I grew up in a suburban (my wife says rural) part of Maryland, USA, about forty-five minutes northwest of Baltimore. I attended college in the same area, studying history and political science. It wasn’t until the end of my college career that I decided that I wanted to teach. I immediately enrolled in McDaniel College’s BEST program, where I earned my teaching license as well as my Masters Degree. From there, I began teaching in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade social studies to some of my favorite students and with some of the best teachers I’ve ever met. It was a truly rewarding experience!
In time, I met my future wife, who had to leave for a residency in Pittsburgh. So, being in love, I followed her there and also took the opportunity to pursue my life-long dream of earning my doctorate. I decided that I would focus my studies on some work that I had begun with George Mason University, thinking about how to teach students to think historically. I quickly merged this interest and my love of language to focus on how causation presents itself in history textbooks (the most common form of reading in US history classes) and how students understood the various explicit and implicit forms of causation. It was a small, qualitative study but it demonstrated how differently students can envision history just through minor linguistic variation.
My study was conducted in an urban middle school, just outside of Pittsburgh. As I walked through this school everyday to observe classes and collect data, I was struck by how different it was to the school that I used to teach in. Metal detectors, armed police officers, and strict policies were the norm here as they are in so many urban schools. Learning more about the area, it was one of the last to desegregate in the country and now suffered from white flight. Although the surrounding homes suggested a well-integrated population, the school was filled with minority students while many white families chose to send their children to private schools. This symptom matched many of the others that often coincide with inequality–a run-down building, dark rooms, minimal technology, etc. As I sat in the classrooms throughout the school, I couldn’t help but think about how causation was not a topic many of these students were interested in. Rather, maybe the focus should be on what social studies could teach students about navigating the real world and making positive changes in their own lives. Rather than talk about agency in text (which I still think is VERY important to literacy purposes), maybe social studies should focus more on helping students become agents in their own lives.
When I arrived at Wagner College, I quickly made connections to Generation Citizen, a non-profit organizations focusing on action civics. Through out collaborations, I have begun exploring what the social studies can do to support 21st Century learning and citizenship education. My research is currently at the intersection of the cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of successful action civics as well as the possibilities that technology might provide students engaging in civic action. When I’m not teaching and researching, I enjoy spending my time with my family, reading, and running.
As I continue this journey, please feel free to follow me on twitter @profjfitz.