National Council for the Social Studies

What People Say About Social Studies

Third party endorsements and testimonials from respected individuals can go a long way in shaping people's attitudes. Thus, it makes sense to collect such quotes and look for ways to use them in this public relations campaign.
This section includes a number of such comments. You can find others in your state or community that would have impact locally. A respected parent or recent graduate who credits social studies education with improving her or his potential for future success could influence some audiences. A state senator who understands the importance of social studies would also be good. Look for such quotes and keep them in your file of PR materials.
Here are some ways you can use supportive comments:

  • Create posters of quotes for your classroom.
  • Include quotes in speecInclude quotes in speeches or other presentations you make.
  • Build a mini-lesson on the importance of social studies around a quote.
  • Include quotes as fillers in school or school system newsletters or on web sites.
  • Include a quote as a heading on handouts to parents.
  • Include quotes on well-read school or classroom publications.

The Importance of An Educated Citizenry
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
--Thomas Jefferson

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.
--Thomas Jefferson

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.
--James Madison

...[I]t is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty or the capacity for self-government.
--Texas Declaration of Independence

In order that men may be prepared for self-government, their apprenticeship must commence in childhood. The great moral attribute of self-government cannot be born and matured in a day; and if school children are not trained to it, we only prepare ourselves for disappointment.
--Horace Mann

Democracy is still upon its trial. The civic genius of our people is its only bulwark.
--William James

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
--Thomas Jefferson

There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.
--John F. Kennedy


The life of a republic lies certainly in the energy, virtue, and intelligence of its citizens.
--Andrew Johnson

[T]he only title in our democracy superior to that of President [is] the title of citizen.
--Louis Brandeis

The common good is supported when all citizens become aware that the meaning and purpose of education in a democratic republic is the intellectual and ethical development of "student-citizens," young people who will soon assume the role of citizen. Individuals must understand that their self-interest is dependent upon the well-being of others in the community. Attention to the common good means putting first things first. If educators address the ethical and intellectual habits of students, other priorities will be realized.
--NCSS, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Good citizenship, compassion and respect for others are qualities just as important as learning to high standards in math, science and reading.
--Richard W. Riley

The citizen of the United States does not acquire his practical science and his positive notions from books; the instruction he has acquired may have prepared him for receiving those ideas, but it did not furnish them. The American learns to know the laws by participating in the act of legislation; and he takes a lesson in the forms of government from governing. The great work of society is ever going on before his eyes and, as it were, under his hands.
--Alexis De Tocqueville

The presence of minds highly and vigorously developed is the most powerful aid to popular education, and the necessary condition of its best success. In a country where the ruling power is public opinion, it is above all things necessary that the best and maturest thought should have a fair share in forming it. Such thought cannot exist in any force in the community without propagating its own image.
--Francis Parkman

No, the democratic way of life is not easy. It conveys great privileges with constant vigilance needed to preserve them. This vigilance must be maintained by those responsible for the government. And in our country those responsible are, we the people, no one else. Responsible citizenship is therefore the ... anchor of our republic. With it we can withstand the storm. Without it, we are helplessly at sea.
--Earl Warren

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.
--Learned Hand

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
--Wendell Phillips


Understanding the World, Hope for the Future

Education must teach us that all our actions on this planet, physical or social, are irrevocably interlocked."
--Ernest Boyer

Before you finish eating breakfast this morning, you've depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured....We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

The salvation of mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all.
--Alexander Solzhenitsyn

No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
--John Donne

The condition of our survival in any but the meagerest existence is our willingness to accommodate ourselves to the conflicting interests of others, to learn to live in a social world.
--Learned Hand

If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.
--Harry Truman

The solution of adult problems tomorrow depends, in large measure, upon the way our children grow up today. There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing that when we save our children, we save ourselves.
--Margaret Mead

Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. Expelled from individual consciousness by the rush of change, history finds its revenge by stamping the collective unconsciousness with habits, values, expectations, dreams. The dialectic between past and future will continue to form our lives.
--Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
--Margaret Mead

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
--George Santayana

The causes of events are ever more interesting than the events themselves.
--Marcus T. Cicero

When the space-age children reach their thirties and forties, they will have a unique opportunity to view the earth as a whole -- as a single unit -- for the first time. They perhaps will deal with technology, with science and with philosophy in a unified way, projecting an experience common to all men of all races, colors, and creeds who hold residence on the blue-green planet we call the earth.
--Barry Goldwater

There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader's hand in the margin are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books.
--George Santayana

In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power.
--John F. Kennedy

In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have.
--Lee Iacocca

I touch the future. I teach.
--Christa McAuliffe

Who so neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead for the future.
--Euripedes

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
--Albert Einstein

A man's feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.
--George Santayana


Social Studies

Such is the unity of all things that the first sentence on instruction in the social studies in the schools strikes into a seamless web too large for any human eye.
--Charles Beard

Amid all the fuss and feathers, there is substance, there is reality, in social studies....it will be said that the growth of social studies places on teachers an impossible burden, it compels them to deal with controversial questions....They are in a different position from that of a teacher of Latin or mathematics. They cannot master their subject reasonably well and settle back to a ripe old age early in life. The subject matter of their instruction is infinitely difficult and it is continually changing. If American democracy is to fulfill its high mission, those who train its youth must be among the wisest, most fearless, and most highly trained men and women this broad land can furnish.
--Charles Beard

A metaphor helps to illustrate the relationship between social studies and specific individual disciplines. Consider a musical ensemble such as an orchestra (the social studies program) as it performs a specific musical composition (a grade level or specific course within the curriculum). At certain times, one instrument (a discipline such as history) takes the lead while others (such as geography and economics) play supporting roles. At other times, several instruments (history, geography, economics) play together on an equal basis to explore the composer's thematic aims. The quality of the performance is the result of the composer's writing of the music (design of the social studies curriculum), the unique qualities of individual instruments (the contribution of individual disciplines), the acoustics of the setting (expertise of curriculum planners and teachers, school site facilities, and instructional resources), and the skills of musicians and the conductor (the abilities of students, teachers, and program planners).
--NCSS, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

I believe that one of the lasting values of social education is that if well organized it does prepare one to grapple with the wild fluctuations of his time. Any young person well grounded in the scholarship of the various fields, who has learned to explore developing problems, and identify likely sore points, and commit himself to their solution, comes away with an insight into our society that prepares him to face recurrent crisis.
--James A. Michener

I am much struck these days by the fact that certain powerful critics call both for the abandonment of social studies as a discipline and the solution of those social problems which only the social studies can analyze and solve. The more precarious our position becomes, the more we are needed.
--James A. Michener