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Teaching Citizenship, Media Literacy, and Saving Democracy | My point of view


Education reformer John Dewey spoke of public schools as “laboratories of democracy”. They have almost not played that role in the past 50 years as schools focused on MINT and English skills and placed social studies and civics in the basement of educational requirements. Even today, with calls to teach civics loud and clear in K-12, from hundreds of organizations including teachers unions, state parliaments, lawyers, courts, corporations, parents, and students, science and technology is $ 5 per student spent engineering and math; 5 cents per student are spent on social studies.

Our nation has never been in the depths of a polarized political divide since the Civil War as we have seen for the past two decades, with conspiracy theories rampant among a sizeable population accompanied by many ordinary citizens lacking knowledge of it how governments work and operate through their own agency to work towards change. There couldn’t be a more important moment for our schools – the only facility we have where most children come together for a common purpose – to fulfill their function. As noted in the Carnegie Foundation report, The Civic Missions of Our Schools, they are our “Guardians of Democracy.”

In March, the Educating for Democracy (https://bit.ly/39kaBQQ) report, a product of 300 individuals and institutions with diverse views from all sectors of our nation, created an impressive set of principles and curriculum frameworks for civic education. They show how programs like New Civics and Action Civics can provide our 100,000 schools, 60 million students, and 1 million teachers with a K-12 roadmap over the next decade. The report encourages schools to work with organizations that focus on “Freedom and Justice for All” to help transform our democracy into what we believe to be – a space where all citizens understand they do Being right to speak and vote about is important to them, their communities, and the nation. (https://bit.ly/39l0LOQ)

The mission of the K-12 roadmap, which can be tailored to the needs and interests of local schools, provides an inspiring guide to reinventing civics and media literacy teaching and learning. These include:

  • To inspire students to get involved in our constitutional democracy and to contribute to the preservation of our republic.
  • To tell a complete and complete story of the plural yet divided history of America.
  • To celebrate the compromises it takes to make our democracy work.
  • To cultivate civic honesty and patriotism that enable them to both love and criticize our nation.

The values ​​underlying the New Civics curriculum provide equal opportunity for all students and build self-reflection, a growth-oriented mindset and various types of critical inquiry into the practice of constitutional democracy. Students take on problems in their own communities, serve in student administration, school councils, and city and town councils; and advocate changes to the relevant authorities.

Where are these practices already taking place? Across the country, with the toughest requirements yet in Florida. They require an intermediate and advanced civics course that includes Action Civics. When Emma González delivered her passionate national speech after the shootings at Marjorie Stoneham Douglass High School that led to the organization of teenagers across the country to end gun violence, she held her civics curriculum high in her hand. She was the first cohort to go through the new Florida requirements.

Student-led action Citizens’ initiatives also take place in cities and towns across the Midwest, where elementary school students grapple with issues such as: B. how jobs are distributed in their classroom, who picks up garbage in the playground and how to change discriminatory lunch options against the dietary requirements of some children. A fifth grade chose to enroll 300 seniors at their local high school for voting – and did.

Action Civics grows out of high school students who learn how history was shaped not only by famous leaders but also by “average” citizens like themselves. It includes a character education curriculum that builds tolerance for different viewpoints and democratic attitudes. As this curriculum is reinforced in each grade, this curriculum will result in students who vote more often, feel empowered to speak to officials about important topics, and believe that their schools have a welcoming atmosphere because they are encouraged as learners, themselves to think and take the initiative for the projects that are important to them.

In 2020, the California Department of Education began giving out Civic Learning Awards, co-sponsored by a former superintendent of the state and the chairman of the California Supreme Court. The awards “celebrate successful efforts to involve students in civic learning and identify successful models that can be replicated in other schools”. As of 2014, California has had a Steering Committee on the Power of Democracy that works with multiple stakeholders to revise K-12 state education. California high school students can now graduate with a state seal for civic engagement on their diploma.

At Santa Fe Public Schools, the Office for Teaching and Learning created a comprehensive civics and media engagement curriculum that was rolled out in the spring and fall of 2020-21. In response to the pandemic, the staff created a classroom for all students of all grade levels. Elementary school students explored the relationship between helping keep their school clean and tidy and coughing / sneezing into handkerchiefs. High school students delved into issues of freedom of expression, democratic decision-making, and the work of protecting one another. Middle and high school students applied media literacy to articles about free speech and social distancing. Seventh grade students used media literacy to read a wide range of articles about the pandemic and learned to check them for facts.

We got off to a good start. Now, with the support of key stakeholders – teachers and their unions, school administrations, legislators, lawyers and judges, and interested citizens – we need to continue and expand this program.

Lois Rudnick is a retired American Studies Professor and a member of the Leadership Circle of the Interfaith Coalition for Public Education, www.icpesantafe.org.


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