The International Assembly is an associated group of National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the largest professional organization for social studies educators in the United States. The creation of the International Assembly in 1994 arose from a series of discussions that took place over the 1980s and 1990s during the global education movement. These discussions concerned the need to include a global perspective within the social studies field beyond the United States. Key global educators, including former NCSS President Jan L. Tucker, Professor of Social Studies and Global Education at Florida International University, USA, recognized the criticality of making the international dimension of NCSS more prominent and permanent. Internationally-oriented educators from Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States who attended the NCSS conferences saw a need to create an organizational space within NCSS with ample opportunities to network, share global education research, and facilitate cross border projects.
The individuals who sought to establish the International Assembly had to overcome complex hurdles to create this independent entity within the NCSS organizational structure. For example, in 1981, NCSS President Theodore Kaltsounis suggested to the Board of Directors that NCSS change its name to the International Council for the Social Studies. This proposal did not go forward but many members continued to explore ways to make the organization more international in focus. A milestone was reached in 1988 under the leadership of then-President Jan L. Tucker, when the Board of Directors narrowly passed a motion to establish an international conference to be conducted every three years.
The first international conference, "The Pacific Rim: International Conference on Social Studies Education,” occurred in 1998 as a joint venture between the NCSS and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, with sponsorship by the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers’ Association and the Washington State Council for the Social Studies and support from the Alaska and Oregon state councils. This joint venture brought together Canadian and American educators to plan the first conference open to educators from across the world. In all, the conference drew over 1,100 educators from sixteen countries and jurisdictions from the Pacific Rim region. Under the joint leadership of Jan L. Tucker, then-President of NCSS, and Don Wilson, Professor of Social Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada, the conference firmly established itself as an important international education event. With great enthusiasm and interest, attendees at the first conference discussed how they might continue their valuable international connections. This aspiration ultimately led to four additional international conferences in Miami, USA (1991), Nairobi, Kenya (1994), Sydney, Australia (1997) and Calgary, Canada (2000), after which the conference initiative failed to continue due to its organizational complexity and required resources.
Under the leadership of then-NCSS President Margit McGuire, Professor of Elementary Social Studies Education, Seattle University, USA, the debate around the establishment of an international organization within NCSS continued in 1991, this time to create a position for an international member on the NCSS Board of Directors. This idea did not seem feasible given the time and cost of attendance at board meetings for someone traveling from abroad. As the conversations continued, however, it became clear that NCSS could support the infrastructure of an international component, although the question of the best venue remained. Consideration was given to a special interest group (SIG) but was rejected because of the informality of SIGs.
After continuous and sometimes contentious discussions, the NCSS Board of Directors agreed that an “associated” organizational structure would best meet the needs of international members. Nevertheless, there was concern that such a group might “fracture” NCSS by establishing yet another entity that stood apart from the rest of the organization. Those offering counter-positions argued that the International Assembly, as it would be called, would simultaneously provide a home base for global-oriented scholars from other nations as well as global international scholars in the United States.
The debate continued for two more years. Finally, on May 1, 1994, the NCSS Board of Directors voted to establish the International Assembly as an NCSS-associated group. At the annual meeting in Phoenix in 1994, the International Assembly formally met and approved its constitution. Two paragraphs of the International Assembly Constitution make the case for the associated group:
For the past twenty years, the annual conference of NCSS has attracted a large number of social studies educators from many countries. Canadians, Australians, and, increasingly educators from the European Community—in particular—have become active members of NCSS. Moreover, in recent years, educators from Africa, Asia and South America have offered significant contributions. These educators have taken advantage of the NCSS conference to interact and network among themselves and with their American counterparts on issues of common concern in teaching and learning social studies. This interaction has heightened awareness among all members of the international dimension of the social studies and the transnational nature of issues, developments and concerns in social education of the people of this planet.
To its credit, NCSS has proved the major, if not the sole forum for an international gathering of social educators. The leadership of the Council in offering this forum to all social educators has been very much appreciated by U.S. and “foreign” members alike. In turn, international delegates have provided a diversity of perspectives that have enlivened and enriched both the formal program of the annual conferences and its informal debates and discussions. The international community welcomes, therefore, the Council’s decisions to grant affiliated status to the International Assembly. Hence, this proposed constitution is put forward for information in order that it will be discussed, revised if necessary, and approved by the membership of the International Assembly at its meeting in Phoenix on November 18, 1994.
Dr. Charlotte C. Anderson, NCSS president in 1992 and member of the Board of Directors during these deliberations, observed that from 1991 to 1994 “Margit McGuire played a significant and decisive role in these discussions and was the driving force in leading the NCSS Board of Directors to establish the International Assembly as an NCSS associated group.” She reflected, “I clearly recall how vigilant and passionate Margit was in advocating for this outcome” (C. Anderson, personal communication, May 8, 2017).
Professor Robert Fowler of the University of Victoria, Canada, a strong proponent for the creation of the International Assembly and one of the early advocates for such an organization, served as the first chairperson of the International Assembly. Years in the making, then, the International Assembly was finally born, formally established, and convened for the first time at the annual social studies conference in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, in 1994.
Since its founding, the International Assembly has provided a forum for the exchange of ideas and collaboration between members from the United States and other countries. The International Assembly also promotes linkages between itself and the NCSS to provide opportunities for educators to enhance professional development, enrich social studies learning, share global pedagogy, and promote collaborative research. The International Assembly conducts its own program and business meetings during the annual NCSS conferences. Former NCSS president Margit McGuire (2010) stated that the International Assembly “plays an essential role in the NCSS in highlighting topics from an international perspective, providing a forum for international educators, and supporting international outreach that is so essential to the National Council for the Social Studies” (p. 58).
At its annual conferences, the International Assembly has taken a strong leadership role in four key educational events: (1) roundtable sessions for the presentation of research, (2) the election of representatives from the International Assembly membership to the NCSS House of Delegates, (3) the selection of the Distinguished Global Scholar Award, and (4) the selection of prominent international and U.S.-based foreign scholars to serve as keynote speakers at the annual Jan L. Tucker Memorial Lecture.
To date, thirteen global international scholar leaders, each serving a two-year term, have served as chair of IA, effectively moved the organization forward into the 21st century.
by Dr. Toni Fuss Kirkwood-Tucker