Independence Day is a good time to explore civic education. Our students get less of it in school even though most schools say something in their mission statement or goals about producing some variation of “informed, engaged citizens.”. If you define civic education as helping students learn to be good citizens instead of learning about civics, we must also help them develop skills and “dispositions” in addition to knowledge, what the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools calls civic competencies.
The 2011 “Guardian of Democracy: the Civic Mission of Schools” describes the sad state of civic education and research on these six proven practices to teach students to be effective/engaged citizens. 1. Classroom Instruction, 2. Discussion of Current Events and Controversial Issues 3. Service-Learning 4. Extracurricular Activities 5. School Governance 6. Simulations of Democratic Processes.
Good stuff but a year old. What could I find that is research-based and newer? How about a February 2012 Progress of Education Reform report from the Education Commission of States entitled “Civic Engagement through Digital Citizenship”. It looks at research about how “Digital Natives” engage in civic action. They report that those of us born before the digital revolution are more likely to view civic engagement in a dutiful way. For Digital Natives, “civic actions originate from their “personally expressive politics” and “peer-to-peer relationships that promote engagement.”. The report calls this “Actualizing Citizenship”, characterized by more peer to peer training and action as well as self-determined expression and network development. This report emphasizes the issue of mostly “dutiful” teachers trying to reach “actualizing” students primarily using pedagogy that isn’t a good fit.
The report includes references to resources that look like fabulous support for teachers. I especially liked their policy recommendations, taken directly from page 5 of their report:
“1. Digital natives learn and think about citizenship in fundamentally different ways than previous generations. If schools are to meet their civic mission, education policies and practices need to take digital natives’ conceptions of citizenship into account.
2. Broadband availability, accessibility and affordability are the determining factors separating youth who are digital natives and youth who are not. If policymakers do not address these factors, non-digital native youth, who are largely poor and
largely minority, will continue to be less likely to be civically engaged than their digital native peers.
3. Policymakers should carefully consider how technology usage policies impact civic learning, as well as potential civic engagement, for digital natives. While well-intended, policies that forbid student use of Facebook, Twitter, message boards,
blogs and texting during the school day effectively close off many suitable and worthwhile opportunities for civic learning, participation and activism for digital natives.
4. Young citizens, digital natives included, need educational opportunities to prepare them for participation in digital media. Students do not possess inborn skills for technology and civic participation. These skills must be taught and therefore should be addressed in school standards and curricula.”
So here we are at that place where an interesting summary of research meets the daily grind of the classroom. Citizenship isn’t just taught in civics class, it is taught across the curriculum. How do you help your students become informed and engaged citizens? How might it look different in light of what Digital Natives need to know about how to be a citizen? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!!