Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Universal and timeless, Jefferson’s sentiment is especially relevant to our republic today.
In a renewed focus on promoting civics education within the United States, students, teachers, and communities across the country are finding innovative ways to improve the quality of instruction, with the intent of cultivating the next generation of both leaders and involved citizens. Here are just a few examples of how they’re doing it.
Simulating the Democratic Process
A Junior Achievement program called BizTown® provides the opportunity for students to participate in a simulation of the democratic process. BizTown is a scaled-down city built for kids and designed to model many communities in America. It includes a bank, a medical clinic, television station, public utilities, and even a city hall. The simulation allows students to learn about voting in real-life scenarios as they take on active citizenship roles, such as business owners, consumers, and elected officials.
In Tucson, AZ, fifth graders from Senita Valley Elementary School use an 18-hour classroom program to introduce economic fundamentals, such as banking procedures and economic terms. Students then work together to raise money to pay for their virtual trip to BizTown. Upon arrival, the students engage in a democratic process to staff jobs and choose public officials required to run the town. They elect a mayor, appoint a CEO for each business, and pay taxes for the town’s public programs. Also, elections are held for sheriffs and judges. If a rule is broken, the offending party can hire a lawyer and present a case before one of the elected judges.
Senita Valley Elementary’s principal, Connie Erickson, says of the program, “All of our kids look forward to 5th grade and the BizTown experience.… We are always encouraging our kids to think about what they are doing for themselves, their community, and their world.”