California State PTA wants to make civic learning a priority in school reform. Education in California isn’t just about preparing our children for college and careers. We must also teach our children how to be responsible citizens in a democracy. As Thomas Jefferson said:
“The qualifications for self-government are not innate. They are the result of habit and training.”
A TEACHABLE MOMENT
This year’s presidential election is a “teachable moment.” This is an ideal time for parents, schools and PTAs to engage students in our political process and encourage them to think like citizens—even if they’re too young to vote.
Many resources are available that make it easy:
- The Teaching for Democracy Alliance provides a wealth of tools for teachers and schools at all grade levels to use in the classroom
- Letters to the President 2.0 empowers young people (ages 13–18) to voice their opinions and ideas on the issues that matter to them in the coming election. It is a project built by teachers for teachers and students
- The California Student Mock Election helps young people experience the importance of elections and the power their vote has in our democracy. It gives California’s high school and middle school students a chance to have their say on who they want to be the next President of the United States. Once their votes are counted, students can compare their choices to those of their peers at schools from all over the state.
IT’S TIME FOR A CIVICS TURNAROUND
A recent report by the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning found that, by nearly every measure — news readership, voting, political engagement, philanthropy, volunteering, church attendance — civic engagement has been declining since the end of World War II. We believe civics education is so important that it should start in kindergarten — and not wait for a single class in the 12th grade.
VALUES, SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE FOR A HEALTHY SOCIETY
The Task Force outlined three key areas for civic education:
- Demonstrate concern for the rights and well-being of others
- Tolerate, appreciate and seek out a variety of perspectives
- Have a sense of civic duty at local, state, national and global levels, and
- Are aware of the power to act and be predisposed to take action to change things for the better.
- Be able to gather and process information, listen well, think critically, speak in public and engage in discussion and debate
- Be able to collaborate, build consensus and take collective action to address community issues
- Be able to vote, perform jury duty and communicate with policy-makers
- Be able to critically evaluate campaign advertising.
- Understand ethics, history, geography, law and economics
- Possess financial literacy and digital-media literacy
- Understand constitutional concepts such as separation of powers and due process
- Understand the concepts of diversity, privilege and power
- Understand local, state, national and global issues of the day
- Understand democratic processes and how our government works.
SIX PROVEN PRACTICES
The Task Force also outlined six proven practices of civic learning:
- Classroom instruction in government, history, geography, law, democracy and economics, striking a balance between teaching important facts and documents—such as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights—and demonstrating their relevance to today’s society
- Discussion of current events and controversial issues, including their relevance to young people’s lives
- Service learning experiences that are directly linked to curriculum and instruction and that give students a chance to apply what they are learning through informed civic action
- Extracurricular activities that give students opportunities to get involved in their schools, communities and local government and to work together toward common goals
- Student participation in school governance, to cultivate a sense of responsibility and give young people a real voice in how their classrooms and schools are run
- Simulations of democratic processes, such as formal debates, voting, mock trials, Model United Nations and simulations of legislative deliberation.
The Power of Civics Education
The power of civics education was front and center at our recent convention when California State PTA Past President Carol Kocivar sat down to interview Chief Justice of California Hon. Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. Take a look!
Chief Justice from California State PTA on Vimeo.
EDUCATION FOR A LIFETIME OF ENGAGEMENT
Civics education teaches students to think critically, develop research skills, assess and synthesize information, and present coherent arguments based on data: skills for a lifetime of engagement in our society. For more information on civics in California schools, please contact the Vice President for Education: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Center for Civic Education — Offers numerous resources for expanding civics education.
- Civic Learning Awards — Celebrates public high schools’ efforts to engage students in civic learning.
- MY VOTE – Encourages students to be active voters once they are old enough to cast a ballot.
- iCivics — Founded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, provides print-and-go lesson plans, award-winning games and digital interactives.
- LegiSchool Project – Engages California high-school students in matters of public policy.
- Constitutional Rights Foundation – Seeks to instill in our nation’s youth a deeper understanding of citizenship.
- Power of Democracy — Offers news and resources on civic learning.
- California Courts – Civics Education – Includes resources and materials for teaching and learning.
- “Guardian of Democracy: the Civic Mission of Schools” — Recommendations for policymakers, educators and all citizens.
- California YMCA Youth & Government — Includes middle- and high-school programs emphasizing civic involvement.
- Junior Statesmen Foundation — Teaches statesmanship as students engage in political discourse.
- High-School Poll Workers — Outlines how California high-school students can get involved as poll workers.
- Fault Lines in Our Democracy Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States — Features reports on the need for civics education.
- Kids.Gov — Civics tools, lessons and information for students, teachers and parents.
- PTA Volunteers Give the Gift of Civic Engagement.
CALIFORNIA STATE PTA RESOLUTIONS ON CIVICS EDUCATION
- Support for the Civic Mission of Schools – 2006 Convention Resolution
- Citizenship Education – 1989 Convention Resolution