To the Editor:
Jim Dillon’s recent Commentary (“The Best Antidote to Bullying? Community-Building,” Dec. 11, 2013) evoked some common experiences and opportunities that anti-bullying and civics education proponents face.
When Mr. Dillon, a leading anti-bullying expert, wrote about teaching students “to support and defend their peers” from bullies as they explored their “responsibilities and obligations” to their fellow students, he sounded like a civics teacher reviewing concepts like “civic duty” and the “common good.”
Unfortunately, anti-bullying programs and civics don’t just share rich content characteristics, they also frequently share the “nonessential” curricular label. Both are often poorly or hurriedly taught, or simply not taught at all.
To surmount this problem, anti-bullying and civics advocates should seek to informally align with and support one another in the Common Core State Standards era as administrators look for ways to efficiently address mandated topics like theirs on common-core-overloaded calendars for professional development.
Framing anti-bullying lessons within civics’ timeless, Aristotelian academic tradition could instantly increase buy-in for both disciplines from students, staff, parents, and, especially, administrators.
The notion that students should stand up for their weaker classmates, for the “outsiders,” harks back to democracy’s loftiest ideals, like equal justice under law, “e pluribus unum,” and “majority rule, minority rights.” And, experience and the tenets of metacognition show that when teachers help students frame experiences like standing up for others in broad affective and academic contexts, it is far more edifying for students.
Finally, Mr. Dillon’s expectation that schools must “expect students to meet high moral standards” in addition to “high academic standards” represents what all educators want, but too rarely discuss.
Ironically, many educators feel that talking about morals is too political, when it is actually within the framework of democratic discourse about political philosophy that we have the greatest freedom to safely engage students in crucial discussions about right and wrong. In my experience, such work almost invariably leads to heightened civic virtue and increased academic engagement for all.
South Lake High School
The writer is the executive director of the Civics for All Initiative and the author of an Aug. 7, 2013, Commentary (“Civics in the Core”) on civics education.
A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2014 edition of Education Week as Anti-Bullying, Civics Education Should Align, Support Each Other