Ideas for a New Civics Curriculum

Tracee Miller | St. Louis ‘11

I’ve spoken with some of you about a project that I have been working on, and I’d like to take this space to share it with the entire TFA family, partially in hopes of receiving any assistance (in the form of suggestions, resources, or participation) that you extremely talented and inspired people might have to give (if you’ve made it this far and are considering not reading the rest, but might be inclined to help out, go ahead and skip to the last paragraph). As a middle-school math teacher in St. Louis Public Schools, I have noticed that the most meaningful interactions that I have had with students, both inside and outside of the classroom, have the students and their own lives, cultures, and experiences at the center. After those interactions, I go back to trying to teach students the right way to do math. This is a paradigm: we acknowledge minority values and identities in doses, and at intervals, but the systems that they interact with constantly contradict any validation society might appear to offer. Real and lasting change comes from the inside, of an individual or a community, and we must teach our students not only how to navigate it, but also how to change it.

According to a survey of 71 educators (39 from SLPS and 32 from other districts), SLPS schools are less likely to address topics such as government structures, defining citizenship, and identifying and addressing social injustice; these schools are also more likely to have social studies teachers who are uncertified (21% more likely), who are laid off for budgeting reasons (21% more likely), or who are asked to teach subjects that will be assessed on standardized tests (23% more likely). In addition, 65% of educators in SLPS gave their school’s social studies program a grade of “D” or “F”, compared with only 9% of educators in other districts. St. Louis consistently tops lists of “most segregated” or “most racist” cities in the country. These students, who are receiving the least information about social justice, civic responsibility, the structure of their local government, the rights of American citizens, and self-advocacy, are the members of society who are most negatively affected by the injustices that divide our city. The goals of this project are to research, develop, and implement a program that will create and/or improve civics education in the SLPS District.

In order to implement an effective civics curriculum, some colleagues and I intend to begin by spending the summer developing a middle school curriculum that meets or exceeds the most rigorous national civics standards while simultaneously addressing the specific needs of students in St. Louis, Missouri. We have chosen to begin with middle school students because we believe that they are at an age when they are beginning to create their own identities and discover the ways in which they relate with the world around them, and the age when they are beginning to develop the habits that will carry into adulthood. We have also found a principal who has committed to implementing the curriculum during the first period of the day, one or two times each week, for the first semester of the 2014-2015 school year.

As part of the development process and in order to address future goals for the St. Louis community, the curriculum will include formal and informal pre-, post-, and periodic assessments. If these assessments indicate growth after one semester of implementation, the program will continue for the remainder of the school year. After the first semester, we would also introduce our results to other schools in the district. The goal is to have three schools committed to implementing the program in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year. Our goal is to expand to six SLPS middle schools the following year, and to all nine middle schools within five years. Within ten years, we hope that the SLPS district will adopt the curriculum as mandatory and will also adjust and expand it to meet the needs of elementary and high school students.

For now, because the school cannot require teachers to implement the program, volunteers will teach the curriculum, which has been the most intimidating part of putting the program together. A bad teacher, like a bad therapist, can make anything even worse than you feared it might be, but a good one can make almost anything better. In order for this program to be effective, it needs volunteers who can work with students in a democratic and culturally responsive way. If you anticipate having a free hour every week next school year, or if you happen to know of any people, or of a company or university, who might be passionate about making this happen, please let me know.  My email is miller.tracee@gmail.com and my phone is 812-208-2055.

One thought on “Ideas for a New Civics Curriculum

  1. Allisyn Gillet says:

    I’d be interested. I am a 2013 Corps Member that teaches 6th grade science and a social studies “curriculum” to an advisory class. We might try to make our social studies class more of a humanities class next year that integrates some character building, so this would be the perfect time to try out a new curriculum.

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