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).



Play the news literacy card

Along with civic education, news literacy has become a topic that many parents, educators, and legislators are seeing as a skill young people are sorely lacking.

This came into sharper focus recently when Stanford University’s History Education Group published Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning which is a study that examines how well students, from middle school to college, are able to differentiate between fake and real news and information. And the results aren’t good: “Overall, young people’s ability to  reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” This study was also widely reported as a widening crisis in education including articles in the Wall Street JournalMashableand NPR.

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center , advised at Kent State’s Symposium to think about what legislators care about things like civics education and becoming literate about the news or being able to discuss issues of importance during the school day.

“You don’t want the message to be that we are going to war with school administrators,” he said.

The results from this study can easily be used to craft a message about the value of scholastic journalism programs in teaching students to evaluate news stories by having them practice how journalists chose information and sources. Creating a law that protects the rights of student journalists to gather and report news that is of interest to school communities will draw more students to journalism programs and help create environments where students see how “real news” can be used to inform rather than deceive.