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Social Studies

What Does a Civic-Ready Student Look Like? Nebraska Leaders Forge a Definition

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 16, 2017 2 min read
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Remember the idea of “college- and career- ready” students? Add another ‘c’ to the list: civic-ready.

Nebraska’s state board of education is drafting a definition for what it means for students to demonstrate civic readiness. The proposed definition, which is supposed to be finalized sometime in December, wouldn’t actually create new policy around social studies or civics education, but it does signal a new emphasis on the topic, and will probably underpin future discussions about those areas.

The definition, which was discussed at the board’s meeting last week, breaks the idea of civic readiness into four key areas: knowledge (of government, civic rights); skills (public advocacy, gathering and processing different viewpoints); actions (volunteering, voting); and dispositions (concern for others’ constitutional rights and freedoms, respect for processes and laws governing the republic).

It’s an interesting approach at a time when civics education has received more attention, given important current events and news stories about public protest, students’ and athletes’ constitutional rights, checks and balances in the government, and the legislative process on revisions to the Affordable Care Act. In a sense, by outlining a broad definition for itself, Nebraska can begin asking what structures should be in place for students to embody this definition—and for teachers to help them get there.

See also: California to Create Diploma Seal for Civics

“What I hope this definition does is help educators and administrators see that the responsibility for civic readiness rests with all of us. It’s not just something that social studies educators should be concerned about,” said Cory Epler, the chief academic officer for the Nebraska education department. “What I like about the definition is that you start to see how interdisciplinary it is. Even if I am a science teacher, I can create learning experiences and promote activities that would support civic readiness. We’re famous in education for putting things in boxes; I think this opens up the conversation around civic readiness.”

He pointed out that the state’s science standards, approved just a few months back, include a civic science thread. In general, it emphasizes that science can be used to solve local community problems.

Nebraska legislators have toyed with the idea of requiring high school students to take and pass the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services exam, as 17 other states have done, but have not passed a bill to that end yet.

You can see the state’s full definition below. Nebraska’s history/social studies standards, in the meantime, are scheduled to be revised in 2019-20.

Photo: The Nebraska Statehouse. Photo Credit: Jim Bowen. Flickr/Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.