Teaching about Civics and Citizenship with the Internet. (Surfing the Net)

Article excerpt

TRYING TO WRITE A COLUMN on teaching about civics and citizenship education with the Internet brings to mind the somewhat off-color quote usually attributed to Zsa Zsa Gabor: "I know what to do, but I'm not sure how to make it interesting." The term citizenship education is so often used in our literature and professional meetings that we sometimes lose track of its meaning. If someone completely unfamiliar with Social studies were to ask, "What is social studies?", "What is its purpose?", and "What do social studies teachers do?", the answers are clear:

* "Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence." (NCSS social studies standards) (1)

* "Social studies programs have as a major purpose the promotion of civic competence-which is the knowledge, skills and attitudes required of students to be able to assume the `office of citizen' (as Thomas Jefferson called it) in our democratic republic." (NCSS social studies standards) (2)

* "Social studies educators teach students the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values necessary for fulfilling the duties of citizenship in a participatory democracy." (NCSS mission statement on the NCSS website, at www.socialstudies .org)

Clearly, citizenship education is the foundation of social studies and civics. So, a column listing and describing good websites for teaching about this most important aspect of social studies should be an easy task.

Except, it isn't easy. There are so many not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, publishers, and for-profit corporations that provide information, materials, lesson plans, and participatory programs that it's very difficult to select a dozen or so that are better than others. A search using the term citizenship education on the Google search engine turns up about 24,300 hits. (If you use just the single word citizenship, close to 2,000,000 hits are identified.)

Faced with this surfeit of possible websites to evaluate and describe, I divided the sites chosen for the column into two categories: (1) the main line, traditional sites that should probably be on every social studies teacher's list of bookmarks; and (2) a number of sites that offer something distinctive or have a somewhat different approach to content or presentation. Many of the sites have a "related links" section that provides even the most patient or addicted web surfer with more places to explore than there is time available. I know. I tried to look at all of them. I also tried to select sites that would be of interest and use to elementary, middle level, and secondary teachers and students.

Organizations and Websites That Teachers and Librarians Should Bookmark

The Center for Civic Education www.civiced.org

The CCE is one of the best-known and most visible organizations within U.S. social studies professional circles. Its mission statement sounds remarkably like the NCSS background and mission statements: "The Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational corporation dedicated to fostering the development of informed, responsible participation in civic life by citizens committed to values and principles fundamental to American constitutional democracy." Its programs include "We, the People" and "Project Citizen," and it also sponsors "Youth for Justice" and "Civitas," and international civic education exchange programs. On its website, teachers can find some free lessons, the National Standards for Civics and Government, and many links to other websites that emphasize civic education.

Constitutional Rights Foundation www.crf-usa.0rg

Like the Center for Civic Education, the Constitutional Rights Foundation is a California-based, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that designs programs and curriculum materials for K-12 teachers and students. …