What is the Future of Civic Education in America

We live in interesting times, during a period of change in many of the patterns of daily life. There are many engines driving that change; technology, social media, globalization just to name a few. Regardless of which reason we credit for the changes that most affect our lives or whether we see them as positive or negative, society is at times slowly, and other times rapidly, adapting to the change.

One micro example of how we have had to adjust to change has to do with the norms and mores of mobile devices. One benefit of technology in schools is that it has forced the conversation about what societal norms for these devices should be. Much like movie theaters were forced to socialize viewers about when it was inappropriate to use their devices, schools, and teachers had to play a role defining community values for students. Especially when faced with ever increasing numbers of students with their own devices, as well as Chromebooks, iPads, and computers once 1:1 technology programs became more common.

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This may seem obvious to some, but other changes crept up on us. While some may say that they saw it coming, recent elections have shown us the darker effects of social media on our democratic processes and institutions. Whether you choose to call it a crisis or not, once again schools will need to respond to the societal need to socialize students to live in a world where information flows quickly, but depending on how your social media network is constructed, can pool in silos and filter bubbles or a contain purposefully false of misleading information.

Current political trends and what some have termed the current “culture wars” highlight the need for a renewed conversation about American Civic Education. In a world where so much of our lives can be personalized, individualized and unique, what does that mean for the political ideals that we all hold in common? Perhaps we need to reflect on the sometimes stormy relationship that the US has had with individuality and unity, while as a nation we rose to prominence in the world.

Stepping back to look at education, we should also consider the growing trends of personalized learning and differentiation that seek to make the learning experience more suited to a variety of learners. I believe with all my heart that this is a good thing. These ideas are in line with our societal belief in the worth and value of the individual. Yet at the same time individualized learning and Personalized Learning programs certainly raise the question of how we will create shared community values in these personalized programs. This does not mean that we should forego personalization, but rather that we understand and thoughtfully address the challenges that these models might present to constructing common values.

But this highlights some other societal needs. What are the values that bind us together that we should all hold in common? How can we continue to grow together, as individuals, and as Americans in coming years, in light of the changes, both known and unknown that we will face?

Ultimately it comes down to this: What are the skills that children will need to be educated and prepared to participate responsibly in the democratic process, and how can we construct Civic Education to effectively meet this need?

My partner, Tom Driscoll and I, plan to examine the current state of “Civic Education” across the country as part of an ongoing effort, “The Modern Civics Project. ” We hope to see where we are and where we might be headed, in order to find innovative answers to the challenges facing Civic Education programs today.

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