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Exemplary Civics Programs Highlighted

Into the recent buzz about civics education comes a new brief outlining six best practices in that discipline and featuring several programs that focus on those practices.

The paper, released this week by the Education Commission of the States, emphasizes an approach to civics that capitalizes on students' interest in controversial issues that touch their own lives, and promotes their hands-on engagement in activism and community service. The days of sit-and-read-a-textbook civics are out, ECS suggests.

It points out academic skills to focus on that create a good basis for civic engagement, such as public speaking and the ability to mount a strong argument on both sides of an issue. (Common core alert! Sound familiar? The ability to cite evidence from text to support an interpretation is one of the most-focused-on common-core skills.)

ECS details a dozen programs that illustrate aspects of good civics education. Students learn about voting through KidsVoting USA, which combines classroom activities, family dialogue, and an actual voting experience. The Colorado Youth Advisory Council engages students in real-world problem solving by enlisting students to examine issues that affect young people in that state and helping them shape recommendations that are shared with elected officials.

In my reporting on the curriculum beat, I've certainly seen how fired-up students can get when instruction draws them into topics of social justice. A story about common-core English/language arts curriculum in Kentucky, for instance, showed me how science, social studies and ELA teachers were designing units that put controversial topics like nuclear power at the heart of projects. Students researched the issues and wrote interpretive papers about them, drawing on information they gathered to argue from a particular point of view. Teachers reported a higher level of interest from students than they'd seen before.

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