Educating for the World We Want: Developing 21st Century Citizens and Leaders Through Action Civics

Last year, students from Eric Solorio Academy, on Chicago’s Southwest side were presented with the question “what is the most pressing issue in your community?”  Students began by delivering impassioned speeches about a wide array of concerns. They then surveyed their community for input. Their data affirmed an issue that many had raised in their speeches — immigration reform. To learn more about the issue, the students met with policymakers, lawyers, and advocacy groups as well as researched and read complex texts to help them understand exactly how and why immigration was impacting their community.

After sifting through all the data collected, students concluded that there were a number of services and resources available but many community members were unaware of these existing supports. In collaboration with school administration, the students organized the Gage Park Immigration Resource Fair. Over 100 community members attended to engage in conversation and connect to available research and resources. The community has since committed to making The Immigration Resource Fair an annual event.

To many, the work of the Solorio students would be relegated to the undervalued realm of service learning or civic education. A nice, feel good project. What this fails to recognize is that action projects like the Solorio example provide students the opportunity to learn a diversity of advanced skills within the context of relevant and authentic learning. The success of the Solario students’ project required them to collaborate in diverse settings, to communicate effectively in variable contexts, to conduct effective research, to analyze a complex problem, and to devise solutions. The students became experts on the issue of immigration reform, structures and powers of government and the public policy process. They also developed hope and the real world know how to take action on an issue that they cared about.

This practice is not new. Over the past 15 years Mikva Challenge has implemented an action civics process with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. This teaching practice places students and their concerns at the center of their learning. It asks them to think, to care, to act. What is new is the 2015 version of our Issues to Action process enhanced with digital activism tools. So students can learn to pioneer new technologies to engage in their learning and to engage civically. Like the students at Alcott College Prep who used the Poll Everywhere app to create a channel for student voice throughout school. Or the students at Morgan Park High School who are developing a social media strategy to promote events and dialogue throughout the student body. There are countless examples of teachers and students doing amazing action civics work across the country and building dynamic civic learning communities. It’s time for the education community to recognize the value of this work and prioritize it.

Check out our BuzzFeed: 10 Ways To Fix Civics Class And Strengthen A Nation