The Oklahoma Statehouse with the title, "Generation Citizen, Columbus, and Autocracy"

This Week in Civics: Road to Autocracy, Generation Citizen, and Columbus

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Every week, I take a moment to look back over the week’s news and op-eds related to civics education to see what’s going on around the country (and sometimes the world). This week was a slow news week, so it’s going to be a quick recap.

Let’s dive in and see what’s going on.

Another Op-Ed About Civics Education and the Threat of Autocracy

There was an op-ed in the South Florida Sun Sentinel entitled, “We urgently need civics education.” It’s similar in nature to other op-eds that have been published this year. Students can’t identify the branches of government, we’re not teaching enough civics, and we’re losing our ability to be engaged citizens. He also makes the argument that this lack of civics education is leaving us susceptible to autocracy.

There was one interesting statistic I hadn’t seen cited before – “one in six Americans favored military rule over the government – up from one in 16 in 1995.” There was no source in the op-ed, but I did come up with this piece in the New York Times covering some interesting research that supports the claim. The op-ed called for more and better civics education but stopped short of offering any suggestions on how we go about doing that.

Another Story About Spanish iCivics and Sonia Sotomayor

Remezcla published a short piece about iCivics titled, “Sonia Sotomayor’s Innovative Game is Helping Young ESL Students Learn About Their Rights.” It’s one of many recent articles about the iCivics game, Do I Have a Right?, which was re-released with a Spanish language version to make it more accessible to English language learners. This came up in a weekly news round-up last month, and I’ve seen it pop up in the news a few times since then.

This is a good reminder for me, though, that I had wanted to do an individual post about the game itself and how it can be used in class. I’ll probably get to that in the next week or two.

Reading the quotes from Sotomayor in the article also reminds me of the time that I saw her speak at Rutgers, back in April 2016. It was a great Q&A session, and she freaked out her security by walking up into the bleachers to talk with the students. Here’s a YouTube video of the day, courtesy of the Eagleton Institute of Politics and Rutgers.

Students in Massachusetts Question Role of Columbus Day

There was an interesting, albeit short, article in the Daily Times Chronicle titled, “Schools discuss fate of Columbus Day.” The reporting is a bit confusing. At first it sounds like an English teacher made a presentation to the school board detailing the horrors of Columbus and suggesting that Columbus Day be recognized by the school district as Indigenous People’s Day.

But later on, the article discusses a club called “Connect and Commit,” whose goal is to “educate the people of Winchester and provide opportunities for community service.” It sounded like the club held meetings to discuss this issue with students and had as many as 100 students in attendance. If so, that’s pretty cool. I wish the article offered a clearer picture of the board meeting, because I’d like to know if and how those students were incorporated into the presentation to the board.

Regardless, this demonstrates the potential of project based learning activities like Project Citizen and Youth Participatory Action Research. Changing the recognition of Columbus Day – or changing any historical statue or marker that whitewashes history – is a great potential topic to get your kids excited.

Generation Citizen Civics Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol

Finally, and this was the meatiest of the articles I saw this week, NonDoc published an article titled, “Generation Citizen gains traction with OKCPS students.” The article briefly described the Generation Citizen program and then summarized some of the presentations that students made during Civics Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Generation Citizen is another project based learning approach to civics education. Students learn about the political process and then put it into action by advocating for a cause that they believe in. The article focuses on Civics Day in Oklahoma, where students traveled to the State Capitol to make their presentations to lawmakers. Some of the issues that came up were gun violence, discrimination against immigrants, and education budgets. Check out the article for more detail.

The program operates in six locations across the country, and I think Oklahoma is one of the newer ones. It’s also in Rhode Island (the original location), New York City, the Bay Area, Texas, and Massachusetts. One other interesting tidbit from the article is that Oklahoma is looking to push the program down into the elementary schools to start this kind of action civics with younger kids. The younger you start, the better.

Did I Miss Anything?

Anything else happen this week with regards to civics education that I missed? Drop a comment below and let me know.

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