Civics: Civics in the Classroom

Understanding the reasons for introducing civics in the classroom is fundamental for successful teaching. According to Paul Gagnon, civics contains the power in “revealing dangers to democracy” (2003). To literally avoid another holocaust it is vital that students gain a firm understanding what democracy is not. Through conveying the merits and history of government by the people and what past generations have experienced in terms of civics, students will have the seeds of civics planted in them. By studying the representative governments of the early colonies, House of Burgesses, the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence, students should gain a sense of what it is that has shaped our current form of government. The goal of teaching this history is for students to be able to identify the maltreatment of power, instances when someone in a totalitarian manner tries to influence others or tries to assert unhealthy authority over others.

Creating civic dispositions is one of the main goals in embedding the concepts of civics into a student. One of the components of the Civics Frameworks for NEAP was creating these dispositions which is defined as one becoming “an independent member of society; respect individual work and human dignityâÂ?¦and promote the healthy functioning of American constitutional democracy” (1998). If the question was posed to an educator whether or not every student should be treated as a future leader the answer is yes. Even if a student does not become a leader in the civic sense of the word or becomes an elected member of the community, he or she is still a member of a community whether they choose to be or not. A student who does not think he or she is a leader is wrong because they may influence younger brothers or sisters and may set an example for others in the community as workers later on in their life. If every student is taught to think of others and be responsible it will help all members of society.

Being in a position of power over a group of students, a teacher has many opportunities to teach civics. If a teacher were in a Participation in Government class with 12th graders, then one opportunity in cultivating civic disposition is requiring students who are 18 or who are eligible to register to vote to do so. A teacher could provide voter registration forms in class as well as schedules of elections during election years. The simple act of teaching the students how to use the voting machine is also essential to ensuring a successful voting process.

Current events are often a keystone to any global studies or history class in high schools. A good way to use analytical skills is by changing the conventional current event assignment. Students would apply their new skills more effectively if they were required to gather a news story from an U. S. based news organization and then obtaining a story about the same event from a non-U. S. based organization. The purpose this would serve is to show that being informed citizens extends beyond just picking up the newspaper and believing everything one reads. By comparing and contrasting the stories students could flush out any bias or faulty information. If questions still arise the teacher could obtain a third party source. This new process of current events gathering is in the spirit of making students “informed and thoughtfulâÂ?¦and enter into dialogue among others with different perspectives” (CIRCLE, 2004).

Discussion is a great opportunity to bring civics into the classroom. Discussion, rather than debate, is a great way of getting students to form their own thoughts instead of just reading what is said in a newspaper article. Discussion should be carried out by breaking the class into sides, one pro and the other con, then answering a series of questions posed by the teacher. The most important step in this discussion process is a controlled classroom environment maintained by the teacher. The teacher should structure thought provoking questions and keep order and keep possible tempers and emotions in check.
Integration of civic minded values and ideas into every discussion and action that takes place in the classroom is also vital. Steven Schechter in his “Civics in American Education” describes a “hidden curriculum” where teachers can incorporate passing holidays into classroom instruction. Even in a Global Studies course a teacher could take some time and discuss a holiday such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and discuss his impact, the civil rights movement and where the society stands in terms of civil rights. Besides holidays, a teacher could read selections of novels, show movies, show photographs and other forms of multimedia. Bringing in videos of the Vietnam War and the monk burning himself is much more effective than just lecturing about it. In terms of integration the teacher should keep up on current movies that the students may have seen or events in popular culture and discuss those events with a civics center.

Getting students to take the final step of participation is the ultimate goal of civic education. As a teacher I will be faced with students who are apathetic or lazy when it come to this last step. As a result I will require that a letter to a congressperson or editor of a newspaper be the final evaluation of a civic matter we cover. In addition to writing a letter, making a phone call or writing an email to the aforementioned people could also be an alternative. I want students to act out all the necessary skills that are needed to become responsible citizens.

The last obstacle I will face in the classroom when trying to instill a sense of civic virtue is myself. I am afraid that I will be judgmental of the quality of the topics students feel that are important. I will of course try to leave my own prejudices out of the classroom but I am afraid that students will see right through me. If students feel that I am making fun of them or are not supportive than my effectiveness as a teacher will be severely decreased. A second fear about myself is the possibility that I will not connect with all of the students I am trying to reach. I’ve discussed what makes a good teacher with many high school students that I know in my community. The two most important features of a teacher that students respect are respect for the students and a sense of confidentiality. I believe that students should feel that talking with their teacher should be like talking to a doctor or person of religious affiliation. I will strive to respect students and keep their concerns in confidentiality. By doing the aforementioned steps I believe that any type of lessons I plan will be successful.

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