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Learning by Doing


With diplomas in hand, most new high school graduates would rather spend the summer soaking up their last moments of leisure before they have to tackle college work and make career plans. But a group of Miami students were motivated instead to tackle complicated, real-world lessons in Washington this summer, as the Miami Herald reports.

The students, who graduated this year from Killian Senior High School, started a grass-roots lobbying campaign on behalf of a friend, Juan Gomez, and his family, who faced deportation to their native Columbia. After weeks of flooding lawmakers' offices with letters, e-mails, and faxes—and using the social-networking site Facebook to rally others to do so, too—10 students went to Washington to meet with key members of Congress. For a week and a half, the newspaper reports, the students spent long days walking the halls and waiting for their chance to plea the family's case. They also pushed for support of pending immigration bills that would help the family.

In the end, the Gomez family was released from detention and given a 45-day reprieve.

It’s pretty striking how this cause sparked such passion and determination in these young men and women. I’m sure they learned more compelling lessons about how the government works this summer than perhaps throughout their academic careers so far.

We've all all heard stories of children taking action to help others or push particular policies or causes. Often their experiences teach concrete lessons they have trouble absorbing from a textbook or lecture, whether they be science concepts, math skills, or civic principles.

How can educators motivate students through real-world lessons, and what are the challenges of incorporating them into the curriculum?


Some of the best real-world lessons for students happen in journalism — the student newspaper, yearboook, video. All skills are used to produce a product that is judged by the community.

The biggest challenges to producing outstanding student media are funding and the belief that students can responsibly exercise their First Amendment rights without prior review and prior restraint.

The experience of these Florida students dramatically makes the case for re-emphasizing community service and civic responsibility in our public school curriculum. Students need to know that involvement is not only crucial to their futures, but requires a commitment and knowledge of the Constitution and how our legal system works. It’s time to put the public back in public education and these students are showing us the way.

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