Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? I mean . . . engaged, civil, informed, educated, and competent. That’s a mouthful. And do we seriously need to kids who exhibit ALL of those traits? Can’t we just be happy with educated? I lecture, students take some notes, I grade a quiz. Boom, done. Everybody’s happy,
Mmm . . . yeah, not so much. I know I’m preaching to the choir here but no. Educated is not enough. A quote often attributed to Haim Ginott makes clear the importance of teaching more than the three Rs:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness; Gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request – help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.“
I’m not equating the situations most of us find ourselves in to the world of 1930s and 1040s Nazi Germany. Clearly not the same.
But I do think we’ve failed to focus on skills that our K-12 kids need to support a vibrant, inclusive, open, accessible, and empathetic democracy. Too often we concentrate on producing great test takers but not on creating citizens that can listen to others, evaluate arguments, use evidence to make claims, and respect differing viewpoints. Citizens who can exchange honest, well-reasoned views on controversial topics. Citizens who see the value of diversity, of openness to others, of being part of something bigger than themselves.
All skills that can help transform our kids into people that other people like having around.
But finding ways to balance the 3Rs and citizenship skills can be hard. That kind of instruction requires more than lecture, notes, and a quiz on Friday.
A major first step in the process is to actually decide that teaching these skills is important. Kansas has stepped up and defined a successful high school graduate as having
the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability
skills, and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.
And I know other states and school districts are creating similar mission statements. These statements are important, they set a direction. But teachers like you still have to make it happen.
So. What can it look like?
Here’s a few ideas and resources that can flesh out the big ideas:
1. Embrace controversy. Our students will never learn to listen, think, and respect opposing opinions when the only thing we give them to talk about are topics we all agree with. Black Lives Matter? Yup. School shootings? Yes. Climate change? Sure.
Lisa Delpit is the editor of the just released Teaching When the World Is on Fire. In the book, Lisa gathers a variety of teacher written essays that focus on what she calls the “growing division, incivility, hate, and violence” in today’s world. Teachers write about how politics permeates their classrooms—and they offer advice for colleagues who are trying to help their students understand the world around them.
You can also use this Google Doc of resources to learn more about what others are doing and doing it well.
2. We can’t wait until kids walk into the required 12th grade government classroom. Creating citizens starts in kindergarten. So there needs to be a conversation at the elementary level with teachers and administrators about finding ways to involve grade school kids.
- We the Civic Kids
- Citizenship and Elementary Education- how do you teach that?
- Teaching Civics at All Grade Levels Has Taken on a Renewed Urgency
3. Whenever the conversation starts about citizenship and civics, everyone automatically looks over at the social studies teacher. This is larger than social studies. Science and ELA classrooms are great places for this to happen. Art? Yup. Math. Sure.
- Does Science Education Need A Civic Engagement Makeover?
- Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Curriculum
4. Simulations and role playing are great tools for modeling appropriate behavior and building empathy. The Six Proven Strategies for Effective Civic Learning highlight simulation resources and ideas. The sweet iCivics site has tons of tools that can help with this.
5. One of the things we all do during the summer is catch up on our own personal PD. It’s a great time to read and research. Start with The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, which presents in-depth and engaging cases of effective teacher practice. Then check out No Citizen Left Behind, arguing that students must be taught how to change and reshape power relationships directly, through political and civic action. I also like a site I recently ran across called Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age that can help you and your students with updated digital literacy skills.
6. We can’t use the old internet literacy checklists anymore. (Sorry Cornell.) They’re just not sophisticated enough to support the kind of citizen we’re looking for. So what should you use? The Stanford History Education Group recently published a series of digital literacy resources that can help you and your kids get better at using online information.
7. There are tons of civic education resources online. Try this three next fall:
8. Schools need to be more intentional about partnering with local civic groups. Kids need to see others working to improve their communities, large and small. Bring in speakers. Take kids to the meetings. Volunteer throughout the year. Give extra credit, heck, think about requiring, participation outside of the school day. Maybe during the school day.
Who’s out there? League of Women Voters. Public radio. Veterans groups. Charitable organizations. Chamber of Commerce. Economic development. Social justice groups. Red Cross. Community outreach. Poverty awareness. Big Brothers Big Sisters. After school clubs. Habitat for Humanity. Lions. Kiwanis.
You get the picture. There are lots of groups in your local area that are doing stuff. Poke around. And . . . you’re going to have to be willing to give up some of your regular classroom content in order to get outside the classroom.
Active, engaged, civil, informed, educated, and competent. And yes. We seriously do need to kids who exhibit ALL of those traits. Hoping these resources can help.
This infographic can act as a good reminder: