Educating for Democracy: What We Can Do

January 09, 2018
By Educator Innovator

In a challenging time for our democracy, how can we help students prepare for civic and political life in the digital age? The Educating for Democracy Deep Dive from Teaching Channel and the Civic Education Research Group collects case studies and resources.

Teresa Chin works with youth in downtown Oakland, Calif. at Youth Radio — a media production company driven by young people. One thing she works with youth on is the development of first-person commentaries. She wants them to learn how to draw on their life experiences in order to share their perspective on a societal issue with a broad audience. As Teresa explains, “Commentaries are a really powerful tool for civic engagement. Your story is how you can get people to build empathy and understanding.” Here is a video of how Teresa does this as well as related curriculum materials: Writing Commentaries: The Power of Youth Voice.

Chela Delgado teaches high school at Coliseum College Preparatory Academy in Oakland. She has her students research an issue they find compelling and study its root causes. They then develop a theory of change, engage in an action project, and present their findings to the community. As part of this effort, she has her students learn to create infographics. She wants them to develop skills to communicate their perspective succinctly and to clarify their theory of change. Her broader goal is to help students come to see themselves as informed and effective actors in their community and beyond. See how Chela makes this happen and check out her lesson plan in this video:

Teresa and Chela are focused on different kinds of civic media skills. Teresa works in a youth organization while Chela teaches high school. But, they share a core commitment — preparing students to be active participants who can help strengthen our democracy.

Challenging Times for Our Democracy

The need to strengthen our democracy feels more acute today than it has in decades. Our government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Unfortunately, in a 2017 national survey, just 20 percent of Americans said they trusted the government to do what is right. Something significant is wrong.

Indeed, only about one-third of younger adults said they are optimistic about the nation’s future. To make matters worse, an increasing number of young people do not believe democratic processes are a good way to respond. In 1995, for example, Foa and Mounk found that 16 percent of young Americans believed that democracy was a “bad” political system for their country. In 2011, 24 percent of U.S. millennials considered democracy to be a “bad” way of running the country. That’s a 50 percent increase in a generation — and we suspect the number is higher today.

To be sure, these problems have multiple roots and will require action on many levels. But, as educators, it’s incumbent on us to ask what we can do. And countless educators, like Chela and Teresa, working in schools and in youth organizations, are doing just that. One thing that makes these efforts exciting is that many educators are recognizing that educating for democracy in the digital age needs to be different because the practice of politics is changing. Supporting youth to build the critical skills and capacities needed in the digital age is not easy, but its import is clear.

A New Collection of Resources

For these reasons, we are thrilled to announce the new Educating for Democracy Deep Dive developed by the Teaching Channel and the Civic Engagement Research Group at the University of California, Riverside. The Deep Dive is a curated collection of videos accompanied by educational resources, blogs, and articles related to preparing youth for civic and political life in the digital age. It provides educators with the opportunity to see key aspects of civic learning and digital media learning in action. It also provides avenues for educators and their students to explore the ways in which our civic, political, and digital lives are inextricably linked in the 21st century.

For example, there are videos and resources that highlight various ways educators can integrate civic learning in line with the following essential questions:

  • INVESTIGATION & RESEARCH: How do I help students research issues that matter to them?
  • CIVIC KNOWLEDGE: How do I help further students’ civic knowledge and understanding?
  • DISCUSSION: How do I help students have productive discussions about current and controversial issues?
  • VOICE: How can students voice their perspective on issues that matter to them?
  • ACTION: What are effective ways to take action in the digital age?
  • LEARN MORE: Where can I learn more and find resources?

New content will be added to the Deep Dive on an ongoing basis, so follow @Ed4Democracy on Twitter and sign up for the Educating for Democracy newsletter or regular updates.

We hope this collection is helpful and please let us know your thoughts or ideas in the comment section below.

By Erica Hodgin and Joseph Kahne
Originally Posted at DML Central