How We Can Grow a Generation of Engaged Citizens

We’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the teacher in the classroom. And more specifically about the teacher in the social studies classroom.

My son Fernando was just about the world’s foremost authority on Vikings—when he was five. He was fascinated by their ships and how they traveled across the seas; their armor and dress; their Gods and myths. He searched out books at the library, remembered dates, people, drew pictures and played “Viking.”

Fast forward to fourth grade world history. He was disengaged and not doing well.

It seemed like such a struggle for him. I asked, “What’s the matter? You love history. What’s going on?” And he said, “Mom, all the stories are gone.” Looking through the textbook I saw he was right. In dismay, I realized this was not a problem I could fix for my son.

Then Citizen:Me, our organization that works to prepare the next generation to become active citizens, started to work with the new College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, K-12 (PDF). This past summer, I spent time with Kathy Swan, the lead writer and project director. She’s a passionate and purpose-driven educator. C3 might sound like another document coming down from on high that means teachers will have to fill out more paper work, but it’s not.

The C3 Framework proposes a method for teachers to harness a child’s natural curiosity. Starting with the desire to know more, students develop their own questions. They dive in, get to know the subject, closely examine their findings and then communicate them to their classmates. This empowering cycle prepares students to act and speak in informed ways. Kids drive the process by exploring the stories that move them. They are responsible for and “own” their education.

This really got our attention at Citizen:Me. Over the past three years, a group of dedicated educators from states across the nation worked together to co-create the C3 Framework. Developed to help educators and states enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines, it helps build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It provides and promotes opportunities for students to work together to become engaged citizens. The C3 Framework fully aligns with the Common Core State Standards.

And it’s a framework for a reason, allowing for flexibility and freedom in content as well as creativity in practice. Think about it—we are going to challenge our kids from the very earliest ages to follow their curiosity, ask questions, research, dig deeper and be able to speak up. Wow!

So we are proposing that GOOD teachers and parents spend some time with the C3 Framework. Consider how it would change classroom practice. Reframe your own thinking about what our children are capable of. What do you see as a teacher? As a parent? And then share what excites you about this approach with the GOOD community. What concerns you? What barriers do you see? What opportunities?

At Citizen:Me, we believe that we can trust our children to use their imaginations, place themselves in history, and learn to think critically about what they are seeing, reading, and hearing. We need to be brave enough to give them that chance. Let’s work together to bring back the stories and help grow a generation of free thinking, engaged citizens. We can’t think of anything more important to our democracy.

Image by Krystsina Birukova via Colourbox

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