Thomas Jefferson, a United States Founding Father, expressed that “The qualifications for self-government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.” With only 13% of graduating High School students nation-wide showing a solid understanding of US History (based on 2012 NAEP testing), it is clear our society needs to do better. The California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning report outlines “6 Proven Practices” to help us develop a more civically engaged society.
The Six Proven Practices are:
- Classroom instruction in government, history, geography, law, democracy and economics, striking a balance between teaching important facts and documents—such as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights—and demonstrating their relevance to today’s society;
- Discussion of current events and controversial issues, including their relevance to young people’s lives;
- Service learning experiences that are directly linked to curriculum and instruction and that give students a chance to apply what they are learning through informed civic action;
- Extracurricular activities that give students opportunities to get involved in their schools, communities and local government and to work together toward common goals;
- Student participation in school governance, to cultivate a sense of responsibility and give young people a real voice in how their classrooms and schools are run, and
- Simulations of democratic processes, such as formal debates, voting, mock trials, Model United Nations and simulations of legislative deliberation.
Perhaps not all of these proven practices are easily applicable to the K-5 level, but many of them can be tailored to be age appropriate. The idea is not to create a generation of politicians, but rather provide the necessary education so that every student can understand the relevance of participation and how civics applies to their daily lives. Next week’s article will offer some suggestions for what families and students can do to become more civically engaged.