Magazine article Social Studies Review

The Right Stuff: Civic Education Resources Teachers Can Use Today

Magazine article Social Studies Review

The Right Stuff: Civic Education Resources Teachers Can Use Today

Article excerpt

We all know that if you want to be successful in shifting educational paradigms, institutionalizing new programs, or changing school cultures, it takes a concerted effort to engage constituents on all fronts: at the state legislature and state board of education, at county offices of education and district offices, with community partners and parent groups, and most importantly in classrooms with teachers and students.

The California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has sought to engage the full spectrum of educational entities to energize schools to fulfill their historic mission of creating an informed, responsible citizenry. And like any successful initiative, the Campaign continues to work where the only real change takes place - in schools and classrooms with real teachers and real students.

The goal of the Practice Committee is to provide information to classroom teachers about practical applications of the research, opportunities for professional development, and resources to support each of the Six Promising Approaches to Civic Education.

Practical Applications of Recent Research

The civic mission of schools is to educate for an informed and engaged citizenry. The researchers based the national Civic Mission of Schools (CMS, 2003) report on the premise that effective, informed, and engaged citizens possess certain civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. (Figure 1) With this in mind, think of the CMS report as a compilation of research with some overarching findings about what works in civic education.

There are several findings that have direct application to what goes on in classrooms between teachers and students. First, the compilation of research revealed six promising approaches for building civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. (Figure 2) It is important to note that each of the promising approaches elicits different outcomes. The more an individual student is exposed to all of the approaches, the better. In fact, the best civic education instruction uses multiple approaches simultaneously. This may sound daunting, but when teachers examine what takes place during an interactive, rich history-social science lesson, chances are, at least two of the promising approaches are in play. For example, many history-social science teachers have students make analogies between historic and present- day issues or events. Ensuring that students take an active role in identifying, analyzing, and discussing these analogies could support Promising Approach #1 and #2 at the same time.

An excellent resource for teachers to learn more about the approaches is Promising Approaches for Strengthening Civic Education by Dr. Mary Kirlin (2005) published on the Campaign's website. Kirlin provides a briefing sheet for each of the approaches and includes definitions, examples of what each looks like in the classroom, and caveats about implementation and expected outcomes.

What happens in the home matters too. The national report, as well as new research conducted here in California (Kahne, et al, 2002 and 2005), found that interaction between parents and children around civic topics increases civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Dinnertime conversations about current events, families that watch the news together, and civil conversations about politics all have a positive impact on the development of engaged and informed citizens. Parents who talk about their own civic engagement increase the chance that their children will also be participatory citizens. Based on asking over 100 teachers who have participated in Teaching American History projects how they first became interested in history-social science, we suspect that it is not only parents, but also other adult family members and positive role models in the lives of students who can make a difference in civic learning. When asked the question, "When did you first realize knowing something about history is important? …

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