Reframing How to Become More Inclusionary in Social Studies: An Educator and an Expert Reflect

Reframing How to Become More Inclusionary in Social Studies: An Educator and an Expert Reflect

Casey T. Jakubowski

The inclusion or exclusion of people, places, and events from history and a state’s designated social studies curriculum is a political decision, made fraught with what makes the final cut is telling about a system or society (Osler, 2009).  As a New York State certified social studies teacher, and now a teacher educator, I recognize the need to broaden the State’s inclusion of so many different people, events, and history. Usually the addition of underrepresented voices to the predominant narrative focuses on peoples from outside European backgrounds. With the recent passing of my great aunt, and her connection to our family, and my exploration of genealogy, I was wondering  why does Poland not appear as a large empire, and its accomplishments not recorded in the New York State Social Studies Standards? I am also concerned that Poland’s narrative is cast as a victim of world history, and its large and cohesive diaspora ignored?

I was concerned, due to the positionality that I hold as a member of the educated elite (Camicia,2015) raising this exclusion as a “minor complaint” since my ethnic backgrounds (Polish, Irish, and other European nations) are robustly included in the state standards. Yet, I was bothered, remembering what I knew, and what I taught in 9th and 10th grade social studies, and when I was an adjunct college professor teaching introductory world history and United States History (Jakubowski, 2016). Most American students do not know “their history” (Heafner & Fitchett, 2018). As I now have an opportunity to teach future elementary teachers with responsibility to implement social studies, my students and I are partially aware of European history, and the diaspora of most Euro- American Immigrant history, so our pasts are not excluded from most classrooms. Yet  Poles and Polonia have often been treated as “others” due to their Eastern European backgrounds, Catholic and Jewish religions, and the tragedy of the Polish nation forced into the Soviet Sphere of influence after World War II (Davies, 2005). 

In the historiography of the empire, and its diaspora, Poland, has since 1066, leaned west with its culture, language, and religion (Davies, 2005). The nation of Poland uses Latin script, and adopted Western Christianity (Davies, 2005). Historically, its rulers, when not native Polish, have originated from France, the Holy Roman Empire, and western leaning states (Davies, 2005)

The Polish military, from the Siege of Vienna to World War II, have fought valiantly, and often against foreign aggressors (Davies, 2005).  With the Cold War ramping up, and  a desire by the US and the UK to appease Stalin, Poland’s government in exile, its historical contributions to the Western War effort in World War II, and other places were erased from the textbooks (Olsen & Cloud, 2003).

Unfortunately, in New York’s social studies curriculum and framework, a real exclusion of a large and resilient ethnic culture is missing. The importance and impact of Poland and Polonia to the growth and development of the United States needs telling, and it is really concerning that there is a large gap in the curriculum (Thompson, 2005).  This paper serves as a review, from my lens as an ethnically identifying Polish American (Polonia) to examine one of the five largest states (by population) treatment of a large ethnic minority in its history education curriculum.

Literature review

This is a two part brief literature  review. First is a brief introduction to some texts which may help teachers understand the significance of Poland and Polonia in history. The second part is a brief discussion of how exclusion from curricula can impact students. It is important to note, that while all history is significantly political, a question emerges: with almost 1 million Poles and Polonia in New York State, why is such a significant percentage of the population excluded from the social studies curriculum?

Poland and Polonia’s history is robust, and reflects many advances and challenges. Polonia is defined as the diaspora of the Polish Ethnic population into the world (Davies, 2005).  Very little of this profoundly engaging history, culture, and society is intentionally included in the New York State K-12 social studies frameworks. As I have written elsewhere (Jakubowski, 2021; 2020), teacher’s backgrounds are critical and crucial to understanding their professional pathways. Further, the exclusion of Polish and Polonia’s impact on world and US history is very disconcerting, especially as the role which the Pope, the nation, and its American diaspora played in ending the western-eastern cold war (Ubrico, 2006; Weigel, 2010).  I would recommend that we create a more balanced approach to European history, and offer additional opportunities for students to learn about places beyond France, Britain, and Germany.  One place to start is the extraordinary readable work by Bukowczyk (2017) which examines the Polish diaspora to the United States.  Recently published (Bukowczyk, 2021) work concerning Polish and Polonia women is a short, yet extraordinarily useful resource for teachers.

From the  American Revolution (Pulaski & Kosciuszko) Polish nobility heroically assisted Washington and others to fight for American independence.  Marie nee Sklodowska Curie, became the only winner of the Nobel prize in Chemistry and Physics. Poland was viewed as the breadbasket of Eastern Europe, and provided significant grains to Europe. After the division of Poland and the late 1800s uprisings, millions of Poles immigrated to the United States, where they became workers and leaders in the industrialization of cities in the Northeast. Through their ancestors’ hard work, and creation of religious and cultural communities, especially in urban areas, Polonia anchored the rise in industry and community architecture with the soaring churches and foods which are hearty and now part of American foods.  Dr Francis Fronczak, the first Polish American awarded a medical doctor degree, and became the Commissioner of Health, and led efforts during World War I and II for relief both in Europe and in the United States for displaced persons (Dabrowski, 2018).

When called upon to serve its adopted homeland in the trenches of World War I and II, as well as Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, Polonia produced statesmen, leaders,  heroes, like LT. COL.  Matthew Urban, and General John Shalikashvilli (Bukowicz, 2017). With so much history to select, it is upsetting that Poland and Polonia are not a greater part of New York State’s social studies curriculum (Jakubowski, 2016).

Literature review: Exclusions

There has recently been significant national debate on who, what, and why certain aspects of teaching are acceptable.  As revealed by the debate over critical race theory, slavery, and under represented communities, many conservative state legislatures have enacted legislation banning the teaching of controversy. The public debate has led to a number of critiques of not only state legislatures, but of state standards in social studies, and who is included, who is excluded, and the politics behind the decisions (Popp, et al, 2021)

As one leading article reported (Au & Apple, 2009), all curriculum is designed to include or exclude people, events and memory for a multitude of reasons. With the current debates concerning Critical Race Theory, and what the term means, and the legality of teaching the topic in schools, many social studies teachers and elementary educators are concerned that a heritage crusade is emerging from the conservative powers to limit exposure to a wide range of topics, including slavery in the United States’ schools (Giroux, 2021).   Harris & Reynolds, (2014) in their review and study of history curriculum discovered that  “feel a lack of personal connection to the past, as they do not see themselves in the history they are taught.”  The need to ensure students understand history is crucial and critical. It is even more important that as the United States, and New York diversify, the increase of historically marginalized groups are included in the curriculum.  In a profoundly important study, Levstik (2008), investigated and found how absences in the state sponsored curriculum extended into the textbook, and classroom repertoire of teachers. Barton & Levstik (2018) also found this phenomena in a second study, and discovered that adolescents who are excluded from the curriculum as an identity group seek to understand what happened, both positively and negatively.

 Where there is absence, there is silence. And silence, especially among Polonia, has historical roots in discriminiation. As Pula (1995) and many others have reported, early Polish immigrants, and then later  Polish Americans faced significant discrimination from the more settled white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and others. The anti-Eastern European, anti-Catholic, and other forms of bigotry in the nation created burdens within the communities. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and New York City, many Polonia members created their own communities, civic societies, and schools, as the education system was charged with creating Americans, and recruiting for the Protestant churches through public bible readings. As Bukowczyk (1998) revealed in his work, the Polish American Community was othered deeply and with true discrimination across the north eastern United States, as labor looked upon these post 1890 immigrants as obsticles towards increasing pay, benefits, and unionization.

Therefore, a rich historical tradition is missing from the United States and world, with the exclusion of this literature. And, with significant numbers of Polish Americans in the New York State cities, suburbs, and rural areas, we now turn to the actual study of New York State’s Social Studies Curriculum.

The study

Utilizing critical discourse analysis (Gee, 2014) this paper examines the New York State Social Studies framework.  Critical Discourse Analysis is the examination of the materials and resources within a document. Critical Discourse Analysis further asks why documents were created, and what the significant purpose for the communication to a broader range of people beyond the initial stakeholders who created the document. The framework is crucial, as New York is one of the largest states in the United States, and is influential in publishing classroom resources such as textbooks. Further, many New York teachers are part of larger, national professional groups in the teaching of education majors, and social studies groups. This study reviewed the 2021 updates of the New York State Social Studies frameworks, or (NYSSSF, 2021) the guiding document for teachers and students in the 600+ school districts in New York State. 

The genesis for the latest social studies framework was the desire of the New York State Education Department, in the Board of Regents action plan to update the framework after the release of the Common Core State Learning Standards, identified the need to include more “history” post 9-11.  It was decided in 2014 to empanel a list of experts in multiple fields to create a more robust social studies curriculum, and a new set of Regents Exams, which are the penultimate end of course exams. With significant criticism of past regents exams by scholars (Dozono, 2020; Grant, 2001; Hursh, 2001; Maestri, 2006) the decision was made to implement new regents exam format, and mandate teachers and students, alike, focus on content specifications which was explicitly spelled out under broader  key ideas and  conceptual understandings (NYSSSF, 2021, p. 10).  The new framework retained the 10 areas of core knowledge and skills from the National Council for the Social Studies, and implemented five skills of an engaged scholar, as part of the national College, Career, and Civic Life standards (Swan & Griffin, 2013). An Inquiry Arc suggested to teachers that the C3 Standards, along with state specific content, would create a “ better social studies” experience for students (Swan & Griffin, 2013).

Undertaking Discourse Analysis, I started with an overall read of the K-12 New York State Framework. From the initial read, I explored for specific words related to Poland, the grade level of their first appearance, and then their frequency.


Poland specifically appears once in the entire 150+ page document. In 11th grade United States history and geography, Poland is included as a “throwaway” to the cold war, specifically how decisions were made to impact people following World War II. The point of the specific bullet is focused on America, and its Cold War conflict with the USSR. While 11th grade is focused on the United States, the unit wants students to understand how the previously “insulated” United States was forced onto the world stage as an emerging superpower. What does this significant lack of content mean? An over 1000 year old empire, the home to a number of scientific, political, religious, cultural, environmental and archeological treasures is absent. 


How can teachers be helped, educated, and resourced when there is a glaring and profound absence of one of the more significant ethic groups in the state? First, throughout the document, there are “latitudes’ ‘ given to teachers to allow them to focus on “local history” as necessary.  In the 2000 census, almost one million Polish and Polonia lived in New York State. Polish Americans are local to the State. Therefore, it is up to teachers in the classroom to include the Polish and Polish Americans across the curriculum, with little formal resources and training.

Second, the state of the current curriculum must be revised. With the (renewed) rise of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and the continued immigration of Poles to North America as the European Union and the United Kingdom have reduced acceptance of Polonia migrants. The state education department’s curriculum office must ensure that in their next revision to the state social studies scope and sequence, the Polish and Polish American community is represented in the topics covered.

Third, most students are unprepared with understanding the role of Eastern Europeans in US and American culture from the second great immigration wave post 1890. While the Irish, Armenian, Bosnian, and other tragedies are included, why are the achievements, and repression of the Polish not? Why does the 9th and 10th grade World history and Geography curriculum not include mention of the founding of Jagiellon University, the Liberal Veto by the Sejim? Why are the Western  names of the scholars, such as Copernicus and Curie included, but not their Polish ones?  The Polish Americans contribution to US history is profoundly lacking as well. Many immigrant Poles were part of the farming communities, the second industrialization in the United States, and the suburbanization following World War II. Many Polish American communities in the Northeast built the large churches which dot city skylines. The laborers, families, and homesteaders contributed to the growth and economic prosperity of the post World War II era. The Polonia community actively sent monetary aid to relatives in Poland suffering under communism. These Americans witnessed, supported and thrived, using their limited influence to help Pope John Paul II end communism in the Eastern European nations. Their Polish Language newspapers spread the business advertisements of local entrepreneurs, and their choices of houses, often vacated by previous immigrant communities enlivened downtowns, until the Post World War II suburbanization efforts and red lining led to the decay we see today. Yet the Polish culture and tradition of many communities is rebounding, and there is hope that the revitalization of historic Polonia will lead to more knowledge and understanding (Pienkos, 2019). 


History and Social Studies are an ever evolving part of the New York State school curriculum and standards. As literature reviewed above explains, excluding students from the curriculum leads to disengagement, and disassociation. In New York, one of the largest ethic groups, the Polish and Polish Americans, are de facto excluded from over 99% of the curriculum. In reviewing the 2021 New York State Social Studies Frameworks, the total number of times Poland, Polish Americans, or related content is explicitly covered is once. Therefore, the State of New York is excluding one of the largest and most significant groups from study. The lack of inclusion of Polish and Polish American history effectively excludes future generations an opportunity to explore the contributions, interdisciplinary, of one of the largest empires, and important immigrant communities to the United States. It is imperative that the New York State Education Department right this wrong, in order to increase the inclusivity in its guide to teaching and learning for the fourth largest state in the nation.


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New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

Cathy A.R. Brant

On Monday March 1, 2021 Governor Phil Murphy Signed Assembly Bill No. 4454 of which Section C.18A:35-4.36a which mandates that New Jersey K-12 public school curriculum to include instruction on diversity and inclusion:

Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, each school district shall incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. b. The instruction shall: (1) highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance; (2) examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and (3) encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs (New Jersey Legislature, 2021)

For many teachers, it is a relief that it is now state law that issues of diversity and equity are mandated parts of the curriculum. In fact, in my work with pre-service teachers one of the most common threads I hear from my students is that they want to address issues of equity, racism, inclusion, homophobia, and other diversity related issues but have concerns about push-back from their colleagues, their administrators, and their students’ parents. For other teachers, it can seem like a daunting task to address these topics in an age-appropriate way, especially in the elementary grades.  In addition to the new diversity and inclusion law on June 3, 2020, the State Board of Education adopted the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) (State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), which go into effect during the 2022-2023 school year. This article lays out how this new curricular law could be covered in age-appropriate elementary grades using the new 2020 social studies standards. Additionally, curricular resources will be provided to help teachers address these topics.

New Jersey Diversity Law

The new NJ Diversity law has three areas of focus. The first area is highlighting and promotion of diversity.  This instruction should help children understand the differences that exist between people due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious differences, etc. The goal of this law, in the elementary school setting, is for young students to understand the ways in which diversity exists in the world and to see the commonalities between their lives and the lives of others.  This idea is not new. Multicultural Education (MCE) has been around for decades (cite).  Multicultural education “an approach to teaching and learning that is based upon the democratic values and beliefs and that affirms cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies in an interdependent world” with the goal of fostering “the intellectual, social, and personal development of all students to their highest potential” (Bennett, 2003, p. 14). Students who engage in a robust multicultural curriculum learn about aspects of identities, to appreciate and value the diversity of others in the world, and to help students develop cross-cultural competence to prepare them for lifelong interactions with people who are different from themselves.

The second part of the law focuses on understanding unconscious biases. Unconscious biases, or implicit biases:

…are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.  Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values (University of California-San Francisco, n.d.)

Children need to understand the ways that they may unintentionally engage in biased behavior that impacts others as well as understand the ways that bias, and discrimination exist at an institutional level.

The third section talks about the instruction itself in including encouraging safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students.  In other words, the instruction should include the elements presented in the first two parts of the law but should also “[accept] and [affirm]the pluralisms (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities and teachers reflect” (Nieto and Bode, 2008, p. 44) in a way that all students feel welcomed in the classroom and school community.  The law explicitly articulates that this instruction should include topics of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.

It is clear why this law was enacted. Students need purposeful inclusion of cultural education in the elementary classroom (McCarty, 2010). As the children of New Jersey grow up, they continue to interact with those of different races or ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs and will need to be prepared to be aware of the local as well as the global community (Kirkwood, 2001). They will be aware of global issues that go beyond their backyards such as global pandemics, the climate crisis, poverty, and other global inequities and transnational migration. Teachers, both explicitly and implicitly, make daily instructional decisions about “how students perceive their own culture, their nation, the lives of people around the world, and the issues and conflicts facing the planet” (Merryfield, 2002, p. 19), so there needs to be a deliberate shift in making this instruction explicit so that students can become productive citizens of their community and the world.

2020 New Jersey Social Studies Student Learning Standards

One of the major changes to the new NJSLS is the re-banding of the standards from K-4, 5-8, 9-12 to the following bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. The new standards lay out the core ideas which “represent the knowledge and skills that they should be able to apply to new situations outside of the school experience” (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 22). Curriculum writers and educators can use these core ideas as the basis for formative, summative, and benchmark assessments. Additionally, the standards describe the performance expectations, what students should know and be able to do by the end of the band.  The 2021 NJSLS have 18 key disciplinary concepts from the four main disciplinary domains of social studies: civics, geography, economics and history. See Table 1:

Table 1: 2021 NJSLS key disciplinary concepts:

Civics, Government, and Human Rights Civic and Political InstitutionsParticipation and DeliberationDemocratic PrinciplesProcesses and RulesHuman and Civil RightsCivic MindednessGeography, People and the Environment Spatial Views of the World Human Population Patterns Human Environment InteractionGlobal InterconnectionsEconomics, Innovation and Technology Exchange and Markets National EconomyGlobal EconomyHistory, Culture, and Perspectives Continuity and ChangeUnderstanding Perspectives Historical Sourcing and Evidence Claims and Argumentation  

In addition to the core disciplinary concepts, the new standards also present core ideas under each of these disciplinary concepts which students should be able to achieve by the end of a grade level. It is easy to see how many of these can be connected to highlighting and promoting the diversity of others. For example, under the concept of History, Culture, and Perspectives: Understanding Perspectives, by the end of Grade 2 students should be able understand that 1) Two or more individuals can have a different understanding of the same event, and 2) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures. By the end of grade 5, students will be able to understand 1) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures, and 2) Events may be viewed differently based on one’s perspective (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 18). This is just one example of the explicit connections between the new standards and the diversity law, but what is even more important are the pedagogical practices on how to teach these concepts.

Lesson Ideas

In this section I will highlight four specific indicators, three from the K-2 band and one from the 3-5 band.  These indicators have been selected as they directly relate to the new legislation. This should serve as affirmation for elementary grade teachers that they can and are required to teach this content. One of the best ways to help students see themselves reflected and affirmed in the curriculum, and to provide windows into the lives of others who may differ from them is through high quality children’s literature (Sims Bishop, 1990). In addition to discussing how the standards can be addressed in the curriculum, I will highlight high quality multicultural children’s literature that will help teachers do so. The kindergarten through second grade standards opens up spaces in elementary classrooms to lay the foundation for addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The third grade through fifth grade band allows teachers to add layers to what the kindergarten through second grade teachers introduced.  Once students understand that differences exist, how stereotyping and prejudice is problematic, and promoting ideas of tolerance and respect for others, teachers and students adapt a more critical lens, going beyond their own experiences to focusing on the experiences of others and greater system issues of discrimination and marginalization.

6.1.2.CivicsCM.3: Explain how diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect for others can contribute to individuals feeling accepted.

With young children, we need to scaffold their understanding of the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect. Even in the youngest grades, teachers can have conversations with children about their identities, affirming their identities, and helping them appreciate and value the differences between their identities and the identities of others (Teaching Tolerance, 2018). Setting this groundwork in the early grades can allow for explicit instruction, in later grades, on more complex aspects of these topics such as personal biases and systemic oppression. The Day You Beginwritten by Jacqueline Woodson (Woodson, 2018) is a perfect book to help introduce the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect to young children, and helping students see the commonalities between each other. Angelina comes to school and notices the many ways in which she is different from her peers, including her skin color, hair texture, and is nervous to share the fact that she and her family did not go on any big or exciting trips over the summer vacation. Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, is embarrassed when his classmates laugh at his accent. Another student is upset when a classmate criticizes her lunch of meat, rice and kimchi. Woodson, then, has Angelina share her story about her summer vacation, and other students begin to make connections. Woodson encourages the reader to not only recognize the difference between people and not to treat people poorly because of them, but for each reader to have a sense of pride in the ways in which they are different and special.

6.1.2.HistoryUP.3: Use examples from the past and present to describe how stereotyping and prejudice can lead to conflict.

In almost every elementary classroom, teachers have heard students say phrases like, “Girls can’t do that” or “That’s a girl’s toy, not a boy’s toy,” or “Pink can’t be your favorite color, you’re a boy!” Pink is for Boys by Robb Perlmann and illustrated by Eda Kaben (Perlmann, 2018) is a book that would serve as a great entry point to talk about how stereotypes and prejudice can lead to conflict. The book goes through the various colors of the rainbow and states that the color is for both boys and girls. The book encourages children to do what they love, regardless of the gender stereotypes associated with that activity.  A teacher can read this book and have explicit discussions with children about the times that they were made fun of or criticized for liking things that were stereotypical for another gender. The teacher could lead the students to engage in critical work to think about why certain colors, toys, clothes, etc. are marketed to a specific gender instead of to all genders.  This text could also lead into conversations about children who do not fit into the gender binary.  After beginning a lesson or a unit on exploring gender stereotypes, the teacher could then introduce a book about a transgender such as When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff.  This text tells the story of Aidan, who when he was born, everyone thought he was a girl, but was really a transgender boy.  The book discusses how Aidan’s self-image changed when he was able to be his authentic self. This book is an excellent resource to introduce the topic of transgender individuals and how they should be treated.

6.1.5.CivicsPD.3: Explain how and why it is important that people from diverse cultures collaborate to find solutions to community, state, national, and global challenges.

The goal of this standard is for students to take the skills that they have started to learn in earlier grades about understanding and valuing cultural differences to begin to understand how people with those cultural differences can work together. This is important for students to understand the problem solving that goes on in their communities, their state, their nation, and in the world.  Students can begin to see how issues like global warming, war and poverty are relevant in the United States but across the globe and that everyone needs to do their part to work together to begin to solve these problems. Harlem Grown by Tony Hillery is a great place for young students to see how people can come together to make a difference in their community. This book is the true story about how the author, with the help of his community, turned an empty lot in Harlem, New York into a community farm (Hillery, 2020).  The book shows the way that This book could be paired with Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Seedfolks is a similar story set in Cleveland, Ohio in which a young Vietnamese girl plants seeds in an empty lot near her home. As her plants began to grow, other neighbors from diverse backgrounds began to plant their own fruits and vegetables. The book shares the rich diversity of the neighborhood and how the community garden brought these very different people together.

6.1.5.HistoryCC: Evaluate the impact of ideas, inventions, and other contributions of prominent figures who lived in New Jersey.

In addition to celebrating New Jersey heroes like astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, author Judy Bloom, and inventor Thomas Edison, we need to be explicit in highlighting the contributions and accomplishments of New Jersey who come from diverse backgrounds including jazz artist Count Basie, Joe Black, the first African American to win a World Series Game, suffragist Lucy Stone, and actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson. Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, was an All-American football player at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University), and then got his law degree.  Despite having a degree in law, Robeson became a singer, actor and activist. Robeson believed that part of his responsibilities as a celebrity was to fight inequity and injustice. Grandpa Stops a War: A Paul Robeson Story is one example of a book that can be shared with upper elementary students. In the book the author, Susan Robeson (Paul Robeson’s granddaughter), shares the story of her grandfather using his singing talent to help raise funds for those displaced during the Spanish Civil War. What is especially poignant about this book is that fact that Robeson used his natural gifts, of song, to help make a change. A book, such as this, can help students see the ways that they can be who they are and positively impact their communities and the world. This book could also be combined with others about other activists for equality such as Lucy Stone, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez.

Concluding Thoughts

These are just four examples of the intersections between the new New Jersey Assembly Bill No. 4454 and the 2020 Social Studies NJLS. One of the challenges that teachers face when thinking about enacting these two elements are resources. Teachers want to know where to find information that will provide them with the background knowledge, they need to teach these concepts and the tools needed to effectively do so. There are a few resources I specifically recommend. First, I highly recommend that all teachers review Learning for Justice’s (formerly Teaching Tolerance) website, and more specifically, their Social Justice Standards (  The Zinn Education project ( is another valuable resource for teachers with downloadable lessons and materials for teachers to use to promote the experiences, voices and perspectives of those not typically highlighted in textbooks such as people of color, Indigenous people and women. Another place that teachers can find resources is the National Council of the Social Studies Notable Trade Book list (  This annually released list of books is a phenomenal resource for teachers, as the books are reviewed by both university faculty and classroom teachers and are annotated with a brief summary that includes the appropriate grade levels for the text.

While the new curriculum and the new New Jersey diversity law can seem daunting for New Jersey elementary social studies teachers, it is important to know that these two documents are supportive of each other. The new standards are more explicit in the emphasis on issues of equity, tolerance and difference, and the law mandates that teachers teach this content. The goal is to prepare the youth of New Jersey to work, live and play with others in our ever increasingly diverse state and country.

Picture Books Cited:

Fleischman, P. (2004). Seedfolks. HarperTrophy.

Hillery, T. (2020). Harlem grown: How one big idea transformed a neighborhood.  Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

Lukoff, K. (2019). When Aidan became a brother. Lee & Low Books.

Perlman, R. (2018). Pink is for boys. Running Press Kids.

Robeson, S. (2019). Grandpa stops a war: A Paul Robeson story. Triangle Square.


Bennett, C. I. (2003).  Comprehensive multicultural education: Theory and practice (5th ed). Allyn and Bacon. 

Kirkwood, T. F. (2001). Our global age requires global education: Clarifying definitional ambiguities. Social Studies, 92(1), 10.

McCarty, D. M. (2007). Using multicultural National Council for the Social Studies Notable Books in the elementary classroom. Social Studies, 98(2), 49–53.

Merryfield, M. M. (2002). The Difference a Global Educator Can Make. Educational Leadership, 60(2), 18.

New Jersey Legislature (2021) Chapter 32. Retrieved from

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (5th ed.). Longman. 

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix-xi.

State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), New Jersey Learning Standards. Retrieved from

Teaching Tolerance (2018). Social justice standards: The teaching tolerance anti-bias framework,

University of California-San Francisco (n.d.). Unconscious Bias.