Yesterday I attended the board meeting of the Center for Civic Education. I’m pleased to support this activity for a number of reasons, not least because they’re focused on developing an understanding of the principles of government and an associated set of values around the importance of civic engagement, goals I think are important. I’m pleased to see that they’re succeeding both nationally but also internationally.
However, what is great is how they do it. Two major initiatives are Project Citizen, and The Citizen & The Constitution. Both have rich approaches and stellar outcomes.
In The Citizen & The Constitution, the students create a team and learn about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as preparation for simulated congressional hearings. Our first board meeting of the year is held in Sacramento, where the California State regional competitions are held (preliminaries at the hotel, finals at the Capitol building; the national finals are held in DC and have been held in actual congressional hearing rooms). And these kids are awesome: knowledgeable, poised, and articulate. Research shows they have much improved attitudes and civic participation (92% of graduates voted in the last election). Yes, it’s US centric, but the model is easily adoptable (some 30-40% of the Center’s activities are now international, and it’s not knee-jerk American flag-waving, but meaningful discussion on the principles of government and ways to accommodate it within current contexts).
In Project Citizen, a class investigates problems in their neighborhood, figures out where a legislative solution will help, and then works to get that legislative solution enacted. It’s a real service learning approach and nicely integrates awareness of how government operates with an understanding of how citizen activity is a crucial component. And they’ve created significant changes! Again, research supports great outcomes.
While I think this is a great organization and encourage your investigation, the point here is the great pedagogy, aligned with my thoughts on making learning meaningful (read: engaging). Using an authentic activity, in particular the latter case where it also contributes to society, as a way to connect learning to the broader context, integrates the elements that really cement learning. Sometimes we’ll have to simulate it (and exaggerate the story to hook in the emotions we lose with the lack of authenticity, making it a game), but it’s the right way to practice.