School & District Management Opinion

Civic Education and the Common Core

By Justin Reich — June 06, 2013 2 min read
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Earlier this week, Joaquin R. Tamayo, Jr., the Assistant Director of the Education & Society Program at The Aspen Institute. Reached out to me with this question.

The Aspen Institute Education Program is exploring new work on the intersection between the Common Core and the democratic purposes of education. Specifically, as I think about the myriad implications of the Common Core and as a former high school principal, I am very much interested in two things:

1) What impact does the organization/disorganization of schooling have on youth development related to citizenship?
2) And what research exists on the accuracy and breadth of the content that American public school students encounter in civics-related courses, like American history and US government?

When I think about former students of mine who encountered difficulty conforming to school rules and about the likely irrelevancy (at least to their own lives) of so much I taught them, I wonder what role the Common Core might play in getting our field to address some serious issues in education now that we are saying we want to prioritize critical thinking skills like inquiry, evaluating the credibility of evidence, and constructing logical arguments.

I read your blog in Ed Week and am a fan of the Facing History approach, so I figured you might be able to point me in the right direction. If you have any reactions to my framing and any guidance on resources I might want to explore, I would very much appreciate it.

The original purpose of my blogging was actually to be able to respond to emails like this and have my responses be useful to more than just the original interlocutor, so here goes:

My first reaction is that there is a fairly substantial literature related to civic education that has grappled with these questions for some time. As one literature dump, here are four syllabi (here, here, here, and here) from Meira Levinson and Helen Haste at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that wrestle with these questions.

Many of the authors cited in these syllabi are connected with CIRCLE, which is the one of the premier groups in the US that addresses these issues.

If you wanted a starting point into this field, I’d recommend CIRCLE’s 2011 report Guardians of Democracy, which builds on the 2003 Civic Mission of Schools Report. CIRCLE also has a list of all of their major publications here .

As you might imagine, I’m also very interested in the digital turn in civic education. Ethan Zuckerman’s recent keynote at the DML conference is an excellent place to start investigating new media and the futures of civic ed. Increasingly, being an efficacious civic actor requires interpreting and creating diverse forms of media, and organization people for social action in both online and face to face settings.

These are tremendously important issues. Even in times of austerity, recession, and hardship (especially in these times), we cannot lose sight of the fact that great public schools have a responsibility to prepare young people for civic life. I do think that some of the best ideals of learning embodied in the Common Core can be put in service of that important mission.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my publications, C.V., and online portfolio, visit EdTechResearcher.

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