Michael Simzak, Middle School Teacher
“No democracy can exist unless each of its citizens is as capable of outrage at injustice to another as he is of outrage at injustice to himself.”
Civics education has traditionally focused on study of the various levels and branches of government. However, civics is so much more than just learning how many members of congress there are (535) or how a bill becomes a law, it is also about learning how to engage with others in an informed productive civil discourse about a variety of issues. To achieve that end, current events has become an increasingly important part of the Middle School social studies curriculum.
Beginning in 5th grade, students are asked to come to class each day prepared with at least one story that they can summarize and discuss with the class. These stories can involve politics and government, business and economics, weather, science and technology, and top national, international, and local news. We are able to use these news stories to foster a variety of wide-ranging discussions on numerous issues and their implications.
For example, a recent report about Hurricane Florence in a 6th grade class led to a discussion about how natural disasters disproportionally effect lower income areas: these people are less likely to leave their homes because it means leaving everything behind and because these communities have fewer resources to use to rebuild. A similar presentation in a 5th grade class led to a discussion of the potential destruction of Maroon communities in the Low Country in South Carolina and the loss of the Gullah culture that has been preserved in those communities since slavery.
Through these discussions, the students are learning to realize the broader ramifications of events on differing groups of people which is essential to civic education. As the students grow in their ability to interpret current events, we are able to discuss potential solutions to the problems and identify ways that they, even as students, can participate in the process. Part of the Michael, Middle School Social Studies Teacher
Green Acres mission is to live and learn with intellect, curiosity, and compassion which are also critical characteristics of a positively engaged citizen; namely, one who looks at an issue intellectually, is curious about its potential ramifications, and helps to develop a compassionate response and the use of current events is a key part of achieving this aim in our students.