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Comprehensive civic education must lead with equity

By on August 6, 2021 0
Jennings is Executive Director of New England for Generation Citizen, a national non-profit civic education organization. Wilkes is the organization’s senior policy and advocacy director.

Governments of about half the country – in particular, 28 states – have adopted or are considering state policy action related to critical race theory. So far, 11 bills have become law. Some states associate critical race theory with a vision of civic education that discourages teaching of current affairs and prohibits student access to project-based civic education, its proven effectiveness of this academic strategy. . Although half of the country is considering previous approaches to civics and history, we believe democracy education should move in the opposite direction.

A comprehensive civic education should certainly teach the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and federalist documents. But civic-mindedness should not stop there. Students also deserve access to culturally relevant democracy education that imparts critical thinking and research skills, encourages appreciation of consensus building, and provides opportunities to engage elected officials on issues. of their choice. Equity-focused civic education of this type is not partisan; rather, it continues the deeply American tradition of participatory democracy.

Towards equity-centered civic education policies

Equity-centered civic education policies call for pedagogical approaches to civic education that develop strong civic knowledge rooted in a contextual understanding of our nation’s past and present and the civic skills necessary for democratic engagement. .

A culturally relevant and contextual approach to acquiring civic knowledge fosters a deep and nuanced understanding of our nation’s history and civic processes, recognizing good and evil by addressing our nation’s history of racism and structural and systemic implications of such a story on the civil society of the day. It understands and celebrates diverse cultural histories and perspectives and questions how civic engagement can and has helped us move closer to achieving multiracial and participatory democracy.

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Real-world project-based civic education approaches, also known as ‘civic action’, strengthen civic knowledge and skills necessary for democratic engagement. As it stands, glaring inequalities exist in who has access to such approaches, with white and wealthy students learning this skills-based approach at much higher rates. Such a pedagogical approach must be integrated into any reform of civic education policy in order to fill these gaps – do not do more and intentionally deprive already marginalized communities of the political process.

Equity-focused civic education policies also ensure the existence of state and local resources and human capacities to effectively implement quality civic learning so that access gaps that disproportionately affect students in color and low-income youth are fulfilled. Too often we see laws passed and state standards revised, with no resources being pumped into the system to implement such reforms.

Sadly, all aspects of equity-centered civic education policies are under attack by the anti-CRT movement, which aims to ban nuanced and truthful teaching of our country’s past, to ban civic education based on projects and restrict the resources of educators to teach civic education. good.

Watch Massachusetts as a leader

Massachusetts has become a leader in promoting fair, high-quality civic education policy and demonstrating evidence that repels the anti-CRT movement.

Most notably, in 2018, a landmark bill was enacted requiring students to engage in at least two “non-partisan student-led civic projects” – one in eighth grade and another in high school. The law also dedicated resources to the implementation of civic education provisions by allocating a civic education trust fund of $ 1.5 million per year to focus on implementation. that bridges the access gaps between racial and economic lines.

A recent report, Equity in Civic Education: Insights from the Massachusetts Policy Context, highlights the collaborative work of a statewide coalition of school administrators, state officials and elected officials , teachers and students, working together over the past 10 years in pursuit of equity. a civic-centered education policy, examining three critical stages: coalition building, policy formation and adoption, and policy implementation.

Points to remember

Three takeaways from Massachusetts’ approach to expanding access to equitable civic education are worth highlighting. First, coalitions are important. The integration of teachers, students and a wide range of individual and organizational members is essential for effective and representative advocacy for civic education that meets the needs of all learners in a given state. Additionally, having more voice at the table can lead to greater attention to ensuring that all districts and communities can access the resources, professional development opportunities and incentives needed to continuously and measurably improve their approach to health. ‘civic education.

Second, build a K-16 partnership that takes a comprehensive civic education continuum approach. In Massachusetts, the higher education community has played a central role in assessing and communicating the quality of civic education in the state. Based on this research, we were able to present a data-driven case for strengthening civic education in our context.

Finally, where possible, align incentives and funding with expected results. The inclusion of a Civic Project Trust Fund dedicated a new infusion of resources to help districts, schools and educators meet a new demand for student-led, project-based education. . We recognize that budget constraints and income realities may not allow this approach in all states, but commend it as a valuable way to ensure that the civic education policy ecosystem is optimally supported to support high quality civic learning.

The road ahead

Civics and history education is at an inflection point in American classrooms. One way forward is to bypass difficult aspects of our national and state legacies, choosing instead to play it safe and stick to foundational documents, largely avoid the news, and downplay experiential citizenship. Another way forward, and the one we recommend, is to provide equitable civic education that combines a deep understanding of how government works with the lived experiences of all students, culturally relevant teaching, and project-based learning. Our students and our constitutional and multiracial democracy deserve nothing less.

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