Theses Doctoral

Toward a Framework of Inclusive Social Studies: Obstacles and Opportunities in a Preservice Teacher Education Program

Urban, Dennis Joseph

This study explores how one secondary social studies teacher education program prepares prospective teachers for inclusive education. Drawing on theories of democratic citizenship education and Disability Studies in Education, inclusive social studies envisions a socially democratic educational setting that fosters the development of a community of learners, attempts to balance the unity and diversity of democratic citizenship, and adopts a curriculum that is flexible, participatory, and accessible to learners of all abilities. Addressing the dearth of research on the intersection of social studies and inclusive education, as well as the limits of what we know about how prospective social studies teachers are prepared for inclusive schooling, this study answers the research question, How does a preservice social studies teacher education program help prepare prospective teachers for inclusive social studies? In addition, I explore preservice teachers' prior knowledge of and beliefs about disability, inclusion, and democratic citizenship, as well as the teaching and learning that take place within a social studies teacher education program. Over the course of one semester, I employed an instrumental case study design using an introductory questionnaire, multiple interviews and observations, and documents to explore preparation for inclusive social studies in a teacher education program at a New York college. Participants in the study included nine preservice teachers (four undergraduate students and five graduate students), the social studies program director and methods course instructor, and two special education instructors. Major findings indicate that normative structures of contemporary schooling, especially in the current era of standards-based educational reform, have hindered preparation for inclusive social studies, as they run counter to its constituent elements of democratic citizenship education and inclusive education. Although undergraduate and graduate social studies methods courses emphasized knowing and implementing democratic citizenship education, fostering a classroom community of diverse learners, and creating a flexible curriculum for students of all abilities, students in these programs frequently clung to narrow conceptions of democratic citizenship and inclusion. The intransigence of their prior knowledge and initial beliefs was influenced in part by their own experiences in social studies classrooms, both before and during their time in the program, as well as the persistence of ableism and the stigmatizing effects of disability in education. Theoretical and pedagogical incongruence throughout the program, coupled with a lack of critical reflective space, also resulted in students feeling unprepared to teach inclusive social studies. Obstacles to inclusive social studies included students' apprenticeships of observation, the persistence of the traditional special education paradigm, the limits of diversity education in addressing disability, and the lack of space for critical reflection. Opportunities for inclusive social studies, or areas in which there was some consistency and consensus across the disparate components of the program, focused on fostering classroom communities of learners and creating flexible, differentiated curricula. This study has implications for research, practice, and policy in the areas of inclusive education, teacher education, and democratic citizenship education.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Teaching of Social Studies
Thesis Advisors
Gaudelli, William
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2013