Bringing civics to life
So what? And what can I do? These are typical reactions to traditional civics education, and the primary reason knowledge of our institutions and, increasingly, our understanding of their importance, is so weak. The underlying premise of Our American Voice®, a civics education program for elementary and middle school students, is that we learn by doing, and by making doing count. To fully know, understand, and appreciate our Constitution and system of government, we believe we need to live it, and live it every day.
Like other civics programs, Our American Voice begins with the fundamentals of democracy--how government works--and lessons of change distilled from the Revolution to the civil rights movement and beyond. But then takes a critical additional step by teaching students how to apply these learnings to their local communities, form vigorous partnerships with other organizations, and create living projects and campaigns that generate real results.
Now in its seventh year, OAV reaches students at the ideal age to inculcate engagement. Optimized for schools in the current high-stakes testing environment, it's designed to give civics its due. All educators in the program receive training and support, and there are numerous opportunities provided for school project teams to share learnings and collaborate, culminating in an end of year Summit during which students meet with their elected representatives and show their completed work.
OAV checks all the boxes for the kind of general education/interdisciplinary program that ought to be in every school--it emphasizes creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, action research, leadership, persistence, and communication. But it does something more. OAV students learn that with our rights come responsibilities, and that the challenges and opportunities in a democracy require the ongoing, concerted engagement of every citizen.