Tireless quest for more civics instruction winning backers …

April 25, 2014

Originally published Friday, April 4, 2014 on Seattle Times Website
Education Lab Blog, Posted by

Tireless quest for more civics instruction winning backers

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No one can accuse Web Hutchins of being all talk or shying from the public square.

For three years, the Madison Middle School history teacher has been beating the drum to incorporate more civics into Washington’s public school curriculum with his Civics for All initiative.

Now he’s persuaded legislators in both the Seattle City and King County councils to endorse that notion, too.

Citizenship should be “as vital as the ‘Three Rs,” agreed County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, prime sponsor of the motion, which garnered unanimous support in a vote on March 17.

Hutchins’ belief in the importance of civics is not merely a matter of personal opinion. An Education Lab blog post in February noted several national studies that suggest teaching students about representative democracy is a powerful tool for academic engagement.

Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, notes that only 2 percent of Seattle’s non-college-educated adults hold any civic leadership role.

County Councilmember Reagan Dunn voted enthusiastically in support. “Giving students a sound foundation on civics and how government works is a key part of the educational process,” he said. “As an elected leader I am pleased to support this common sense motion.”

In short, Hutchins’ initiative calls for:

  • Mock elections in each school, every year;
  • Annual assessments of civics education for each grade level;
  • Media literacy education on electoral politics and current events.

“We can’t let ‘House of Cards’ serve as the foundation for students’ civics education,” agreed Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored a similar resolution.  “I particularly look forward to seeing the initiative’s goal of increasing civic engagement among Seattle youth.”

Currently, students in Washington study civics via the social studies curriculum. Hutchins wants educators to incorporate it much more broadly.

The response from Seattle Public Schools? In a word: Measured.

“We support the notion of all students learning civics and agree that it is fundamental to citizenry,” said spokeswoman Teresa Wippel in an email emphasizing that Common Core standards should do the trick. “As you may know, ‘Civics for All’ is not a curriculum, but is a series of tenets developed independently by one of our teachers.”

The district will support Hutchins by encouraging principals to hold mock elections, she said.

Hutchins had hoped for a more robust response.

“Principals are also encouraged to tell kids to study hard,” he said. “But the city and county councils have joined in an unprecedented tandem expression of support for kids learning a lot more civics. It’s profound, given that they generally don’t get too involved in schools.”