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Teaching citizenship

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Jon Schnur, co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, has an article over at TIME Ideas worth reading: “Can We Teach Kids to be Good Citizens?” Describing new efforts in education that do not “just focus on academic achievement but help students develop character and prepare for active citizenship,” Schnur discusses the need for schools to help students “acquire the knowledge and skills needed to become active participants in American democracy”–citing reports and studies familiar to our readers–and then provides an update on progress in the field:

On the civics front, some teachers now incorporate careful analysis of key foundational American texts not only in history, civics but also in English classrooms. This will become more widespread due to a rigorous, new “common core” of standards adopted by 46 states that include standards on reading, understanding and writing about complex non-fiction texts — including key American documents like the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. Some schools also integrate active civics in the classroom. Democracy Prep in New York involves all students in voter registration drives while learning about the history and importance of voting.

American education needs a major expansion into all these areas, and these educators are planting initial seeds. Best practices are being documented and shared through efforts like the American Enterprise Institute’s Program on American Citizenship. With No Child Left Behind being dismantled, states and local schools have the important opportunity to reassess priorities beyond testing and academics and ensure that we’re not just focused on creating good students but also good citizens.

In the recently published Teaching America — a new book on civic education with essays from leaders across the political spectrum — O’Connor shared the story of Benjamin Franklin walking out of Independence Hall after the U.S. Constitution had been signed in 1787. A woman asked Franklin if the founders had created a monarchy or a republic. Franklin was said to reply that America would be “a republic, if you can keep it.”

[Emphasis and hyperlinks added.]