Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Citizens in the Making

There is a palpable excitement about youth voice and activism after the March for Our Lives this past weekend. Youth are stepping up to make change in their communities. As educators we should be cultivating the innate sense of justice in our students by teaching them skills like critical thinking, digital media creation and public speaking needed to persuade policy makers and others in positions of power. Furthermore, schools should provide learning experiences that help students become active and responsible citizens by investigating problems and needs in their communities, developing solutions, and having a bias for action. 

At our school, project-based learning is focused on social justice themes such as homelessness, food insecurity, racism, environmentalism and sustainability. Within these projects (that are co-facilitated by a grade-level teaching team) groups of students mobilize by utilizing primary and secondary documents and data, building empathy for others using human-centered design and leveraging technology skills to create presentations, concept posters and prototypes. This year we extended the opportunity for students to make things in our Fabrication Lab - the SAIL (Social Action and Integrated Learning) Lab where they gain confidence using tools like the laser cutters and CNC Router. Tackling civic issues doesn't just happen in the humanities or SAIL Lab but in our 
math classes where we give students problems to interpret, explain and make correlations.  

According to Krahenbuhl (2017) learning is a process by which students build up accurate understandings, acknowledge their own assumptions and misconceptions, engage civilly with those who hold different perspectives, and seek to improve their learning by getting ever closer to truths.

Unfortunately, often the youth who miss out on civic learning opportunities like this are more likely to be students of color and have a lower socio-economic status. Mikva (2018) says that the "consequence of unequal civic learning experiences is not only that disadvantaged students lack civic skills, but they also suffer academically." It's essential we create the space within our classrooms/schools to ensure all 
students have the opportunity for civic focused projects. 

The New York Times (2017) says that two features are especially crucial to making civic-focused projects authentic and empowering. 

  1. Students must own the key choices and decisions and figure out solutions to problems themselves, so they discover that they can do this. The teacher facilitates the work but leaves as much of the decision-making as possible to the students.
  2. The work should culminate in some action focused on change in the school or community. It’s not enough to just talk about change, practice mock legislatures, or serve in a soup kitchen .
A good preparatory step is to start students thinking about democracy and whether it’s important in our lives. Immersing studnets into work that actively impacts their lives increases engagement and helps them realize their potential. 

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