in content courses with those in education courses. The remedy for this situation is obvious.

It should not be forgotten that social studies teachers must do most of their graduate work during vacations. The offerings of the summer schools are therefore particularly important. Some institutions have included attractive features in their summer programs. Broad courses which have cultural and educational values for social studies teachers are sometimes offered in summer sessions. Courses in contemporary history, recent legislation, social security, and current economic problems, as well as those of a general survey type, appear in some summer catalogues. A few broad, well-conceived courses involving elements from all the social sciences have been offered on a few campuses.

Unfortunately, however, far too many of the summer session offerings are merely the anemic and weary versions of the same courses in history and education which are offered during the academic year. The needs and interests of teachers in content are too frequently ignored. Freshly organized courses in the social sciences prepared for teachers are so few as to be a phenomenon on the educational horizon. This situation evidences an indifference which should certainly be overcome.

Some of the causes for the inadequacies of summer schools are obvious. The fact that universities require that the summer session be self-sustaining is one explanation. The listless manner in which administrators and department heads prepare the budget, select the teaching personnel, and list the courses is another factor. The regular professors are frequently called to teach elsewhere, or they prefer to travel or do research rather than accept the mediocre salaries which prevail in summer schools. In their absence the courses are sometimes assigned to graduate students who are willing to work for enhanced prestige and little money. The total result is that the summer program often consists of courses which many teachers had in their undergraduate days.

  1. Believing that most summer sessions have often failed to provide adequately for social studies teachers, this Committee recommends:
  2. That colleges and universities make an earnest effort to ascertain the type of courses which would be of value to elementary and secondary teachers, and that their wishes be accepted as one important criterion of course offerings.
  3. That summer school salaries be raised to a level which will induce the best members of the several faculties to teach during the summer.
  4. That a general practice of exchange professorships, or visiting professorships, be encouraged.
  5. That new types of courses be offered, designed for mature men and women, and that whenever possible they provide for an integration of the several disciplines.
  6. That teachers whenever possible return to a college or university campus for a summer session; and that they select a school which recognizes their professional needs and makes an honest effort to satisfy them.

Next section: Public Opinion and History Teachers


  1. Graduate work for social studies teachers usually follows teaching experience; consequently the problem of graduate courses is discussed below. []
  2. The elimination of life certificates is interwoven with the in-service growth of social studies teachers, a subject which is discussed in Section C. []