Dr. Ethel King-McKenzie Presents on Social Studies Teaching at Oxford

February 17, 2015

After presenting at an Oxford University research symposium in December, Dr. Ethel King-McKenzie returned to Kennesaw State University eager to continue her work on the importance of social studies education at the elementary school level.

King-McKenzie, an associate professor with the Bagwell College of Education, received professional development funding from the Kennesaw State University Division of Global Affairs (DGA) to present at the Oxford Education Research Symposium in England from Dec. 11-13, 2014.

The DGA makes funds available to faculty and staff for a variety of educational and training opportunities that support the University’s strategic internationalization efforts. While the specific professional development funding that King-McKenzie received is no longer offered to faculty, they can now apply for Strategic Internationalization Grants.

During her presentation, titled “Teaching Social Studies for Civic and Environmental Sustainability,” King-McKenzie discussed her research methods for improving elementary school social studies education, on which she is writing a book. She recommends changing provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act to include social studies in the list of subjects that students grades 3 through 8 are tested on annually. Currently, NCLB standardized tests focus on reading and mathematics.

“Social studies is too important to the continuance of the democracy, but left out of the education of children,” King-McKenzie says. “If the foundation is not laid for social studies in elementary school, then by middle and high school the students have lost the essence of it. It becomes more difficult to teach them.

“That’s why I’m trying to get stakeholders to realize that this is an important subject. I don’t like standardized testing – the idea of a one-shot test. But, if that’s the only way to get social studies to be considered important at the national level, then I say go ahead and test it.”

King-McKenzie fears that young people are growing up uninterested in participating in their democracy. She cites Census Bureau data reporting that, between 1964 and 2012, people aged 18 to 24 consistently voted in lower levels than any other age groups. The topic became especially important to her on Election Day 2012, when only five out of 20 female students in one of her classes said they planned to vote.

“I said ‘Susan B. Anthony must be turning in her grave,’” she says. “I was shocked when a student said to me ‘Who is Susan B. Anthony?’ I was nearly blown over! This woman marched in upstate New York in the rain, sleet, and cold to give women the right to vote.”

The Oxford Education Research Symposium offered King-McKenzie the opportunity to discuss her concerns with other educators from around the world. Visitors to the event included educators from Australia, Turkey, the U.S., Canada, and a host of other countries.

“It gave me exposure that I would not have had otherwise,” she says. “I had great feedback that has helped me forge ahead with my writing. It helped solidify my thinking that social studies is a very important subject and should have its time in the limelight.”

In addition to gaining valuable feedback about her research, King-McKenzie was able to fit in a small amount of sightseeing during her first-ever visit to England as an adult. Having grown up in Jamaica – once a British colony – her education was steeped in British tradition. Following the symposium, she took an excursion to London, where she saw firsthand many of the places and landmarks she read about as a girl.

The highlight was a visit to Westminster Bridge. King-McKenzie’s favorite poem is William Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,” in which the author describes the beauty of the city seen from the bridge during winter.

“I couldn’t leave without seeing this place that William Wordsworth wrote about,” King-McKenzie says. “A friend took me there and I recited the poem. Oh My Gosh! It felt so real!”

She also visited Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace before returning home.

King-McKenzie’s trip would not have been possible without the $1,500 in professional development funds she received from the Division of Global Affairs. Like all of the University’s schools, Bagwell College of Education has limited funds to spend on faculty travel. While Bagwell was able to cover the registration fee for the symposium and hotel accommodations, there was no money available for airfare.

Faculty and Staff interested in applying for funding from the DGA can visit the DGA Strategic Internationalization Grant Page to see all applicable rules and deadlines.

-Patrick Harbin