Saturday, May 12, 2012

Civics - How Will Your Child Learn to Think?

I ask that question because along with a student graduating high school to be college or career-ready, that student should also be citizen-ready.  An 18-year old high school graduate can go fight in a war, get married, and vote.  Those are some fairly high level decisions.

Two thoughts run through my head on this subject.

One, do you remember being 18?  You went off to college or you went out and got training, got a job and suddenly learned what it is to be responsible for yourself.  No one was going to tell you to get up and go to class or to be on time for work.   My gold standard for the realization about adult life was when I realized I had to pay for toilet paper.  I couldn't believe my hard-earned money for going for that and yet, what are you going to do?  It a big lesson to learn that all the money you earn will NOT be going for fun, fun, fun. Taxes are a real part of that lesson.

Two, is the increasing cacophony of political voices all trying to sway us and tell us what to think.  Maybe think is too broad a word because I'm not sure all those voices want people to think.  They want people to agree with them.  Gay marriage, educating children of illegal aliens, health care - how do you decide? 

And understand that politics is not just all things political.  It is your health, your safety, your child's education.

Reading about North Carolina not only defeating gay marriage but also any kind of civil union, Michelle Bachmann's concern that having dual-citizenship would make her seem less than a loyal American and the news that Facebook's co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, has renounced his U.S. citizenship days in advance of the company's IPO (seems he didn't want to pay taxes on his share) are all issues of civics. 

What do we tell our children to think about these type of issues?  More importantly, what are they learning at school about how to think about government and society?

Will there be a class (or class time) to teach you child how to think about these issues?  It is vital to learn how to read for content, analyze, deconstruct and, probably most important of all, how to recognize code words.   As parents we imprint on our children our values, our beliefs about right and wrong and the role of religion in our lives and respect for the law and how to find the information to help guide those beliefs in where we live, work and what we vote for come election time.

There's a great teacher at McClure Middle School,Web Hutchins, who taught civics at Franklin for years.  He recently had an article, Groomed for Citizenship,  published in the April 2012 edition of Educational Leadership magazine.  It was about his initiative, Civics for All.   He joins others like former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, who has her own civics initiative, iCivics

Civics for All states:

The Civics for All Initiative proposes to make Seattle the model civics education city for the nation. Civics instruction insocial studies classes would be increased in all grades. The policy proposal also calls for K-12 civics instructional awareness "across the curriculum"in Seattle's public schools, as well as media literacy skills related to citizenship. Currently, in the social studies, the Seattle School District requires civics instruction only in 5th, 7th, 8th, and 12th grade (one semester).

Some thoughts on how to integrate civics in the school day:

Even a revamped social studies effort cannot tackle this "civics deficit" alone: all teachers are needed. For example: a) math might include lessons on wages, taxes, and the deficit; b) foreign languages might cover immigration issues; c) science could frame environmental issues within their political contexts; d) and language arts could help with media literacy skills, by, like analysis of coverage of the Trayvon Martin controversy. 

He is dead-on about how civics and political discussion engage students as almost no other subject can.

It is a thoughtful proposal that needs support in Seattle schools.  

One last thought - this is the kind of discussion I long to have about public education.  What programs work?  What are some various methods to use to reach all children?  What IS important to teach?  What is the role of arts in our school curriculum?

But we have to spend a lot of our time worrying about things like transportation issues, facilities issues, a revolving door of senior management, poor audits and so on.  I hope with the new leadership of Superintendent Banda, the district will become a better managed and run district so the focus, for parents and educators really is education.


SP said...

Thank you Melissa for continuing to publish these types of highlights.

Your last two paragraphs speak volumes for so many Seattle families, "...this is the kind of discussion I long to have about public education. But we have to spend a lot of our time worrying about things like transportation issues, facilities issues, a revolving door of senior management, poor audits and so on."

Every time it seems like we can finally catch our breaths and focus on our kid's learning, something hits the fan like the transportation issue. The Operation's minutes said that there were very few changes being recommended in the transportation plan for next year, so this was no longer on our radars as an issue to track, until it was suddenly sprung on us without warning. Thankfully, parents stood up and spoke up with force that made a difference (and it would not have happened without all of our voices!).

Yes, I do look forward to the days that we can all focus on the learning part of our kid's education once again- sadly, the last time I recall that dream was before the original school closings, how many years ago, when this blog first started?.

My hopes are also with new leadership...

Sahila said...

Well, if its up to Melinda Gates apparently, our children will not learn to think, never mind to think critically about civics:

Happy Mother’s Day Melinda Gates, Mommie Dearest

and maybe, that's the way the oligarchs like it....

Jan said...

This is a minor quibble, I guess. But, if Mr. Hutchins is reading this -- I am having a hard time with the "Civics for All" name. This is probably specific to Seattle (and maybe specific to just me, in which case it should be ignored) -- but the name of the famous MGJ Strategic Plan, the plan that ignored SE schools, imposed MAP, imposed aligned curriculum across all schools, etc., was "Excellence for All." Maybe it still IS titled that, but since everyone seems to be ignoring it these days, and no reports have ever been forthcoming -- who knows.

When I read this post, I had sort of an immediate negative impression that certainly wasn't justified by the topic or the substance of the post. When I thought about it for a minute, I realized that it was the similarity between the initiative's name and MGJ's strategic plan name. That plan (in terms of implementation) was so horrible, and so detrimental to our schools, it makes me want to gag and run from the room.

If you ever decide you want to rename it, there is one more (small maybe, but real to me) reason for doing so.