In today’s world, educators are being judged and found wanting in many areas. There is a constant barrage of stories about the costs of teacher tenure, pensions, benefits, and failing schools. I think we all need to stand tall and insist that we have value; we do what we do because we value our students, neighborhoods, cities, and society. I don’t deserve what I am receiving, my health insurance is not a perk, and my pension is not an entitlement – I EARNED THEM.
During college most of us took at least one course in the history of education in the United States. During a class I took, we studied the writings of Eleanor Roosevelt. In the Selected Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt, her purpose for education is described in a list of points, the first being: “This question agitates scholars, teachers, statesmen, every group, in fact, of thoughtful men and women. The conventional answer is the acquisition of knowledge, the reading of books, and the learning of facts. Perhaps because there are so many books and the branches of knowledge in which we can learn facts are so multitudinous today, we begin to hear more frequently that the function of education is to give children a desire to learn and to teach them how to use their minds and where to go to acquire facts when their curiosity is aroused. Even more all-embracing than this is the statement made not long ago, before a group of English headmasters, by the Archbishop of York, that ‘the true purpose of education is to produce citizens’.” (From Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education, Eleanor Roosevelt, http://newdeal.feri.org/er/er19.htm, accessed May 23, 2012.)
As a teacher, two of my preparations called for teaching citizenship within the course. In both Michigan and Illinois, the course requirements for Consumer Education included citizenship and knowledge of how legislation is developed and passed. In Illinois, the course syllabus for Cooperative Work Training also required these topics, as well as the federal and state laws that governed employment. In both courses, I included the subject matter that was required and was always surprised that my students exhibited little previous learning or understanding of these topics.
I chalked this up to the fact that I was teaching this as a problem-solving exercise and that the information was to be directly applied to their lives – earning and spending their money. Given the political and economic times in which we currently live, I am challenging all teachers to evaluate their curriculum and to identify how they can incorporate citizenship participation into the daily lives of their students without preaching their own ideology.
A Couple of Activities
During my teaching years, I developed two different learning activities that assisted students in understanding citizenship and their role as a pro-active adult. The first is an activity called Clarifying Conversations: Connotation vs. Denotation that has two goals: 1) to have students experience how each of us hears and understands terms differently, depending on age and background differences; 2) to help students understand when clarification is needed and how to clarify when there is confusion. This activity pointed out that "slang" can and does interfere with conversation and that the meanings of words do change. I have used this activity with age groups starting with middle school and ending with adults. I really see the differences when I use it with a mixed age group.
The second activity is one that I have also used with various groups both students and adults. This activity titled Citizenship and Legislative Understanding was created in response to the frustrations expressed by a group of adults who felt that their representative was not listening to them. When used with students, it seems to foster understanding of the importance for individuals to communicate with their legislators. The idea behind this activity is to get the participants to understand that citizens need to communicate their needs to the legislators, and that in any given group there will be differences in what is deemed most important. Both of these activities are posted as attachments to this blog.
Your challenge is to infuse citizenship responsibility into your classroom without creating dissension from parents or school administrators. Can you use classroom rules and expectations to help your students become good citizens, life-long learners, and responsible adults?
Some Thinkfinity Resources
(These are just a few of the hundreds you can find – search under citizenship, economics, government, and voting.)
Citizenship & Participation
6 - 8 | Lesson
What is a good digital citizen? Students explore what it means to be responsible and respectful to their offline and online communities as a step towards learning about the characteristics of good digital citizens.
K - 2 | Lesson | Unit
This collection of two lessons, from EDSITEment, encourages students to consider the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. president and their own roles as citizens of a democracy.
K - 4 | Activity | Lesson | Worksheet
Protest signs are a powerful and important way for people to express their feelings. In this activity children will compare 2 protest signs from the civil rights movement, and then create your own expressive chalk art or poster.
All | Text | URL
The Voices of Democracy project is designed to promote the study of great speeches and public debates. The emphasis of the project is on the actual words of those who, throughout American history, have defined the country’s guiding principles, debated the great social and political controversies of the nation’s history, and shaped the identity and character of the American people. In the process of reinvigorating the humanistic study of U.S. oratory, the Voices of Democracy project aims to foster understanding of the nation’s principles and history and to promote civic engagement among humanities students, teachers, and scholars.
Your Thoughts and Questions
- Do you currently teach about citizenship in your classroom?
- Do you share your activities with other teachers in your school/district?
- Are you willing to share your activities with others in the community?
- Do you team-teach lessons, units, curriculum with other teachers?
- When you are planning, does the difference in student backgrounds become a discussion topic?
- Do you want or need more information on this topic?
Please post your thoughts in my discussion,
How are you meeting your responsibilities as an educator?
Debbie Potts began her career in January 1965 as a Home Economics Teacher in a brand new suburban school. Over the next 28 years, she taught in a total of 5 very different high schools that varied from a small rural community with approximately 125 students’ grades 7-12 to a large suburban high school with just over 5,000 students’ grades 10-12. During that time, she taught both in her major area of home economics and in her chemistry minor. In addition, she was a department chairperson in the extremely large high school and the department coordinator for all of the career and technical education in the second largest school where she taught. In 1993 she took early retirement and for the next 18 years, she worked for a project that is funded through the State Board of Education through a state university. During this time she worked with both Marco Polo and Thinkfinity. She retired on February 1, 2012.