“We need to start teaching civics again,” is a common refrain these days. And for good reason. There’s nothing like a pandemic to help us realize the impact of our individual and collective actions as well as our responsibilities to ourselves and our communities.
Recently we made the case that statistical literacy is essential for full participation in society. The same goes for civics—the rights and duties of citizenship—which must be taught both in school and at home.
Though we haven’t come across many civics classes in schools, we’ve seen plenty of instances of it being taught through lessons and activities in all shapes and forms. For instance, each fall at Townsend Harris High School, the entire student body participates in an election simulation, where students study and role-play candidates and members of special interest groups. At MS 50 in Brooklyn, all students learn the art of debate and use it to tackle weighty topics, such as the pros and cons of single-gender education. Some schools participate in programs like The Constitution Works, where children get hands-on exposure to our legal system by studying the Constitution and then conducting a mock appellate case in a federal courthouse.
Parents can embrace a similar activity-driven approach at home.
The Institute for Educational Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Education has published the Civics at Home guide to help parents plan activities to teach their children about good citizenship. Citing research by political scientist David Campbell, the Civics at Home guide lays out the four key elements of civics education or “what makes up an engaged citizen”:
- Political knowledge (understanding how our political system works);
- Civic skills (the capacity to be involved, i.e., interpreting legislation and campaign platforms);
- The habit of civic engagement (community service and political volunteering); and
- Political tolerance (respect for the civil liberties of others).
Civics at Home lists activities organized by age range. It also offers some no-nonsense advice such as teaching your child geography by looking at maps and encouraging memorization of key facts such as states and capitals and the names of countries on different continents.
Take a look at Civics at Home and let us know in the COMMENTS what you are doing at home to help your child understand their role as a good citizen.