Jumping on the civic education bandwagon

Since the presidential election, there have been numerous articles renewing the call for civic education and news literacy. Here are three articles that were published in the three-week period following the election: Earlier and more often: Washington teachers seek broad boost to civics education from The Seattle Times, Now or Never for Civic Education from U.S. News and World Report,  and Is Trump’s Victory the Jump-Start Civics Education Needed? from The Atlantic.

New Voices legislation can, and should, build on the momentum building for changes in education that promote students to develop civic responsibility, ethics, and the ability to evaluate news sources. There are few better outlets for this than student media outlets and classrooms.

Consider the following quotes from the news sources linked above:

“Knowing the three branches of government and how many stripes are on the flag doesn’t teach you how to be a citizen, how to participate and be a critical consumer of the news,” said Anthony Jonas, a social studies teacher in Bellevue who co-chairs the Washington State Council for the Social Studies. “I’d like to see kids evaluating politicians and what they’re doing, and applying knowledge — not just memorizing facts from 240 years ago. This feeling has been bubbling for a while, but the election really pushed people to see that education can’t just be all about STEM.” (Rowe, Seattle Times).

“Public schools are failing at what the nation’s founders saw as education’s most basic purpose: preparing young people to be reflective citizens who would value liberty and democracy and resist the appeals of demagogues. In that sense, the Trump phenomenon should be a Sputnik moment for civics education. Just as Soviet technological advances triggered investment in science education in the 1950s, the 2016 election should spur renewed emphasis on the need for schools to instill in children an appreciation for civic values and not just a skill set for private employment.” (Kahlenberg and Janey, The Atlantic)

Yet in recent years, democracy has been given short shrift in American public schooling in two important respects: the curriculum that is explicitly taught to students does not place democratic values at the center, and the “hidden” curriculum of what students observe on a daily basis no longer reinforces the importance of democracy. (Kahlenberg and Janey, The Atlantic)

In addition to these recent articles, Catherine Ross’ book Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights, also provides talking points for how student free expression is vital to the development of civic values.

“Teaching students how to experience differences of opinion and respond to controversy is part of education’s civilizing function. Worries about ‘controversies’ are nothing more than the ‘mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint” (102).

“In constitutional terms this experimentation is not only about free expression; it is a part of the quest for autonomy, for a meaningful life reflecting one’s own individual values” (288).



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