Your recent article in the DDN — “Local leaders working to boost civics education” — tells that members of the Exchange Club of Dayton are pushing for positive changes in civic education in Ohio’s schools. Ohio’s social studies standards are up for review in 2017 and an Exchange Club committee is recommending that Ohio’s civics curriculum should align with The National Standards for Civics and Government developed by the Center for Civic Education. I applaud your efforts and the efforts of the Exchange Club committee. As you write, “The solution is elusive.”
The aim of improving civics in schools is to assure that all students achieve a minimum standard of civics education. If this aim could be accomplished, public education would greatly benefit. But an aim for minimum accomplishment is insufficient for math and science education. We would consider it a very weak school that only offered a math curriculum aimed at assuring all students achieve a minimum standard in math. Strong schools seek to develop all of the math potential in students so that at least some students become leaders in math and perform at a math level much higher than the minimum.
The purpose of this note is to urge the Exchange Club committee to expand the work of the committee to include improving civics education outside of formal schooling. Such opportunity is needed to develop high achievers in civics. Youth who have a zeal for marshal arts or gymnastics find schools outside of the public structure to develop their expertise and leadership in these areas. My thought is that every community should have a “School of Civics,” independent of the public school system where youth with a zeal for deliberative democracy could provide service to their communities while developing their own expertise and leadership.
The purpose of civics education is to develop strong citizens and though formal education is needed for citizen development, in a healthy republic, strong citizens are developed by participating within an active civic community. We learn by doing, but the doing of civics is now almost extinct. “It takes a village.” It takes a community. But our bedroom geographic regions, municipalities, are not communities. We are missing a public square, a public space where people meaningfully connect with each other as members of a shared community.
This lack of community afflicts both poor and rich. I am a retired teacher (West Carrollton High School) who has done a lot of thinking and research on school structure and school improvement. In 2009, I determined to volunteer my effort and experience by seeking election to the Kettering Board of Education. I would loved to have had a meaningful dialogue with a Kettering community, but I sought for such a community in vain. In a more perfect world, there would have been an established group of civic-minded citizens who would have insisted on meaningful discussion about the future of their schools. Such a group would have included youth who would have learned civics in a real world setting. Such a group may even have been led by youth.
The Exchange Club Committee is fighting to improve civics curriculum in schools. We need to be developing high achievers in civics and to develop the leaders in civics that our republic needs, the best opportunity is through the establishment of programs and opportunities outside of the formal school structure. Youth and all of us learn by doing and what is needed are structures that will challenge and support youth in providing leadership in their local communities. What such structures might look like, I will develop in future posts and I am inviting members of the Exchange Club and other interested citizens to enter into discussion.