What is our civic responsibility as teachers and role as a citizen living within a democracy? How do you feel about voting rights? As teachers and parents, these are all legitimate questions that help spur the conversation of what makes us all productive members of our society. What some may forget is that civics instruction, including citizenship and government topics, is also important issues for our young students as well. However, the unfortunate reality is that civic lesson plans are often overlooked in our school curricula.
I remember avoiding government relations and the political landscape at all costs, throughout my 13-year career span in marketing and communications. Of course, I understood my civic duties as an adult, however, if I could avoid the dialogue and banter with family and colleagues about our democratic nation, I did. It was a place of discomfort for me and brought along a sense of anxiety when I even considered current topics of today. As expressive as I was in my career and personality, I soon realized how much I avoided discussion of government-related topics with others because frankly, it wasn’t a normal activity for me as a child. It just wasn’t an ongoing and required topic of discussion in my educational environment. Other than the basics of history and civic responsibility, I was essentially ‘sheltered’ from the realities of democratic systems in my classrooms as a child, which then progressed into my everyday life as an adult. It was a huge learning lesson for me in the end, that really highlighted the importance of civic lessons for our youth and students today.
For instance, it’s usually the classrooms where our students first learn and observe the importance of practicing tolerance in a civic lessons plan. With democracy comes diversity, and U.S. citizens have the responsibility to support and protect the rights of others and to respect the differences in opinions, religions, and cultures. As our communities continue to grow and include an array of various cultures and ethnicities, teachers also need to expand their horizons and introduce our students into our current world of democracy. All young people do not have equal access to power, but our classrooms can be places where our students have more equitable opportunities to notice inequities and take action on them.
It's a great sense of empowerment that teachers should have, knowing they have the opportunity to influence our youth and students in such a way that can create impact and positive outcomes for their future. Integrating civic lesson plans into the classroom will always serve as a ‘win-win’ situation. Even when a civic action project does not end in a visible victory, teachers can step back and pose the question to students: “What can we learn from this?” Overtime, with practice and proper teacher guidance, young students will begin to ask their own questions, notice historical patterns or gaps in knowledge, and discover/reach their own conclusions. It should be an unending and progressive experience throughout their entire educational experience.
According to The Education Commission of the States Guidebook, in order for students to cultivate a commitment to civic participation and become active members of vibrant communities, students need regular opportunities to engage in civic learning activities from preschool through college. Students cannot be expected to be civically engaged simply by reading. They can only learn how to be civically engaged by becoming civically engaged.
I know growing up, for many of our educators, lecture was the most common method of instruction; and students spent most of their time listening to their instructors’ iterations from a text, memorizing important facts, dates, and cursory details of significant historical events.
However, in the 21st century, amid a pandemic where virtual learning has become our ‘new normal’, we now realize that developing the skills and dispositions necessary for engaged citizenship takes practice and innovation. Civic education course work should include opportunities for students to engage as citizens now rather than focusing on how they may engage as citizens in the future. Technology, particularly with the Design for Change resources (DFC), provides students with a variety of ways to learn and engage as citizens by researching issues and proactively seeking solutions to community and societal problems. As technology advances, teachers are able to provide hands-on learning experiences that have a lasting impact and encourage the development of students’ civic skills and dispositions.
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), civic engagement in the classrooms have the potential to help students develop their capacities for understanding their role in complex social, economic, and political systems. While students may find the gravity of contemporary issues daunting, they can learn life-altering lessons by successfully effecting change through civic engagement. [Schools] that advance civic connections as a form of engaged learning will enhance student knowledge, skills, and motivation, leading to academic and community success.
That’s why we encourage you to join the Design for Change platform, a space for teachers and students to work towards solving a local community-based issue, using a signature design thinking framework. The platform allows you to use activity worksheets and lesson plans to open up discussions about social issues connected to the UN Global Goals. We encourage you to consider what issues most excite your students and which resources best support your curriculum goals.
Students need to understand that the community is a place where citizens make their wants and needs known and work together to solve communal challenges. It’s time to set a new standard where students don’t shy away from important and impactful government and civic discussions as I did when I was a child. Let’s encourage the dialogue early on and make it part of our curriculums to explain what it means for them to perform their civic duties and responsibilities as youth today and as thriving adults in the future.