The Classroom of the Future -- Civics Education in the Future as a Living Lesson of Civics Democracy in the Classroom
Teaching Democracy in John Goodlad's Democratic Classroom
Civics is one of the most complex subjects to teach children, particularly children in junior high school, between the grades of 6th through 8th. During these ages, children are only beginning to gain a sense of centeredness in terms of their place in the world, their sense of personal morality, and also their sense of responsibility to the larger community. Merrill Harmin's text Inspiring Active Learning Strategies of Instruction provides an acronym for the five core aspects of any educational program -- DESCA means "Dignity, Energy, Self-Managing, Community, Awareness." Civics instruction must foster these elements in a student so that he or she becomes an effective learner, an effective participant in the larger community, as well as foster these principles within the individual student as they relate to the subject matter at hand.
Civics touches upon not just history and all of the social sciences, but also literature, politics, the implications of science and technology on modern society, and most importantly ethics. Civics stresses the reasoned responsibility of an individual to his or her community, and the need for the individual to take an active and aware part of the life of the community. John I. Goodlad's seminal text upon educational philosophy, In Praise of Education states that education itself can be an exercise in teaching the importance of democracy to students. Education is a "ubiquitous" process in that it takes place constantly in the minds of children, day after day, yet a complex one, which in its ideal formulation must embrace faith in the student's eventual ability to be a full participant in the community and to exercise independent judgment. (Goodland 2-3)
One of the difficulties in teaching civics to students of this age group, however, is that children of this age group tend to be turning inward, obsessed with their social lives and developing bodies. The best way for an educator to initially acknowledge this renewed focus upon the self is to bring civics in a concrete, immediate, and active way to children's lives. If the classroom is where democracy begins for a national society, then a civics educator must embark upon controlled experiments in democracy. Weekly voting by the class empowers students and introduces civic procedures as a part of daily life. Should the class save money for a pizza party once a month? Should the teacher test the children in the class with an exam or instead, require a research paper? Introducing voting and debates about classroom issues that are immediately important to children show the living value of democracy.
How the Democratic Classroom Environment will Change the Classroom
Of course, this type of classroom experiment forces a teacher to 'take a risk,' changing the comfort zone in the conventional place of professional authority. For a male teacher, one might be tempted to say, such experiments in democracy also challenge the conventional place of male authority. Yet these exercises ultimately can profit the students not only in terms of their personal enjoyment, but their sense of personal responsibility to the growth and education of their peers as learners in the classroom. Using democratic choice in the classroom does not mean that the teacher must sacrifice the use of discipline, discipline must always be exercised, in the most caring manner possible, but in such a way that no child's learning is interfered with. But students are more apt to take responsibility for their own behavior when they are aware that they may make choices and exercise a contained use of options. Modeling is key for a teacher, in terms of how he or she responds to stressful situations. Children will model responses to others and to the teacher himself upon the way the teacher reacts to challenges to his authority. (Gootman 30)
Encouraging children to be interested in their current political present and America's historical past is also a key component to civic education. Having children cut out articles from the paper upon a topic of interest and to follow that topic, whether the topic is of local or international importance, encourages good news reading early on. Also making even fun activities educational, such as having children come 'in character' as characters from current events is an excellent way to make learning real for children. This increases the level of participation between student, teacher, and the rest of the classroom, as the student 'teaches' the classroom and teaches the teacher in the guise of another persona. (Harmin, Inspiring Active Learning Strategies of Instruction)
Changing Attitudes to Different Learning Styles
It is important, especially in a subject as diverse as civics, to allow students with different styles of learning to have the ability to shine in class, in their area of excellence. Dressing up allows students with artistic or kinesthetic talents to better grasp concepts such as the different way issues may have been viewed in the past, as opposed to the present. Verbally intelligent and gifted children can shine in debates about classroom issues and current events. Visual learners may benefit by having a map in the classroom, where different cut out news articles are posted, where the issues are currently 'heating up' around the globe. (Silvers, Learning Styles and Strategies)
Education is often criticized for its ability to indoctrinate children in a particular worldview, and perhaps civics education holds the most danger of living up to this accusation. A teacher must be careful never to be biased towards a particular point of political view, although he or she may be biased and allow for his or her own unique and specific learning philosophy. Through the use of hands-on learning, both sides of any particular issue can be highlighted.
The Classroom of the Future
Of course the size of the educational environment will invariably affect the student in the classroom, as well as issues such as tracking of students and the time limit allotted to civics, that are beyond a teacher's immediate control. The level of technology available to the teacher, depending on the educational site, will also affect the individual teacher's ability to make use of the maximum amount of resources he or she is able to deploy, in the interest of children's education. Making use of technology, such as allowing students to make use of documentary photographs, voices, and films on CD-rom, when making presentations to the classroom, as well as the teacher's own use of modern and archival footage, is perhaps the most obvious way to make history and current events 'come alive' to students.
As outlined in Gary Bitter's Using Technology in the Classroom, one of the aims of all classes, not just computer classes, should be to teach students how to be comfortable with technology and to sharpen their skills in this area. Encouraging students to follow the newspaper online, or to teach them about the stock market by creating their own virtual portfolio that they can track on a daily basis, gives them a sense of engagement and also gives them real-life, practical technological skills that they can expand upon in the workplace, in the future.
The use of technology is one of the most vital ways in which the classroom will change and shift in the future. Often, even younger teachers find themselves playing 'catch up' in learning about technology with their younger students, who use email as part of the discourse of their daily social life. It is incumbent upon the teachers of the future to constantly reinforce their own education with continued educational efforts in the technological field. Yet also, teachers must remember that with this increased reliance upon technical communication often comes a correspond lack…