Benchmarks for Science Literacy: Chapter 15 THE RESEARCH BASE


A number of studies have examined the spontaneous development of students' conceptions and thinking in the social sciences. In these studies, student thinking is usually described by a series of levels or stages similar to those described by Piaget. Although such stages have been identified, little is known about how student developmental characteristics affect or are affected by formal instruction. As a result, it is difficult to draw conclusions from the research base about when and how students can learn this material. Also, the published research is spotty. For some topics, for example, those related to Political and Economic Systems, there is a small but growing literature base. Research on learning related to Cultural Effects on Behavior, Group Behavior, Social Change, Social Trade-offs, Social Conflict, and Global Interdependence is limited. Literature reviews can be found in Atwood (1986) and Shaver (1991).


Although lower elementary-school children do not have the capacity to see social conventions from another point of view, they can learn about and enjoy many concrete manifestations of cultural diversity (Ramsey, 1986). Research also suggests that students under the age of ten may be more receptive than older students to learning about other people and more likely to develop a positive outlook toward people from other cultures and homelands (Stone, 1986).

Research into student thinking about people from the past indicates that students do not realize that values, beliefs, and attitudes may differ from culture to culture or that people from other cultures have different ideas because their situations are different. Before students can reason about different world views, they often have to abandon the belief that some human cultures are biologically subordinate (Shelmit, 1984). Another complication is that students tend to impose contemporary values and ideas from their own culture upon other cultures (Shelmit, 1984).