A Social Studies based Curriculum: Walking in the Shoes of the “Other”

by Alex Ragone and Jay Birdwell, edits by Millie Cartagena

At City and Country, social studies is the core of our program. From the earliest ages, a Social Studies based approach to learning helps students build empathy for those who are part of their greater community.
We learn about our community by hearing the stories of others. Stories give context to our own lives and provide doorways to experiencing the lives of other people. Through Group discussion, children in younger Groups learn to be kind to others, recognizing and embracing difference. As children are developmentally ready to study people from long ago, this initial learning expands into the past of their neighborhood, their city, and the people who built the Brooklyn Bridge.

In the 8s (3rd Grade)—the first year in the Middle/Upper School—students delve deeper into the "other" as they extend their research to the Lenape and Dutch New Amsterdam. Children are asked to look at the different people that made up New York City, including American Indians and Europeans.  

In the 9s (4th Grade), our students continue to explore long ago, while moving farther away from New York; exploring the American colonies, slavery, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the Oregon Trail. Through literature and journals, children learn about the daily life of the enslaved Africans, the slave owner, the merchant, the abolitionist, and other people. They gain context through reading, looking at period images and artifacts, and sharing what they have learned with their peers. By learning about daily life of individuals, and trying to “walk in their shoes,” 9s begin to construct, in a small way, an understanding of ordinary people in history. This process gives them both content and context for what life was like for a person or people at that time. They begin to understand what it was like to be an American Indian, enslaved African, or settler. They develop personal connections with the people they are researching by acting out their parts through writing, drawing, and skits. Through this learning, they develop empathy for the people they are studying.

These strong connections with individuals allow the 9s to grapple with different points of view in history—building the skills necessary to look at history through different lenses. These same empathy skills are then applied to current events. Students begin to see (and understand) different points of view in our world today. This fall, protesters marched by many of our students’ homes, questioning the Eric Garner and Michael Brown Grand Jury decisions. Students and teachers discussed why these protests were happening, and the perspectives of the protesters, the police, and the government. They had in-depth conversations with one another while looking at the news through different viewpoints. A few of our students and their families joined the protests, and students shared their experiences.

Walking in the shoes of others is essential for building an understanding of how others experience the world. Because of the tragic news cycles this year, including the most recent news about Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, we have had many opportunities to look at current events through different individual views. Learning to see multiple perspectives is a major goal; at City and Country, we strive to connect social studies to the present day, developing consistent systems across our program.

If you’re a parent, have you had this type of experience with your child? If you’re an educator, would you like to add your reflections? Please do so in the comments below.

City and Country School

146 W 13th Street New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212.242.7802