Historically, the main purpose of school was said to teach students the 3 R’s — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. That isn’t really true, however. Schools were also expected to teach students civics — the history of our country, how to be a good community member, and how to participate in our democratic government.
I am part of a progressive school leaders group at Bank Street College of Education. At our March meeting, we read and discussed an article about how schools work for and with democracy. This conversation got me thinking about what exactly do I mean when I say we are educating our students for participation in a democratic society? The article we read suggested that there are 5 goals we have for our students; we want them to be
- inquiry minded,
- empathic and inclusive,
- confident and vocal, and
Our teachers work tirelessly on our curriculum so that are students are informed about important events, people and ideas in our nation’s history and in the world. Our curriculum is grounded in inquiry where students are encouraged to ask questions and to investigate possible answers. This happens in science where students learn to conduct scientific investigations, social studies when students investigate the impacts of human action on the environment and the legacy of Brown v Topeka, and reading when students discuss theme and craft.
We nurture empathy through our use of restorative practices and in working collaboratively with a range of peers. This work with peers takes place within classes and across grades. Our 8th graders buddy with younger students. Children volunteer to be special buddies to younger students who need support to start the school day and we are establishing a partnership program with the students at P94.
We also create spaces for our students to be confident, vocal and involved. Our student council and GSA are given a voice in our school. They are encouraged to identify aspects of our program that need change and given the opportunity to help shape policies. I was so proud of our students for organizing themselves and raising their voices (we have some photos in People magazine) around the debate for safety in schools and access to guns. And as adults, we model democratic experiences for our students through providing access for parental involvement, being informed about world events, and engaging with local elected officials on issues important to our community.
Our work together shines a light on how public schooling prepares students for participation in civic life. We want to make sure that we are preparing all our students to be informed, empathic, and active members of our society.