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The Importance of Civic Readiness

How to help learners prepare for the “real world”

· Civic readiness,Responsibility,Critical thinking

College and career readiness are two of the cornerstones of high school and higher education. Especially as students take those first fragile steps into adulthood, we want to support them, encourage them, and make sure they’re ready. But beyond these big life events, there’s plenty more to be ready for.

Consider the upcoming November 2016 election, for example. By now, just about everybody -- from grade school on up -- can identify the two frontrunners in the presidential race. But can you name your state’s candidates for congress? What about your city’s mayoral race? What knowledge and skills do you need to have to make an informed choice? Many people are clueless, lacking the “civic readiness” that is arguably just as important as college and career readiness.

As adult citizens, it’s crucial to be prepared to take an active role in our local communities. Beyond participating in local government, these duties include paying taxes, serving on juries, and obeying the law. We can expand the concept to include contributions like volunteerism, community building, and supporting worthwhile causes. Democracy itself is built upon these important duties that we all share.

We invest a lot of resources in making sure students are ready for college and for their careers. But how can we get a jump start on preparing them for life beyond those two contexts?

There are lots of ways that educators can work to ensure their students are prepared for the “real world.” First and foremost, nourishing the development of critical thinking skills can only help to empower students in all arenas. Choosing which city council member to support, carefully and accurately filing taxes, donating limited resources to certain organizations -- all of these civic roles require critical thinking skills.

Beyond this, educators, parents, and mentors can choose to embrace “teachable moments” -- timely opportunities to start a discussion about civics -- rather than shy away from them. Let’s return to our example of this year’s election. Sure, it’s rife with controversy and strong opinions. But it’s still an opportunity to teach students about the election process in a very relatable and tangible context. Not sure where to start? There are lots of resources available online, including election lesson plans from the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Even in non-election years, teachers can and should bring current events and hot topics in local government into the classroom. In their thorough 2011 report, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools observed that “Self-government requires far more than voting in elections every four years.” The report suggests several policy recommendations to enhance civic readiness, including encouraging “student participation in in-school and out-of-school civic learning experiences.”

So how can teachers make this happen? One important thing teachers can do is to promote and support various extracurricular activities that emphasize civic responsibility, including volunteering organizations like Key Club, groups like Model United Nations, and the skills of speech and debate.

We want to hear your ideas, too. How do you help to prepare your students, kids, and peers for the civic responsibilities in the “real world”? How have you been incorporating this year’s big election into a larger conversation about civic readiness? Share your ideas in the comments below!

References

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools (2011). Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools. Accessed 06 September 2016 from https://www.carnegie.org/media/filer_public/ab/dd/abdda62e-6e84-47a4-a043-348d2f2085ae/ccny_grantee_2011_guardian.pdf.

A World at School (2016). Picture of assembly taken during Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the Youth Takeover of the United Nations. Accessed 08 September 2016 from https://secure.aworldatschool.org/page/content/the-text-of-malala-yousafzais-speech-at-the-united-nations/

Resource

Davis, Matt (2016). Election 2016: Lesson Plans and Digital Resources for Educators. Retrieved 06 September 2016 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/US-election-teaching-resources-matt-davis.

Kiwanis International. Key Solutions: Key Club Membership Resources. Retrieved 06 September 2016 from http://www.kiwanis.org/docs/default-source/service-leadership-programs/chartering-resources/guide-service-project-ideas-for-key-club.pdf?sfvrsn=6.

Best Delegate. (15 March 2011). The Educational Benefits of Model UN. Retrieved 06 September 2016 from http://bestdelegate.com/the-educational-benefits-of-model-un/.
Communication Academy. The Benefits of Debate. Retrieved 06 September 2016 from https://www.communicationacademy.com/uploads/filedepot/VR_The_Benefits_of_Debate_article.pdf.

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