Skip to main content
Social studies from a care ethics perspective in an elementary classroom
Social Studies Research and Practice (2017)
  • Colette Rabin, San Jose State University
  • Grinell Smith, San Jose State University

The purpose of this paper is to explore social studies from the moral perspective of an ethic of care. Care ethics considers not only the cognitive skills but also the affective dimensions of educative experiences for how they might forward an ethical ideal of caring.


This case study was conducted in a second-grade classroom at a small, diverse, urban, independent K-8th grade elementary school. Data were gathered from six sources: notes from the participating second-grade teacher’s planning meetings over the course of a two and a half month unit of instruction about genealogy; lesson plans and observation notes; interviews of participating teachers; interviews with participating students; surveys of students; and the second-grade teacher’s reflective journal. The authors took a phenomenological approach to data analysis, examining the entire data set and conducting inductive interpretive coding to identify emergent themes.


The authors found that adopting the theoretical perspective of care ethics helped a novice elementary teacher revise his/her approach to social studies instruction. Care ethics led to the teacher coming to see himself/herself as a teacher of care ethics, focusing on dialogue over stories to teach caring in diverse contexts, and highlighting social aspects of the curriculum. The students’ descriptions of their learning indicate that they perceived a larger purpose for their social studies lessons – in this case, participation in social life – and that this perception contributed to their engagement.

Research limitations/implications

The study was conducted at one school site where the teachers enjoyed the intellectual freedom to infuse new perspectives such as care ethics into their curriculum. More research needs to be done to explore the feasibility of application of these ideas elsewhere.

Practical implications

Implications include how adopting an ethic of care provides a larger purpose for social studies that may deepen the educative experience, both for the teacher and for the students. Adopting an ethic of care in social studies might help cultivate students’ inclination to act in more caring ways toward one another.


This paper addresses the overlooked ethical purposes of teaching social studies from a care ethics perspective.
  • Care ethics,
  • Elementary education,
  • Moral education
Publication Date
Publisher Statement
SJSU users: use the following link to login and access the article via SJSU databases.
Citation Information
Colette Rabin and Grinell Smith. "Social studies from a care ethics perspective in an elementary classroom" Social Studies Research and Practice Vol. 12 Iss. 3 (2017) p. 325 - 340 ISSN: 1933-5415
Available at: