Representation Matters: Minority Inclusion and American National Identity in K-12 U.S. State Social Studies Standards
Kimberly Hess

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Michigan

Primary Discipline

Research shows that minorities are underrepresented in U.S. social studies education and that nationalist ideas influence education, but how are these two trends connected? How does the process of creating social studies standards in the United States affect their content in terms of minority representation and national identity? How does representation within these standards compare across particular groups, in different states, and over time? Drawing on insights from education research on inclusion in social studies education and sociological research on nationalism and policymaking, my dissertation uses a quantitative and qualitative analysis of all 50 states? K-12 social studies curriculum standards to identify national-, regional-, and state-level patterns in minority representation and portrayals of American identity within social studies education. I utilize in-depth case studies of the creation and revision of standards in six states to explain how this process works and affects the standards? content. So far, I have found that some marginalized groups are more often included than others within these standards overall. At the same time, there are differences among states and over time in terms of how standards include minorities and discuss American national identity. This project contributes to a growing body of education scholarship on inclusion within social studies, as well as the sociological literatures on nationalism and policymaking. This research also has important implications for education policy and state standards themselves and will therefore be of interest to not only academics but also teachers, students, community members, school boards, and government officials.
About Kimberly Hess
Kimberly Hess is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. Her research interests center broadly around the culture and politics of inclusion and exclusion within states and nations. In previous research, she has written about the political inclusion of the indigenous M?ori in 19th century New Zealand and how that inclusion relates to New Zealand?s national identity historically and in the present. Kim?s current research considers how social, historical, and regional contexts affect who and what is included in contemporary U.S. social studies education and how differences in these inclusions relate to different narratives of American history and national identity. She is interested in the ways that nationalism affects and is affected by the content of U.S. history and civics education in particular. Kim holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in History from the University of Maryland. While at Michigan, she has taught many courses in the sociology department, as well as a first-year writing course of her own design on nations and nationalism. Kim also served as an online teaching course consultant for her department in 2020 and published a co-authored article in Teaching Sociology based on this work supporting instructors during the pandemic. When she?s not teaching or working on research, Kim enjoys gardening, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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