The first chapter begins with a brief vignette designed to convey the importance of social studies. The following debriefing calls attention to the possibilities for compassionate responses to children as a means of building community. It then presents a definition of social studies that stresses the presence of both the formal and informal curricula while mentioning the importance of content that is relevant to students’ identities. It identifies the social sciences and humanities as the disciplinary basis for the social studies and explains that topics or themes are used to structure young students’ social studies learning experiences. It then offers a fuller explanation of the formal and informal social studies curricula. Finally, it introduces the null curriculum - social studies topics that classrooms do not discuss.

The next section explains that we should teach social studies stressing the need for informed civic participation and sensitivity to the needs of all citizens. It also mentions the roles the social sciences and humanities play as sources of knowledge that individuals use to derive meaning from their lives. It concludes with a discussion of the roles teachers and students play as decision-making participants shaping the climate of their classroom and its curriculum.