I believe that civic education has never been more important than it is today. In January just before President Biden was inaugurated, the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson’s daily newspaper) asked readers to submit what they expect for the next four years. My letter to the editor was published in the Star on January 20, 2021:
Civic Education Expectations for the Next Four Years
“A democracy must be reborn anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” – John Dewey
Many educators across the U.S. are reconsidering how to teach civic education in our K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. It is clear that youth and adults alike need:
- to hear an unambiguous message about the critical importance of voting in a participatory democracy and a clear understanding of the electoral process;
- to know the provisions of the First Amendment and be able to make a distinction between free speech and hate speech;
- to know how to engage in civil dialogue and learn to have respectful conversations about controversial topics; and
- to learn multiple ways to positively and nonviolently enact change in classrooms, schools, and communities.
It is my fervent hope that civic education for youth and adults alike will lead to a national electoral process that honors the votes of all citizens and is characterized by confidence and trust in our democratic process.
You might imagine that I was thrilled to learn shortly thereafter about a new (to me) civic education organization called Kidizenship. Kidizenship was founded by Vanderbilt University professor and Bloomberg columnist, Amanda Little.
From a grades 5-12 perspective, I especially appreciate their motto: “You may be too young to vote, but your voice is powerful. We want to hear it. Enter a contest, Show us YOUR America.”
Designed for tweens and teens, Kidizenship is a non-partisan, non-profit media platform for youth to share their voices beyond the classroom. The combination of civics education with creative self-expression and community action is especially powerful.
Kidizenship is using social media to promote and share their contests. Their latest nationwide creative civics contest invites 8- to 18-year-olds to compose and perform a 2-to 3-minute presidential speech. For the “Make Your Speech” contest, young people are asked to step into the Oval Office and take on the responsibility of serving as President of the United States. They are to tell their constituents about their vision and values for our country and what they will accomplish in the next 4 years.
The contest is co-hosted by YMCA Youth and Government programs nationwide and will be judged by actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau, Representative Will Hurd of Texas, and civic leader Baratunde Thurston. The deadline for submitting speeches is April 16th.
This contest will be judged in two age categories 8-12 and 13-18. There are cash prizes for first-, second-, and third-place winners.
Classroom-Library Collaboration Opportunity
Classroom teachers (civics, ELA, history, social studies, and more) and school librarians can collaborate to plan and implement a mini-research (or inquiry if you have more time) and writing series of lesson plans to support students in developing, recording, and submitting their speeches. The connections between classroom curriculum standards and a host of digital and information literacy standards is limitless. Plus the open-ended nature of the project supports student voice and choice.
Research could include listening to and analyzing presidential speeches in terms of the vision and values they represent. Here are two of many possibilities.
- The American Rhetoric Speech Bank has a searchable database that includes many U.S. presidents’ speeches—both recordings and transcripts.
- The Library of Congress has recordings of historical presidential speeches with an accompanying lesson plan.
Writing, Presenting, and Recording
- Students could collectively brainstorm and discuss their visions for the country as well as the values on which their visions are founded.
- As they are composing their speeches, students’ peers and both educators can offer writing conferences to help speechwriters hone their ideas and fine-tune their speeches.
- In small groups, students can present their speeches orally to classmates and seek feedback before polishing, video capturing, and submitting their speeches.
And if you are ambitious, you could organize your own local contest to complement the one sponsored by Kidizenship.
I look forward to hearing the speeches of the winners and following Kidizenship’s future opportunities to expand civic education beyond the classroom, the library, and out into the community.