August has often struck me as a season of fresh starts for educators: new school year, new students, new professional development opportunities, perhaps even a new curriculum. During January of this year, the David Mathews Center staff identified our Civic Resolutions – ways that we were going to strive personally and collectively to contribute to the communities where we live. While January was a wonderful time to reflect on personal Civic Resolutions, August seems like a fitting time to reflect on Civic Education Resolutions. What ways can I refine our educational resources to provide learning experiences that cultivate critical civic skills? What are the critical skills in our day and age that students need to navigate our constantly evolving civic landscape?

Recently, while reviewing some research published in a 2007 CIRCLE Working Paper, I found an assessment that has been used for evaluating the relationship between the content and skills emphasized in social studies courses and student’s civic outcomes. Some of the skills and exercises listed in the assessment struck me as an approachable barometer for measuring how well-prepared students are to participate in their community and democracy. While the researchers didn’t always find a positive relationship between the activities/skills below and civic outcomes, I still think it’s worth asking as students complete their education, whether they possess these civic skills or have the knowledge to carry out these civic actions.

The full article is available on the CIRCLE website (I’ve included some of my favorite measures used for assessment below) but I would also love to hear from you: What civic skills do you think are most important for 21st-century students to possess? What local and state issues do you think students need to understand?

Finally, one activity the original assessment included was the “discussion of contested issues,” which over a decade ago included the Patriot Act, homeland security, and the war in Iraq. While these issues still spark debate, what contested issues have emerged since that you think are important for students to learn about and learn how to productively discuss?

Civic Skills Measures

Did students….
Carry out a survey of community residents and/or other students in their schools?
Support their opinions with facts?
Participate in a deliberative dialogue process?
Learn how to work with other students with whom they have strong disagreements?
Fact check political ads?

Civic Engagement Measures

Did students…
Take a field trip to a local government office?
Discuss concrete ways other than voting that they can have a voice in political affairs?
Learn about or discuss candidates running for office in the state?

Civic Awareness Measures

Did students…
Identify the strengths of their community?
Discuss local issues in the community?
Discuss issues important to their generation?
Learn about or discuss their responsibilities as citizens?
Discuss international issues?
Learn about democracy as a way of life?