My first job out of college was teaching social studies at South Platte High School in Big Springs. The job came open when the former social studies teacher, Virginia Krajewski, was killed in a car accident. From looking through her notes and visiting with the other teachers and students it was easy to see she was an amazing teacher. I learned more from her notes than I did from my undergraduate studies.
One of her senior projects involved community involvement. The two main parts were attending a public meeting and service learning every quarter. Students then wrote and reflected upon what they did and saw in their community. It was a fantastic way to teach civics.
I appreciate the Legislature’s work to update the civics requirements with LB399 this year. Though the senators didn’t ask me for my opinion and the bill is already signed into law, here are a few suggestions for future adjustments.
First, eliminate the U.S. Citizenship Test as an option. It only shows us who can memorize information and repeat it when asked, which is not a highly prized 21st-century skill. Our push toward standardized tests is not preparing students for the world today. But, for some reason, it makes us feel like we have accountability.
Second, encourage the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska State Council for the Social Studies to develop curriculum and activities that school board members, city council members, county commissioners, and state and national representatives can bring into the classroom to explain what they do, how their budgets work, and how it affects us. When students know their elected official, it’s more engaging.
Third, encourage students to attend local public meetings. Actions by our school boards, city councils, and county commissioners affect us a lot in our day-to-day life, and even students can make a difference with their opinions. Through our standards, we teach the least about local government, though it is the place most students will have an opportunity to serve.
Fourth, increase the evaluation of sources and identifying biases. Knowing who won the Battle of Plattsmouth isn’t nearly as important as evaluating information online and in the news. We must get better at researching items others share for accuracy. We also must be able to evaluate the source and our own biases, and how that influences our thoughts. While we’re at it, let’s have all adults go through a refresher on this.
(P.S.: The United States defeated the British in the Battle of Plattsmouth in 1814.)
Fifth, incorporate lessons in propaganda. This focus is not for students to use propaganda, but to realize it exists and to take it for what it is worth. From our politicians to our largest corporations, propaganda is used against us every day. We need to learn how to identify and respond.
Twentieth-century education solutions will not work. We must evaluate what students need to know to prosper in a complicated world, not what it takes to pass a test.
Finally, here is my proposed bill that any senator can feel free to borrow for next session:
Section 1. Section 79-724: It is the responsibility of society to ensure that youth are given the opportunity to become competent, responsible, patriotic, and civil citizens to ensure a strong, stable, just, and prosperous America. The state has five recommendation for civics education at the school level but trusts our local school districts and the great social studies teachers to ensure this is happening. It is not the role of the state to dictate specific curriculum to local schools so we agree to strike the rest of 79-724 to eliminate bureaucratic work for state reporting to free up more time for local schools to teach and work with kids.
Andy Long is executive director of the McCook Economic Development Corp. and leads community efforts to facilitate the formation, retention, attraction, and expansion of businesses in the McCook area. He also is the director of Cultivate Rural Leaders, a nonprofit organization providing rural communities and organizations with leadership education.
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