8. K-8 Civics and Connections to K-8 Social and Emotional Learning
Citizenship education must begin in the early elementary years:
The report, “Young People’s Citizenship Competency in Their Nation, Community and School” (Torney-Purta & Vermeer), outlined in the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC) November 2003 draft paper, recommends that: “Citizenship education (should start) simply but sensitively in the early years of elementary school and become increasingly complex, so that by the time students are 14 or 15 they see citizenship as part of their identity,” (Torney-Purta & Vermeer, 2003, p. 36).
Elementary school teachers are masters at interdisciplinary teaching. However, the pressures of standardized testing over the last decade have forced them to spend ever less time on social studies and civics. Literacy (reading and writing) and math have trumped all else and social studies at many schools have been reduced to half hour lesson every other day (in rotation with science often).
Evidence in the Seattle Public Schools reveal that low-income / high-needs elementary schools have suffered the greatest losses of social studies and civics instructional time to test-prep demands. This is inequitable and unfair.
This shocking decline could even get worse as new Common Core measurement tools and assessment regimens (e.g. tests) are implemented. The time is now, as we transition to the Core, to carve out space and time in the academic day for our children to learn more about democracy, civic duty, and the Common Good. Civics for All calls for the integration of more civics rich texts and lessons into the literacy portion of each school day as well as into math when it is feasible. Elementary students love to grapple with the ethical and moral questions posed by civics texts and questions.
Ironically, it is our K-8 schools that already have some of the best stockpiles of quality civics curriculum. Many schools already have curricula and multiple class sets of some or all of the following top-notch K-8 civics curricula: Project Citizen, StoryPath, We the People, and Justice O’Connor’s iCivics.
Other keys for K-8 civics apply to the entire K-12 spectrum:
- TALK with colleagues and see how you can build intra and inter grade connections and extensions for the work.
- Develop an intentional plan for the main ideas/concepts you choose to grow in the spiral curriculum (for elementary schools through the K-6 years and build and scaffold it as needed.
- Remember recursive learning is rich learning, both for the kids who are “getting it” as well as for those who aren’t just yet.
- Civics texts offer great starting points for service-learning units.
The sky is the limit for our elementary students if we can help free up their teachers to give them the lessons they surely crave.
Tacoma’s Whole Child Initiative (TWCI) is beginning to take off and it directly links to and echoes the “agency and identity” aspects of civics and voting that Civics for All offers for the socio/emotional growth of young learners. Greg Benner, the executive director of the University of Washington-Tacoma (UW-Tacoma)’s Center for Strong Schools and lead academic partner in TWCI, led a recent clinic in Seattle and shared that: Wanting to help every kid be “safe, respectful, responsible, caring, and a good learner,” is “the best thing we can give kids for the future,” as Benner asserted that the early and sustained focus on social and emotional learning is essential.
He added. “If you want to get serious about closing the achievement gap, we first have to address the engagement gap.”