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February 1, 2020
Vol. 62
No. 2

Civics for a New Generation

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      What would it look like to reimagine civics education? Last November, the curricula group iCivics received $650,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education to take up the challenge. For the Educating for American Democracy project, iCivics partnered with Harvard, Tufts, and Arizona State Universities to bring together more than 100 experts in education, history, civics, and political science who are taking stock of civics education. By September 2020, the group will outline a new instructional vision to teach K–12 civics and history, with recommendations for teachers, districts, and policymakers.
      But there's now a renewed sense that schools must have a hand in shaping student interest around active citizenship and the systems and policies affecting current issues. In 2018, 22 states implemented 15 legislative bills or resolutions related to civics education. Central to the conversation, according to experts at a "Civics and the Future of Democracy" event (put on by The Atlantic and Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., last November), are questions about what exactly should be taught and how, especially as a generation of social media users can bypass traditional participation channels. "We need to be able to weave [civics] throughout the entire school experience," said Dubé.
      Demand for iCivics' online curriculum—which currently reaches about 7 million children and covers topics such as the Constitution, history, and community service using an inquiry approach—has increased, said Dubé. When tackling current events, the curriculum focuses on facts. To study an issue like impeachment, for example, a course would unpack the history and particulars of the process.
      A core curriculum should also include student voice, said Shelina Warren, a teacher at Dunbar High School in D.C., who appeared on the event's panel. Her school does so by using mock trials and peer courts to solve behavioral issues. Jessica Marshall, a former social studies educator (also on The Atlantic panel) who shaped Chicago Public Schools' districtwide civics curriculum Participate, recommends keeping subject matter relevant by teaching about the local as well as federal issues students face. During a Chicago teachers' strike last fall, Marshall said teachers took to Twitter to share ideas about how to explain the situation to their students.
      "These issues are close and personal to people's lives, so educators need support," Marshall said. "To learn politics, you're going to end up encountering political views. The question is, can we do it in a way that invites exploration and inquiry? Can we invite students to be the ones to imagine what is possible for them?"

      Kate Stoltzfus is a freelance editor and writer for ASCD.

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