Recently, citizens once again exercised their right to vote. They used the power of voting to have their voices heard. But what does it all mean? Now is the time for civics lessons that teach students civic responsibility. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and students must know how to act, deciding which actions are responsible and which are not. How do students treat others while making their voices heard? Civics lessons provide answers to these questions.
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke
Focus on the Thinking and Motivation Behind Actions
Students need to see that every civic action has a reaction and a consequence. The actions establish a chain of events; each action is linked to a subsequent one.
The heart of civics lessons is not necessarily the content, but rather understanding the thinking and motivation behind the actions taken by individuals or groups. When students read about events in history, they should be able to answer the following questions:
- Why did the individual or group act in a specific way?
- How did the action help achieve or fail to achieve a goal?
- What were the effects of the action?
- Did the action help or hurt the larger community?
- Could an alternative action have better solved the problem or issue?
- What course of action would you recommend to solve the problem or issue?
“Learning without thought is labor lost.” —Confucius
Checking In with the C-3 Framework
The C-3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) Framework states: “Active and responsible citizens identify and analyze public problems; deliberate with other people about how to define and address issues; take constructive, collaborative action; reflect on their actions; create and sustain groups; and influence institutions both large and small. They vote, serve on juries, follow the news and current events, and participate in voluntary groups and efforts. Teaching students to act in these ways—as citizens—significantly enhances preparation for college and career.”
Lesson Structures That Foster Student Ownership…
Students need to understand what their civic responsibility is and how they can act on it. Lessons should illustrate how citizens address issues, how they work together, and what the outcomes of their actions are. For example, in our lesson on the Boston Massacre, students analyze the key players, their actions, and the outcomes of their actions. A video helps students see the actions and reactions of the citizens at that time. Students then write an unbiased account of the Boston Massacre. The lesson teaches students to think critically as they look at events objectively, seeing both sides. The lesson provides activities in which students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical events. This format allows for rich and deep conversations about civic duties and responsibilities. It helps students see how they can act responsibly. The lesson structure and activities can then be applied to current events, using the past to frame students’ thinking about the present, and about what might happen in the future.
… and Develop Listening and Reasoning Skills
The other key thing that civics lessons teach students is to listen. Students need to hear what is being said, understand what the words mean, and evaluate how those words affect others. Listening to citizens offers paths to compromise, which is also at the heart of many civics lessons and allows students to see how groups with diverse beliefs can work towards a common goal.
Elections can be polarizing because people often have opposing viewpoints and opinions. Given current events and the polarization of many citizens, civics lessons are crucial to help unify the country. Students need to know how responsible citizens act, why they act, and what the consequences of their actions are. For as Thomas Jefferson said: “In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.” And we are fortunate to have a clear path to reasoning—by teaching civics and implementing the C-3 Framework.
Link to quotes: http://www.readfaster.com/learningquotes.asp