By Sean Hunley
According to a recent Providence Journal article, a federal lawsuit claims that “Rhode Island’s public schools do not prepare students for active life in a democracy,” citing a “woeful lack of knowledge about the workings of government” and the absence of a “civics education requirement” (“Lawsuit: R.I. fails to prepare students to be citizens,” 11/30/18).
I’m sure that many of my public school colleagues would take exception to that claim, and I understand the many, often competing, demands on school time. But it’s also true that equipping students to engage in civic life is among the core purposes of schooling in a democracy.
Which is why we do have a civics education requirement at BCA.
Thanks to the initiative of high school history teacher Melanie Twitchell, our high school history curriculum has been redesigned to help our students find their place within an ever-widening circle of influence.
Strategically, this begins freshman year with Civics class, where students learn the mechanics of citizenship: the U.S. Constitution; the structure of governments federal, state, and local; the electoral process. Students consider the interests of our nation and the responsibilities of citizenship in balance with the needs of the world and our larger Kingdom calling. They encounter ways that good citizenship parallels our Biblical mandates as Christians: when we see needs in our country and in our world, do we turn away? Do we idly complain? Or do we reach out and engage?
And while, according to the Journal article, “fewer than half of Americans could name the three branches of government,” our freshmen can now name all twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution and use that knowledge to debate a range of timely topics.
Later, students will connect the concept of citizenship with broader global themes in World History class, and will discover how those mechanics of citizenship have developed and played out in the history of our country in American History class. Finally, in Human Geography senior year, students will integrate all these ideas into an exploration of how people across the globe forge lives and build communities in the context of their culture and natural environment.
Now: here’s a deep truth. Learning about civic engagement can happen in a classroom – especially one as dynamic and effective as Mrs. Twitchell’s. But learning to productively engage – actually developing and exercising the skills of citizenship – requires practice; and that means doing work of genuine importance that connects a student with the larger world.
Our new civics class and social studies curriculum operate within a school culture of “leading by serving” from the primary years through graduation: kids are connecting with the adult world through our lower school co-op program and K-12 Inspiration Team; they are becoming proficient in Spanish starting in kindergarten; they are engaging in service locally and around the world; they are serving on student council in middle and high school; they are initiating new ideas and seeing them through in ways that bless our school and community – all with the guiding support of educators who share one driving vision of “students and graduates leading by serving in every arena of society with passion, skill, integrity, and faith.”
You could say that equipping students to engage with their world isn’t part of our curriculum at BCA. It is our curriculum.