Overview and Rationale

            Social Studies is a broad content area that all teachers are required to teach in their classrooms, and because there are so many areas that social studies covers, psychology, anthropology, economics and sociology, to name a few, many times teacher feel frustrated and don’t know what to teach. When this happens most times teachers resort to pulling out a textbook and teaching straight from the textbook, without giving any other thought to what or how they are teaching. But in order for social studies lessons to become meaningful to the students, and to have the students gain valuable knowledge which they can apply social studies teaching needs to go farther than just the textbook.

            In today’s world there are so many social issues our students face on a daily basis and it is our job to not ignore and look the other way when injustices occur. We as teachers need to learn about the injustices of both the present and the past and then find ways to talk and learn about them in our classrooms. Many times teachers may see these social injustices as “touchy” subjects, and are afraid of offending or getting into moral issues with their students. Teachers need to be aware of the differences their students may have in values and morals, but teachers need to find ways to teach acceptance of these differences and teach their students to discuss and learn with others who may think differently from them. Learning about social injustices in the past and present can facilitate this type of learning in the classroom. Learning about the past and linking ourselves to it is perhaps the key in learning about injustices so we are aware of them and therefore are less likely to allow them to reoccur.

            If you are a student in Utah during the fourth grade the social studies content you learn is Utah history, which if full of diversity. During this year of learning about the history of Utah teachers are presented with a great opportunity to talk about social injustices which are very much a part of the states history. Any Utah history book you pick up will talk about the “Mormons”, or those belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, crossing the plains from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley. The book will talk about how these were the first white settlers to stop, cultivate and make Utah their permanent home. But very few will talk about why the Mormons came to Utah, and why with so many other settlers going on to California and Oregon, which were much more coveted places to live, did the Mormons decide to make their home in Utah which, to most, was unwanted land. Many times the books talk about this group of people and how they weren’t liked by their neighbors in other places, but it does not go in to depth about exactly what caused the people to make such a drastic move. Teacher often times feel like they can not study this area in depth because it would be mixing church and state, but that is not true. We study the religious persecution the Jews received, and the religious persecution in Israel, so why can we not talk about the religious persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? If it were not for the persecution this group received in the Midwestern states, they would have never thought about moving to what many thought the barren land of Utah.

            If teachers will take the opportunity to study this social injustice with their students they will find they can cover Utah history and they will also be able to cover many of the national standards put out by the National Council for the Social Studies. This national council has stated that students need to learn about the multicultural society they live in, and need to understand multiple perspectives that come from different cultures, and most importantly students need to gain an understanding that will enable them to relate those perspectives in our nation and the world. Teachers can teach and foster this understanding while teaching about the reasons the Mormon pioneers made the long journey to Utah.

Another area that can be covered while teaching about the Mormon pioneers which is set by the National Council for the Social Studies is students need to learn the answers to these questions: “Where are things located? Why are they located where they are? What patterns are reflected in the groupings of things? What do we mean by region? How do landforms change? What implications do these changes have for people?” Through learning the answers to these questions students can learn about the relationships between human beings and their environment and deepen their understanding of the external influences in their own life. Students can learn about how Brigham Young designed the cities and towns in Utah, why he set things up the way he did and so many other areas and meet these standards along with learning our states history.

Lastly the National Council for the Social Studies talks about how institutions within our community play a major role in each of our lives, and influence us in many ways. They also say students need to learn about these different organizations and institutions, how they are created, their influence on each of us and how they have been maintained through the years, and have changed through the years. When studying Utah history it is an ideal time for teachers to look at how institutions, a church for example, have had a major influence on history. Many people who live in Utah claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has too much influence in the state, and because of this teachers are afraid to talk about this church in their classrooms. But what we cannot forget, or change the fact that this very church was what brought people to Utah, and if it were not for this group of people the history of Utah would be dramatically different. Here in Utah we have a prime example of a church influencing the community, so teachers need to take advantage of this and teach their students about this influence and how it affects each of our lives. You can not study Utah history effectively without studying the history behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and when studying this group of people it is not a mix a church and state, it is looking at our states history and if we examine it close enough we can look at a social injustice which took place. And from learning about this injustice we can deepen our students understanding of differences, influences of intuitions on our lives, and about the multicultural society we live in today.