Since joining the C3Teacher team, I have written a lot of blog posts about the Taking Informed Action piece. I became a teacher for a love of the content, but my passion has increasingly become the way social studies can empower students to act.

In the last couple months, being an engaged citizen has taken on a whole new definition for people on both sides of the aisle. Since the election, I’ve had conversations with many of my students, former and current, about what this historical event means for them and the country.

I noticed this before the election, but it was validated after – many expressed feeling that they had no power to make the changes they wanted to see in their world.

When I’ve had these conversations, I ask: “so, what are you going to do about it? [pause]. That wasn’t rhetorical.”

Teachers have a tremendous responsibility to prepare students for their futures. Though often it seems like the focus is on preparing them to be contributors to the economy, it is imperative that we remember the task of creating citizens.

Recently, a fellow teacher and I were discussing his government class, which included creating and implementing a civic project. With this blog post running around in my head, we began discussing the larger implications. He said to me: “teachers love discussing the Taking Informed Action pieces because no one ever does them!”

Obviously, that is an exaggeration, but what he’s getting at is true – partially releasing the reigns to conduct an inquiry puts a lot of power into students’ hands. TIA does this even more so!

But now, more than ever, students need to be given a sense of agency. Otherwise, we’re asking them to enter adulthood without any experiences as citizens. The helplessness they feel as students won’t just go away. My friend’s government students created more involved civic projects because he had the space to do so within his curriculum. So, how do other teachers create this safe space to practice citizenship?

Going back to my question: “what are you going to do about it?” One of my friends I posed this question to paused, then discussed attending a march. We’ve seen many different marches throughout the country, addressing a variety of different issues, reflecting the concerns of many different groups. I gave him a bit of a hard time about this – not because he wanted to be in a march, but rather that there were ways he could be an active citizen every day. He could do those actions in-between his vote and a march.

But what’s the in-between? We need to make sure our students don’t see citizenship as being on two separates poles: voting and marching.

What’s the sweet spot of participation for an everyday citizen? And how can it easily fit in with your curriculum so that it doesn’t take away a significant amount of classroom time? How have people in history been active citizens in an every day way?

There isn’t one answer – and it doesn’t need to always be grandiose. One thing that we have seen quite a bit lately is organized phone calls or letter campaigns to representatives. Social media campaigns have spread information and connected like-minded people, as well. The C3 Framework states that one of the skills we want our students to have is to be able to: “Assess options for individual and collective action to address local, regional, and global problems by engaging in self-reflection, strategy identification, and complex causal reasoning.” (D4.7.9-12)

I’ve linked some IDM blueprints below with TIA exercises that do just that. Will student efforts be successful? Or easy? Maybe not, but that’s its own lesson in civic life.

 

What defines a people?

  • Understand: Determine the factors that compose the local community’s identity.
  • Assess: Identify ways that these factors vary among those in the community.
  • Act: Create a school-wide display that celebrates the similarities and differences across community members.

Are bystanders guilty too?

  • Understand: Identify and research a modern ethnic or religious persecution campaign (i.e., the genocide of the Yazidis by ISIL).
  • Assess: Evaluate the policies taken by the international community and ordinary citizens to address the persecution.
  • Act: Create an educational video addressing the persecution that considers the role of ordinary citizens.

Is anything new about today’s immigration debate?

  • Understand: Survey the local community’s views of current immigration policy.
  • Assess: Compile the survey results and discuss the community’s views of current immigration policy.
  • Act: Publish the survey results and commentary along with a list of resources that community members can access to learn more about the current immigration policy debate.

What Did It Take for Women to Be Considered “Equal” to Men in New York?

  • Understand: Collect data about the number of Americans who voted in the last presidential election.
  • Assess: Brainstorm ideas about the importance of exercising one’s right to vote.
  • Act: Create a public service announcement to promote the importance of voting and send the video to a local radio station, TV station, or newspaper.

Do we have to have rules?

  • Understand: Review the school rules in light of whether they reflect all students’ values.
  • Assess: Discuss any rules that do not reflect the class values and consider whether there are alternative rules that would be more satisfactory.
  • Act: Write a letter to the school principal requesting a meeting to discuss any rules that could be revised.

Who has the power? (Federal vs. state powers)

  • Understand: Investigate the challenges arising since the state of Colorado passed marijuana legislation in opposition to federal law.
  • Assess: Debate whether the Colorado state law is in the best interest of the citizens of Colorado and whether New York state law regarding marijuana legalization should change.
  • Act: Write a letter to a state representative that argues for or against New York state legalizing marijuana regardless of whether the federal government legalizes it.

Should Freedom Be Sacrificed in the Name of National Security?

  • Understand: Using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), brainstorm a list of contemporary local, regional, and/or national issues where freedom and security are in tension.
  • Assess: Determine how to contribute to the debate on the contemporary example of the freedom versus security debate.
  • Act: Create a statement expressing the position of students on the freedom versus security issue and distribute to appropriate outlets.

Who’s to blame for the Cold War?

  • Understand: Research the current state of the relationship between Russia and the United States, including their respective influence on world affairs.
  • Assess: Assess the concerns expressed by both powers in terms of their economic and geopolitical role.
  • Act: Write a letter to a government official (e.g., ambassador, representative) that makes suggestions for improving diplomatic relations between the US and Russia.