Teaching social studies amid ecological crisis

Mark T. Kissling, Jonathan T. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


We live in ecological crisis. While understanding the human-made crisis requires scientific expertise, addressing it requires active, informed citizens. Thus, the crisis is a matter for the field of social studies education, the subject area foremost tasked with teaching students to become effective citizens of their many communities. However, environmental issues (EI) have been marginal in the highly anthropocentric field. Through an online survey, this study investigated public-school secondary social studies teaching in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania at a time when powerful political forces have downplayed or refuted the ecological crisis. A strong majority of 1,174 responding teachers believed that it is important for social studies teachers to teach EI yet most did not teach EI often in the 2017–8 school year on account of four main barriers: perception that EI are more the domain of science than social studies; lack of comfort, preparation, and knowledge for teaching EI; political controversy surrounding EI; and already-crowded, non-EI-focused social studies curricula. Despite these barriers, there are encouraging signs for teachers teaching “earthen social studies” and addressing the crisis—but the field must support it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalTheory and Research in Social Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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