Studies in Civics
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This is especially discouraging because studies of government, economics, and history give kids and adults the conceptual frameworks they need to interpret their civic experiences—from reading breaking news to engaging in exchanges with politicians to understanding the voting behavior of their families—with sophistication and nuance. Operational citizenship needs political theory; otherwise we end up with a civic-education snake with its head cut off—a whole lot of action that lacks intentionality, context, and, ultimately, meaning.
Rather than thinking about traditional government and civics instruction as something separate or exclusive from field trips to state capitals or mini-lessons on current events, educators would do well to remember the power of each to enliven the other. So, rather than closing the textbook on Marbury v. Madison before the current events discussion, have your students keep it open. Ask them how that decision might help us make sense of confirmation-hearing debates between Supreme Court nominees and U. Rather than scheduling that field trip to the Tallahassee state house during the unit on a particular local issue, schedule it during the unit on federalism.
Make kids explore why there are so many different types of lawmakers in our country, charged with so many different tasks, often fighting over jurisdiction on so many different issues. Why make it so complicated, rather than just concentrating power in the hands of a few people—wouldn't things run more smoothly that way? Suddenly, students aren't just walking down ornate halls to discuss a single bill, they are witnessing the material consequences of the founding fathers' fear of monarchy. Both of us have worked with Democracy Prep Public Schools, a charter network based in Harlem that has a mission of educating "responsible citizen scholars.
In this capstone class, each student is tasked with developing a Change The World project, which diagnoses and addresses a social problem that irks them—whether local, national, or global.
Brown Center Report on American Education: An inventory of state civics requirements
Over the years, students have launched book drives for underfunded schools abroad, Black Lives Matter-inspired protests outside local police stations, mentorship programs that pair Democracy Prep high school students with middle school students, and literally hundreds more—all of them driven and implemented entirely by students. The project is a good example of what we've been calling authentic civics. But here's the catch: Class time is generally divided between hands-on work on their projects and whole-class considerations of The Prince , Rules For Radicals , the Federalist Papers , and other seminal writings on government and citizenship.
The class aims to acquaint students with timeless theories that teach how to accumulate and use political power at the very moment that they are expected to utilize those theories in service of issues that are important to them. Students end the year with the experience of having used political theory to advance personal projects, and with a basic understanding of how to navigate governing structures to realize specific goals. In addition, every Friday the Sociology of Change course is supplemented by a Senior Seminar in American Democracy, another class common to all Democracy Prep seniors, and one that the two of us had the pleasure of co-teaching at Democracy Prep Charter High School in New York City during the — school year.
This seminar endeavors to teach foundational questions in American government via explorations of current events. For example, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in early and the internet exploded with cries of grief and joy, our students used the opportunity to consider Scalia's ideas about the role of the courts in American government, and to compare the late Justice's "originalist" vision of jurisprudence with that of other legal experts who favor a "living Constitution" approach.
As many educated adults argued about whether it was right to take pleasure in a person's death, we went on to talk about whether an unelected panel of nine Yale and Harvard graduates should be able to check the elected branches of government. Why, we asked, would the founding fathers create an institution so powerful and seemingly anti-democratic as the Supreme Court? Did they think there were limits to popular rule?
Summer Institute of Civic Studies
Were they right? Could that concern help explain the seemingly nonsensical existence of the Electoral College? Students ended the term writing a paper that responded to these questions: "Should a free society prioritize popular rule or reasonable rule? Must these priorities always be in tension?
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Why or why not? Use evidence from our texts and current events to support your argument. Connections between theory and current events don't always come easily, and we sometimes failed to bridge the gap. In the midst of a lesson on the so-called elastic clause, a student in our class asked, "What do these theories have to do with me? Why aren't we learning about what politicians are doing right now?
I mean, that stuff matters. The elastic clause Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the right to pass any laws "necessary and proper" to fulfill its enumerated duties—amounting to a huge expansion of power. The student's question was an indictment of the disconnected approach we had veered into without realizing it: We were teaching them about a Constitutional provision constantly employed by Congress to pass laws that encircled the student questioner's life, but we may as well have been yapping about Marcel Proust's gastrointestinal travails. At the start of the next class, we looked at recent situations in which the elastic clause had been put to use, then together considered how our society might be different if it didn't exist.
Social studies teachers are always teaching current events, whether we realize it or not. The more we realize it, the better we become at our jobs. History, government, and civics textbooks can be flashlights that illuminate the machinations of our society and help our students define their roles in shaping it.
But if we forget to orient our textbooks toward the world, the lights they produce are wasted. Experiential learning is most powerful when it draws upon prior knowledge. If what you learned in a classroom can be used to make sense of what's in front of your nose, chances are that information will stick—and survive to add another layer of meaning to future experiences. So, teachers and school leaders: Please, go ahead and build in time for students to engage in authentic civic experiences.
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They need them. But remember that they also need to know what they're doing and why it matters within our system of government. Without basic background knowledge, those experiences just won't mean much. Andrew Tripodo is a social studies and debate teacher at the Cushman School in Miami and the head of curriculum design at Knowledge of Careers, Inc. He was previously the history curriculum specialist at Democracy Prep Public Schools.
It is not available for reprint without the permission of ASCD. The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B.
Fordham Institute. He writes and speaks extensively on education and education-reform issues, with an emphasis on literacy, curriculum, teaching, and urban education. After twenty years in…. Search Search. Finally, we used the functional grammar of mode, field and tenor to analyse the famous shower scene. By getting students to think about the mode or film techniques used , its interplay with the field the action they could see how the tenor influences on the audience was constructed.
Students were asked to annotate screen shots from the scene, analysing the function of each of these elements. This strategy deliberately modelled their final assignment, which was to demonstrate their understanding of film techniques by designing a horror scene in a storyboard format. As we reach the end of this learning element, even with the students yet to complete their final assignments, I can see how we can improve the unit.
More explicit instruction on the meta language of film techniques would better provide the students with language that supported their analysis of the films and construction of their own scene. I would also like to analyse the social construct of fear more closely. Why do certain images and scenarios make us fearful? How have these changed or stayed the same through the ages? This points to the fact that teaching is a constantly evolving science, one which needs ongoing reflection and adjustment in response to the needs of the students.
We will review this learning element, add to it and adjust it, and next year, when it is taught again, perhaps there will be new changes. This learning element has evolved over a few years. Initially, I set the topic as an in class essay question. I used it as a diagnostic tool, a way of seeing what my students were capable of.
No discussion, no research, no scaffolding. The essays came back. It was like asking painter to paint a landscape without allowing them to use paint. Of course some individuals might be ingenious and devise a way to make paint from dirt, but the majority would be unable to fulfil the request. The topic beauty was a powerful way to get kids thinking, yet I had wasted a teaching opportunity. So when Prue with her youthful enthusiasm started to develop resources to help kids think more deeply about the topic, it began to evolve into a learning element.
So a learning element was born.
In it was finally fully documented, taught and then rewritten using the CG learner website. This year, when I collected the essays they had written, I got a far more vivid sense of what my students were capable of.
Contrary to Popular Belief, the Problem isn’t that Students Receive No Civics Education.
They were thinking about beauty from different perspectives and moving beyond their own frames of reference. Of course an essay is not a definitive assessment tool. While we were exploring, discussing and thinking about cultural perceptions and influences on the notion of beauty, my students were engaging in substantive communication. This took the form of lively group discussions about the reading materials and an enquiring approach to researching perceptions and practices to do with beauty.