Rethinking Civics Education
This month, we will turn our attention to civics education. Every two years, we find ourselves in October near the end of the political campaign season. California has no statewide scheduled elections in November 2021, but that does not mean civic engagement stops. Instead, we have a moment to think about our local area, state, and nation outside of the context of an election. A way to do this is to consider the idea of civic learning. One of our partners, Leveraging Equity & Access in Democratic Education (LEADE), defines civic learning as a “process through which young people develop the knowledge, skills, and commitments to interact effectively with fellow community members to address shared problems” To be sure, there are many ways to do this. While voting in an election is one way to be civically engaged, students should also be aware that they can create change both in and out of established political institutions. For instance, we can teach our students important media literacy principles so that they can assess the validity of information and share it responsibly. Or, they can participate in service projects that allow them to make meaningful contributions to their local area and build collaborative relationships within their communities. Essentially, students should be empowered to see that they have the capacity to take action to solve issues around them.
Considering that civic action can take many forms, the teaching resource we would like to highlight this month is about local government. This inquiry set provides an engaging case study of the establishment of bike lanes in Davis, California. Intended for fourth graders, this set illustrates the power of state and local governments in California and provides reflection questions for students to assess the actions taken by community leaders. This case study can be used as a starting point for students to consider issues in their own communities and how they might respond to them. At the end of the inquiry set, there is an extension activity that suggests allowing students to propose a community issue and draft statements that they might give at a city council meeting. While students might not go to a city council meeting right away, it is critical that they learn these skills and understand how government operates. This inquiry set ensures that students learn this early.
One piece of recent scholarship we would like to highlight is Eric Rauchway’s Why the New Deal Matters (2021). This book is accessible and written for a broad audience, which makes it a useful resource for 11th and 12th-grade teachers and their students. Rather than providing a comprehensive overview, Rauchway uses representative places to explore themes of the New Deal. He argues that a fundamental goal of the New Deal was to show “ordinary Americans that their government could work for them, albeit imperfectly.” His approach neatly aligns with California’s History-Social Science Framework and Standards. For 11th grade, this book illustrates how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government (Standard 11.6) and analyzes the benefits and shortcomings of these programs (Standard 11.6.4). For 12th grade, this book describes how public policy was formed in response to the Great Depression (Standards 12.7.5 & 12.7.8), as well as the tensions within our constitutional democracy (Standard 12.10). Why the New Deal Matters is an excellent text for understanding how the federal government works and why policies from the 1930s remain relevant to the United States today.
Last, we would like to invite you to join our statewide conversation on civic engagement. This November, the “Civic Engagement, Taking Action, and the State Seal" yearlong Series will advance a vision of civic learning that is holistic, democratic, rooted in inquiry, and directly relevant to our students and their communities. If you are interested in participating, please visit our registration page here.
Our theme next month will be Indigenous History. We encourage you to email us if you have any teachers or resources you think we should feature!
Additional Civics Resources: