It is the role of schools and especially social studies to prepare students to be active citizens in their democracy. Our classrooms are laboratories for democracy and it is our duty to afford students equitable opportunities so that they become not only college and career ready, but civically ready, too. Civic education includes civic knowledge, skills, dispositions, and experiences that are wrapped up in government, history, geography, and economics, as well as building capacity in all the other disciplines. In social studies classes, we focus those efforts on college and career readiness, but also on preparing students for engaged civic life.
But civic education needs time to develop. The Kentucky Council for the Social Studies advocates that an additional half or whole credit be added to the existing requirement for graduation. Currently, only US history is mandated by the state, but this additional half or whole credit would focus on ensuring civic readiness. The envisioned fourth credit will have a civics focus and will have students planning and carrying out a civic capstone project that shows their aptitude in the different civic competencies. Students will demonstrate in these capstones how civic knowledge of the principles of democracy, processes and structures of our institutions, and how perennial issues continue to shape our nation. Students will hone their thinking through cognitive skills that will enable students to synthesize and evaluate policies and ideas, while thinking critically of their own. Students will think and act through civic skills by deliberating with fellow citizens in and out of school to promote personal and common interests and making decisions through taking informed action. Students will, through this capstone process, through this additional credit, develop the necessary civic dispositions that affirm the very principles of the assessment and accountability system, as well as existing AP/IB, Honors programs and academies and the root goals of education--namely, exemplifying the moral traits of democratic citizenship through a conscious decision to promote equality, fairness, justice, and a commitment to the common good.
Too often, instead of reflecting the dynamic nature of civic participation in society, civic education becomes the accumulation of knowledge through textbooks or demonstrated through multiple choice civics exams. The additional year of social studies, directed by a capstone project will allow for students to practice civic participation in an authentic manner, and will be a valuable assessment piece in determining students’ civic readiness where students can demonstrate with fidelity what no test can access.