Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDUCATORS' ROUNDTABLE - from Knowledge, to Service, to Citizenship

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EDUCATORS' ROUNDTABLE - from Knowledge, to Service, to Citizenship

Article excerpt

THE PHRASE "E Pluribus Unum" -- out of many, one -- brilliantly distills what it means to be a good citizen. I learned at an early age that this Latin phrase, our nation's original motto, referred to the welding of 13 colonies into one nation. But over the years, "E Pluribus Unum" has also served as a reminder to me that, even with our nation's great diversity, there is still one aspect that we all share: the title "citizen," a meaningful role that truly unites us as Americans.

Yet all too often, young people fail to understand the true meaning of citizenship. They grow up ambivalent, thinking they are entitled to certain rights, thinking that it's all "about them." They fail to grasp that they are, as individuals, part of a greater whole, part of a community. And as citizens of that community, they need to fulfill the great responsibilities that go along with the title.

So how does one create competent and responsible citizens in the face of widespread apathy? How do educators spark the flames of the spirit of citizenship that are smoldering in America's youths?

It starts with instilling civic competence in a child's early years. Just as lessons are taught in reading, writing, and arithmetic, so too should we teach our children the vital lessons of democracy, responsibility, and service -- three concepts fundamental to understanding responsible citizenry. These vital lessons should be a part of every student's curriculum.

Each and every day, starting in kindergarten, teachers should demonstrate, in words and in actions, the concepts of citizenship. Whether it is voting on which book the teacher will read at story time, developing a student Bill of Rights, or collecting cans of food for the poor, simple lessons in civics will foster attitudes that are necessary for children to participate as effective, responsible citizens.

As young people move on to middle and high school, teachers should increase students' understanding of politics, government, and how our democracy works. Teachers must encourage students to express their opinions and participate in decision-making activities. Stated simply, they must help their students become active citizens. …

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