Historical Background of the House of Delegates
Since 1945, the membership of National Council for the Social Studies has increased significantly. For many reasons, however, only a fraction of the membership attended the Council’s annual conferences. Indeed, only a small, dedicated group attended year after year; the majority of attendees represent membership in or very near the convention’s host city. As a corporation, the Council also held annual business meetings during the annual conferences and an even smaller number participated in those meetings. Thus, for many years, concerns existed as to how the organization could best improve its democratic process.
Over the years, the annual business meeting became a medium for reporting the many activities of the Council, its officers, and its committees and not a forum in which policy questions were discussed. Reports were often distributed in mimeographed form with little or no opportunity for extended comment or beneficial discussion. The annual business meeting, then, became too unwieldy for serious consideration of council policies and, in frustration, many members who might have attended avoided the cumbersome sessions entirely. When issues arose, vital questions often were decided by the few members that happened to be present. Members not attending the conference, therefore, were not well informed about the Council’s affairs. Having limited opportunities to discuss policies with a significant portion of the membership, the officers believed that they did not truly represent the membership’s opinions.
Consequently, many believed that the future growth of NCSS depended upon a reorganization of procedures that would make possible more direct and active member participation in the Council’s affairs. Such a need was noted as early as 1946 at the annual conference held in Boston. In 1951, the Committee on Relations of State and Local Councils to NCSS was established in an effort to affect a closer liaison between the Council’s national officers and its members in state, regional, and local councils. In his presidential address at Buffalo in 1953, John H a e
fner noted the pressing need for a more democratic organization of NCSS. A subcommittee of the Committee on Relations of State and Local Councils to NCSS, established by the Board of Directors in February 1954, was charged with the responsibility of drawing up a plan for an NCSS House of Delegates. The new committee drew up a tentative plan and, later that year, presented it to the full membership of the Committee on Relations of State and Local Councils to NCSS at the annual conference in Indianapolis.
After receiving suggestions at that meeting, the committee developed a proposal for a house of delegates and submitted it to the Board of Directors at its 1955 annual meeting in New York. The Board of Directors adopted that proposal in principle and voted to expedite the establishment of a House of Delegates and to amend the NCSS constitution as follows:
A House of Delegates composed of representatives of affiliated councils shall be established by the Board of Directors of the National Council for the Social Studies to meet at such time and place as set by the Board. This House of Delegates shall advise and consult with the officers and Board of Directors of the National Council for the Social Studies.
This amendment was adopted at the Council’s 1956 annual business meeting in Cleveland.
The Board of Directors then promulgated a specific plan for the establishment of a House of Delegates based on the committee’s suggestions. According to that plan, the House of Delegates constituted a stage in the development of more and better member representation and participation in the conduct of NCSS affairs. At Pittsburgh in 1957, the first House of Delegates met with approximately seventy members in attendance.
At the 1966 annual conference in Cleveland, a steering committee, composed of five elected members, emerged to provide the House of Delegates additional responsibilities. The Steering Committee would meet before each annual conference to determine an agenda and to facilitate communication within all the councils, helping delegates to prepare to represent the views of their councils at the annual conference. At the same meeting, the House of Delegates also decided that each state council should include a delegate-at-large responsible for communication and briefings of the entire state delegation. The state delegates-at-large would also meet with the Steering Committee just prior to the annual House of Delegates meeting.
In 1966, a proposed constitutional amendment would have given the House of Delegates the powers of the NCSS business meeting; that amendment failed. In 1967, however, the Board of Directors voted to resubmit the amendment and at the 1968 conference in Washington, it was decided that the annual House of Delegates meetings would qualify as NCSS annual business meetings.
Ensuing years saw some peaceful and some turbulent periods; debates and obvious competitiveness ebbed and flowed as eager delegates sought to mold the body in various directions, depending on what they believed to be the House’s ideal role.
In January 1989, the Board of Directors, recognizing the need for reconsideration of the House’s role, endorsed the establishment of an ad hoc committee to study and make recommendations on the matter. The committee, charged with making the House more effective and representative, consisted of members of former members of the Board of Directors and an NCSS Past President.
The committee explicated the membership of the House of Delegates as composed of representatives from state, local, and regional councils that have affiliated with NCSS. It defined the role of the House of Delegates to serve as a forum for councils to bring ideas, concerns, and suggestions regarding social studies issues to the attention of the NCSS Board of Directors. In 1990, the NCSS House of Delegates unanimously passed Resolution 90-11 supporting the NCSS goal of full and active participation in the social studies profession of people from all levels of education, all levels of teaching, all ethnic groups, and all geographic areas.
To further this position, the Steering Committee resolved to urge all state, local, and regional affiliated councils to model their support for inclusion of all segments of the social studies profession within their own level, and to make every effort to select delegates representative of targeted groups, including, but not limited to, people of color, elementary school teachers, and students enrolled in teacher education programs.
In May 1999, the Board of Directors (BOD) created a Governance Task Force to review organizational and governance structures and processes and make recommendations on how NCSS could best be organized to address 21st century challenges. Members of the task force included current and former teachers, past presidents, board members, leaders of affiliated and associated groups, supervisors, and professionals from across the country. Their goal was to create a leaner, more efficient, and more responsive governance process while at the same time making the organization more inclusive. The Governance Taskforce provided a report of its findings and recommendations in 2003.
In 2005, the NCSS Board of Directors created a Governance Transition Team (GTT) whose charge was to examine the recommendations of the Task Force and plan for their gradual implementation. In 2006, the Governance Implementation Committee (GTIC) was appointed to oversee the implementation of the final recommendations of the GTT. The recommendations for the House of Delegates were to expand its membership to include professional role and academic content groups, in addition to geographic affiliation groups.
To implement this change, an amendment to the NCSS Constitution was approved in 2006 and the House of Delegates added non-voting delegates from associated groups and communities in 2007.
The 2008 annual business meeting marks the implementation of the expansion of the House of Delegates to include voting delegates from associated groups and communities. Each associated group has representation based upon membership similar to that of state councils, while communities received one seated delegate. Today, the expanded House of Delegates provides a forum for state councils, communities, and associated groups of NCSS to express ideas, recommendations, issues and concerns relating to social studies and social studies education on behalf of the general membership of NCSS.