Schools and the 3 C's: College, Career, and Citizens
Given these appallingly lackluster results, it should come as no surprise that our nation’s political discourse is callous and shallow, voter apathy outside of presidential elections is the prevailing norm, and public corruption permeates all levels of government. In an era of standardized testing that has served to narrow the curriculum and crowd out the social studies, our schools are tasked with ensuring that our students are career and college-ready. These obsessions have undermined schools’ original civic mission, for all graduating seniors must also emerge with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for lifelong exercise of their responsibilities as citizens.
Thankfully, Illinois has a cadre of schools who have acted as stalwarts to these troubling trends. Deemed Democracy Schools, nine Chicago area high schools have been accredited by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition as exemplary providers of authentic experiences for their students in the rights, responsibilities, and tensions inherent in living in a representative democracy.
Seniors at Community High School in West Chicago’s American Government class participate in the “Legislative Semester,” an in-school simulation that recreates the structures and politics of the Illinois House of Representatives. Freshmen at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, meanwhile, take part in the SEEDS (Students Educating for Equity in a Diverse Society) program, which teaches students that they possess the power to affect societal change by asking them to pick an issue they care about, develop an action plan, and share their ideas at an open house.
These and other Illinois Democracy Schools are blazing the path to reverse our civic decay by proving that a commitment to their civic mission need not come at the expense of career and college-readiness, or standardized test scores for that matter. Indeed, best practices in civic education have been proven to foster skills and competencies transferable to the 21st Century workplace. In addition to basic reading and math skills, these include a basic knowledge of economic and political processes, media literacy, an ability to collaborate with a diverse group of people, positive attitudes about working hard and obeying the law, and creativity and innovation.
Picture political discourse that transcends partisan infighting, an informed electorate that holds public officials accountable for their actions in office, and an effective, efficient public sector that serves the interests of the people it serves, not the insiders working within. Our nation’s schools stand as the linchpin for civic redemption, and these appallingly low test scores should serve as a clarion call for the renewal of their civic mission. Let’s do our part in Illinois and commit to making every school in the state a Democracy School.