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June 6, 2022

Educating for Democratic Citizenship: Civics Lessons

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Civic education is essential to a democracy that works for everyone—and it is particularly important for young people, who are preparing to make the decisions that will shape our nation for decades to come. Communities thrive when young people actively participate in civic life. Not only can youth improve their social and emotional well-being by learning to solve problems and build consensus, but communities can increase their collective efficacy and amplify the voices of those who have been historically excluded from the political process.

With this in mind, the Albert Shanker Institute—partnering with the AFT, Share My Lesson, and the AFT Innovation Fund—launched the Educating for Democratic Citizenship project. The project provides educators with action civics lessons and resources that can be used to enhance learning in American history and government. Dozens of resources are available to help students learn about their rights and responsibilities and what they can do to ensure that local, state, and federal governments are more inclusive and representative of those they serve.

Civic Action

Understanding how government systems work and how to become changemakers can motivate students for lifelong activism. In the four-lesson unit plan “Is There Equity of Community Services?,” students in grades 3–5 use photos to compare and contrast community problems, identify problems in their communities, and then work together to implement solutions. In “Representative Webquest,” students in grades 9–12 learn about political representation in Congress, use Vote Smart to evaluate their representative’s legislative record, and write to their representative to advocate for specific issues in their communities.

Voting Rights

Learning the rights and responsibilities of voting is fundamental to civic education—especially in light of recent voter suppression efforts across the nation. In “Right to Vote,” students in grades 6–8 consider voter suppression from a historical lens to learn why all voices must be heard, then use their voices through a community action project to improve their schools. Through “A Closer Look into Immigration and Voter Turnout,” students in grades 9–12 compare US political campaigning and voting processes with those of other countries and consider how to make the voting experience more accessible for immigrants.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Students may know the phrase “liberty and justice for all,” but do they understand how it relates to unity and equity in our diverse democracy? In “Affirming Identities in Our School Community,” students in grades 6–8 learn how celebrating each other’s stories and identities can dismantle biases, increase equity, and help build an inclusive school environment. And “What Do You See? Lesson on Accessibility” helps middle and high school students learn how public policy impacts the extent to which people with disabilities are able to participate in society.

Amendments

Finally, a working knowledge of the Constitution can help students take action against prejudice and injustice. In “The 6th Amendment: Gideon v. Wainwright,” students in grades 9–12 consider both legal precedent and inequities in US public defense systems and propose solutions to ensure all people accused of a crime receive effective legal representation.

View Lessons and Register for PD Sessions

For a broader overview of the action civics approach, watch the Educating for Democratic Citizenship Conference at go.aft.org/uep. Sessions are available on demand for professional credit. And many more lessons are available in the Educating for Democratic Citizenship community on Share My Lesson.

Please reach out to us with any additional ideas or requests at [email protected]

Albert Shanker Institute

The Albert Shanker Institute is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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