Character & Citizenship
With Civics, Do Schools Practice What They Teach?
As political tensions trickle into schools, how are schools preparing students to be engaged citizens and informed voters?
(EWA Radio: Episode 207)
Are public schools meeting their longstanding obligation to prepare students for the responsibilities of civic life? For the past year, a team of reporters and editors at Education Week has focused on the state of civics education in the U.S., from the instructional materials used by schools to examples where students are “living” civic engagement rather than just studying it. Reporter Stephen Sawchuk discusses the “Citizen Z” project, and how journalists can use it as a blueprint to inform their own work on this critical subject.
By the time the last student walked past the open casket, hundreds of notes were piled inside, bits of pain the mourners hoped to bury.
The casket was real, but the funeral was symbolic, staged at a west-side Atlanta high school surrounded by poverty. It began with gospel music blasting through the gym. A pastor preached redemption and self-worth. Grieving mothers remembered their teenage sons, whose real funerals were just last year.
U.S. public education is rooted in the belief by early American leaders that the most important knowledge to impart to young people is what it means to be a citizen. If America is experiencing a civic crisis now, as many say it is, schools may well be failing at that job.
How Democracy Prep Is Drawing Upon Civics to Challenge Its Students to ‘Change the World’ — Before They Graduate
Jeneba Sy has a way of standing out from the crowd, even one as hectic as this. The senior at Democracy Prep Harlem High School stood smiling behind a desk in the crowded fourth-floor classroom, ready to explain the details of her yearlong capstone project.
A few students thronged around her as others squeezed past. Like her classmates, she introduced herself and gestured toward her visual aid, a foldable display board covered in quotes and statistics about the research she’d conducted this year.
Bruising political fights are usual business in Becky Debowski’s eighth-grade social studies classroom. From a model Constitutional Convention to a bare-knuckle debate in Congress over slavery, she regularly has students assume roles of partisans throughout American history, like Abraham Lincoln and John C. Calhoun.
After the exercises, the class comes back together to debate whether the nation lived up to what the state of Michigan calls “core democratic values,” such as equality, liberty and diversity.
A much-anticipated lawsuit argues that, despite nowhere mentioning the word education, the U.S. Constitution does guarantee the provision of an education for the intuitive reason that it is impossible to vote, exercise free speech, or serve on a jury without one.
EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.
Inside this high school at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, teenagers are immersed in a project with the potential to temper the divisiveness that is consuming U.S. politics. They’re learning to have calm, balanced conversations about controversial issues.
In an age when the nation is deeply divided politically, those who teach about the U.S. Constitution are on the front lines of guiding their students to a deeper understanding of civics.
“With my seniors, current events are an issue every single day,” said Elizabeth Schley, an AP Government and Politics teacher at Basha High School in Chandler, Ariz. “At the beginning of the semester, they thought they were just going to sit here and argue for the entire hour. But that’s not what we do.”
Thanksgiving is often seen as a quintessential feel-good holiday – but many argue the way its taught in schools perpetuates a myth and dishonors Native Americans.
Not Your Average Student Council: How Chicago’s Student Voice Committees Are Giving Kids a Real Say in Their Schools
The students at Mather High School in Chicago wanted to do something. Their peers said they didn’t feel comfortable coming to school, weren’t paying attention in class, and sometimes skipped lessons altogether.
So a small group of students tried to figure out what the root of the problem might be. They talked to their classmates, interviewed teachers, and researched what other schools were doing to help students feel connected. Finally, they decided they were going to improve the relationships between the school’s 100 teachers and 1,500 students.
Are all politics local? The adage fits here in Michael Siraguse’s two AP Government classes, where students are peppering their teacher with post-midterm questions about the city council race—not the so-called “blue wave.”
What was the big takeaway for education in the 2018 elections? Sorry if this disappoints, but there just doesn’t appear to be a clear, simple story to tell. It was an election of seeming contradictions.
This was especially true in gubernatorial races, which matter a lot, given the key role state leaders play in education.
How do you make the midterm elections come alive, especially for students who already feel disenfranchised? That was the challenge faced by Chelsea Ann Hittel, a social studies teacher at the Heather Ridge School, an alternative middle and high school in Frederick County, Md. Most of her students attend the school because they didn’t succeed in a regular high school curriculum; many are on individualized education programs. “The curriculum for government is very dry and unengaging, honestly. Kids come into government already hating it. They think it’s going to be boring,” Hittel said.
Today, we’re highlighting Kathleen Argus, a teacher at the Institute of Technology, a public high school in Syracuse, N.Y., who teachers a 12th grade active citizenship course.
Teaching about elections poses some particular challenges in New York, a state that nearly always winds up blue in presidential elections thanks to the dominance of New York City. So, from a certain angle, the midterms are even more important for the state’s electorate: That’s where upstate districts and counties can really make their voting power felt.
The midterm elections can be easy to overlook from a curriculum perspective. They’re not as frenzied as presidential elections. Voter turnout tends to go down.
At Hazel Wolf STEM K-8 School in Seattle, academics don’t start on the first day of school.
“We haven’t yet built community,” teacher Tamara Alston said. “We haven’t figured out how we work together.”
What’s Motivating Teens to Vote?
Education Week survey, national polls offer insights into young voters
In a new national survey, concern about the February shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla., was the top reason cited by eligible teen voters as motivating them to cast a ballot. And students who said they had taken civics classes were also more likely to say they planned to exercise their right to vote in the midterm elections.
Nick Brown turned 18 in September and will vote for the first time in November. But the Brandon, S.D., resident admits he has some research to do.
“As of right now I know nothing,” said Brown, whose high school law and government teacher registered voting-age students in class. “I don’t follow politics at all, so I need to educate myself before I go in and vote.”
A little more than a third of 18- and 19-year-olds who participated in an online survey by the Education Week Research Center in September said they had never taken a stand-alone civics class. Yet students who took those courses were more likely to say they plan to vote. Just a quarter of people who have never taken a stand-alone civics class plan to vote. Nearly twice as many do not, said Holly Kurtz, the research center’s director. T