3 ways social studies teachers can combat ‘truth decay’

'Civic education can teach students the skills and attitudes that are crucial in a democracy," behavioral scientist says
By: | December 8, 2020
Only one in five social studies teachers in U.S. public schools say they have sufficient training and resources despite efforts to prioritize students’ civic development, according to a survey. (GettyImages/Westend61)Only one in five social studies teachers in U.S. public schools say they have sufficient training and resources despite efforts to prioritize students’ civic development, according to a survey. (GettyImages/Westend61)

‘Truth decay’ threatens K-12 students because many social studies feel unprepared to teach civic learning, according to a RAND Corporation survey.

Only one in five social studies teachers in U.S. public schools say they have sufficient training and resources despite efforts to prioritize students’ civic development, according to “Preparing Children and Youth for Civic Life in the Era of Truth Decay.”

“Beyond being a component of social studies, civic education can teach students the skills and attitudes—a sense of civic duty, concern for the welfare of others, critical thinking—that are crucial in a democracy,” said Laura Hamilton, lead author of the report and adjunct behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Between a third and just over half of elementary and secondary social studies teachers reported not receiving training on civic education, according to the survey conducted in late 2019.


More from DALibrarians leading the way with innovation, support during COVID


RAND’s goal was to analyze how teachers are handling civics education in a partisan political landscape and with increasing distrust in institutions such as the media, researchers say.

The social studies teachers survey reported the use of promising practices such as discussions of current events, service learning, and simulations of the democratic process.

Teachers also said social-emotional learning and improving school climate were key strategies for promoting civic education.

Secondary teachers said they focused on emigration and immigration race and gender inequality, and critical thinking.

Teachers of color and those serving more English-language learners reported emphasizing many civics topics to a greater extent than did other teachers.


More from DAMicro-credentials gain PD momentum during COVID


Most civics teachers also reported using instructional materials they found or created themselves.

“District materials were reported to be culturally appropriate and effective, but at least half of the teachers reported a need for better civics resources and instructional resources more culturally relevant and appropriate for English-language learners.” said Julia Kaufman, co-author and a senior policy researcher at RAND.

Among the Rand report’s recommendations:

  • Especially at the elementary level, teachers should receive professional development, encouragement and support to promote civic development. Teachers need guidance on integrating civic-learning opportunities into instruction and other classroom activities.
  • Teachers need additional instructional materials to cover the full menu of civic skills in a way that is engaging, culturally relevant and tailored to the needs of all students, particularly English-language learners.
  • Policy should support a sustained focus on civics with an emphasis on learning standards and high-quality curricula. This could create environments that are more conducive to civic education.