Working to help students learn civics lessons

The responsibility to instill students with civic responsibility (usually called civics) should be a community endeavor that will help hard-pressed teachers do the job. And that is, in fact, the goal of an initiative to support Dayton Public School social studies teachers.

A coalition of community leaders led by U.S. District Judge Walter Rice, the Exchange Club of Dayton, the Dayton Bar Association and the Ohio Center for Law Related Education of which the state Bar is one sponsor, has for the past six years searched for ways to strengthen civics education in Ohio. The coalition’s civics curriculum proposals to the Ohio Department of Education were outlined in a Dayton Daily News article last February. Now the aim is to mobilize community resources to do more than mere textbooks or lesson plans.

DPS will conduct an in-service meeting on Sept. 26 for its social studies teachers so they can meet representatives of political, law enforcement and social service organizations who are available to help civics classes find “real life” examples of what students need to know in order to meet their responsibilities as citizens.

Readers may recall that Judge Rice, who conducts many of the ceremonies welcoming and swearing in immigrants as new citizens, is just one of many national voices expressing concern at low voter turnouts and evidence that many high school graduates lack elementary understanding of our republic’s parts and their part in its operation. That concern was shared by members of the Exchange Club, one of Dayton’s oldest service clubs, when their Americanization projects, such as Freedom Shrines, seemed to be taken as mere wall decorations rather than teaching aids.

Invitations to participate in the in-service meeting were issued by the coalition this summer and have so far confirmed more than a dozen attendees representing federal, state and county offices, plus historical and civics interest groups such as the League of Women Voters. Each representative will have two to three minutes to introduce themselves and tell how their offices can assist teachers in showing “how the real world works” and why that is important to students. The Dayton Bar will explain how to access judges and lawyers for classroom help, and the Ohio Center for Law Related Education will provide detailed information on its resources for classrooms.

In addition, some technical expertise will be provided so that teachers can tap into the multitude of internet on-line sites (the iCivics initiative in Ohio is one example) that offer a wealth of guidance. The Exchange Club is also offering teachers the opportunity to win a $500 grant for a “civics lesson project” taking advantage of local resources. All in-service attendees will be provided with competition instructions. Finished proposals will be judged by a panel of judges from area colleges and universities.

Judge Rice and Exchange Club representatives stress that the entire project does not aim to replace any existing programs seeking improved civics instruction, but simply to enrich students’ experiences “with first-hand information from those who represent the lifeblood of the community.”

They point out that too many people feel helpless in the face of crises such as the opioid epidemic and do not know where to turn for help or just information. They have also been surprised that many area residents, including some teachers, lack appreciation of the rich historical heritage here, one that could be an inspiration to students so that they will invest their lives, careers and talents to the benefit of this community.

William Wild is a retired Dayton journalist and occasional contributor.

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