July 10, 2023
In an age of book bans, technology bans, and polarized politics it’s hard to imagine anyone signing up to teach civics. To say the climate is bad is an understatement. Between aggressive parents, district priorities, and a slew of new state policies (depending on your state)—many teachers have been caught in the crossfire between effectively teaching civics and staying employed.
One can spend hours speculating how the situation has come this far. I wonder if it might be a better use of our time to focus on what we can do to best support those on the front line simply trying to do their jobs and advance civics education. Teachers are stressed, students want real conversations, and we need to have more holistic discussions on how we can best serve our students.
As I’ve talked to various organizations and educators from the U.S. and the EU there are a few opportunities I believe will take some of the tension out of teaching civics. We need to ensure that teachers feel supported to facilitate needed discourse and are encouraged to help our students find outlets to step up, use their voices, and take action on the issues they care about.
One thing schools and districts can do to mitigate any misunderstandings is to better communicate with parents about why we teach civics, our goals as educators, and what outcomes to expect when students effectively engage in the course. We need to build back the trust that teachers know what they’re doing and help squash parental fears and assumptions about what’s taking place in the classroom. Districts and schools should use this sort of parent communications toolkit to make it clear they have their teachers’ backs and will support them in the work they do.
This work would be best supported if schools and districts first carved out time for social studies teachers and administrators to come together and craft their statements on what it means to teach civics, what learning experiences look like, and why/how we use materials, technology, and other learning opportunities to help students become engaged citizens. In a time when social-emotional learning is a polarizing topic, it must be made clear why we need to support students to manage emotions, tolerate the viewpoints of others, effectively communicate with one another, and make good decisions. Working with staff to create this sort of manifesto would…