Civics Simulation Activity

In the United States, there is no greater cherished right than that of voting. Although there are many other facets to civics and citizenship, one’s right to vote is seen as sacrosanct and central not only to the idea of American citizenship but as foundational to the function of democracy as we know it. I was recently challenged to identify an issue related to civic education and develop a project by which to address it. For this reason, the issue/question I chose was: “Should we teach civics courses in school?” Rather than assume that there is one correct answer, this project (a simulation) sought to provoke thought by challenging the thinking of participants. As referenced previously, although civics and citizenship is multifaceted, this project probed participants’ thinking by centering primarily on voting as a primary mechanism for seeking change.

The project addresses the civic education related issue by forcing participants to challenge their thinking and consider alternate points of view. In effect, the project itself is the vehicle for addressing the issue. Participants are forced to consider the consequences of teaching or not teaching civics in school as faced by alternate perspectives. This is an important distinction to make, as simply answering questions might not in and of it self force participants to struggle with the deeper concepts.

To explore the stated focus question, I explored many formats, including traditional research, a survey and a simulation. Ultimately, a simulation was selected, given the ability to include various forms of media (video, text/articles, websites, etc.). Simulations are often pre-recorded media rich environments that present participants with a real-world problem or question. As participants embark on a journey to solving the problem, the answers they provide alter the path and subsequent questions they are asked. While answering questions, they are provided several opportunities to learn from others and think differently. The goal is to enhance the participant’s openness to dissonant ideas and inspire them to become active solution-seekers after the simulation has ended. Although videos were recorded for this simulation, I have removed them so other educators can record their own videos for use with their own classes.

During the planning of this project, several overarching topics emerged as necessary touch points for consideration by participants. First, participants needed to know and understand the history of civics education and for whom this education was originally intended, as well for whom this education was withheld. Second, participants needed to consider the many ways in which citizenship is different, depending on your point of entry into the conversation. This can be categorized as the multicultural perspective. Third, it was important to explore the research – whether or not teaching civics education in schools has been proven successful. Fourth, highlighting the differences between civic knowledge and civic virtue/engagement and the possible effects (if any) the former has on the latter was necessary, as it places a spotlight on why our schools and society have deemed teaching civics in schools to be a best practice, even if that may not actually be true. Last, the simulation probes participants’ understanding of various rights as citizens and pits several other ideologies against those so as to determine whether or not they are mutually exclusive. For instance, how might the concept of patriotism run counter to multiculturalism or even the suspension of one’s rights as a citizen?

Using a Google Form eight prompts/scenarios are shown to participants. Upon selecting their answer (“Yes” or “No”), participants are presented with several essential questions and links to resources that would inform their thinking and probe additional learning opportunities. Prompts, essential questions and resources were all carefully chosen to match the overarching topics listed above. Questions were constructed to be intentionally extreme, so as to evoke strong emotions by participants. The essential questions and resources included in the simulation are listed below.

Why should civics courses be taught in schools? What is the purpose of civics courses? Are the content and skills taught in civics courses universally taught in other courses at school or by parents at home? (“Liberal Education”)

What should a national civics curriculum look like? At what age should students begin to learn about civics and has any respected historical figure ever suggested that civics only be taught to adults? Can students truly understand civics before seeing how it works in the “real world?” (“Against Civic Schooling”)

What is the process to deport an undocumented immigrant? Are there laws, agencies or institutions that can stop or slow the deportation process? How might undocumented immigrants’ lack of civic knowledge affect them, their families and their communities? (“Multicultural Citizenship”) (“What Happens in Deportation Proceedings?”) (“Immigrants Fighting for Sanctuary Cities & Campuses to Protect Millions from Trump Deportation Push”) (“Amid deportation threats, universities exploring ‘sanctuary campuses’ for immigrants”)

Does teaching civics in schools guarantee that students will become engaged citizens? Is there a difference between civic knowledge and civic virtue/engagement and can civic virtue/engagement be taught? What do Plato, Aristotle (and research) tell us about the acquisition of civic competence/skills acquired by adults outside of schools (churches, unions, workplace) as opposed to the civic knowledge acquired by children in schools? (“Strong Democracy”) (“Against Civic Schooling”)

Do all Americans have the same understanding of what it means to be American and how is that the same or different based on the version of history taught in schools/textbooks? Does citizenship require that you also be patriotic? And does being patriotic mean accepting everything that your government says or does – even when it violates or eliminates your rights as a citizen? (“Should We Teach Patriotic History”) (“How could the U.S. turn into a dictatorship?”) (“I pledge Allegiance to…”)

How do the free-speech rights of government workers (like teachers) differ from everyone else? What would happen if those who are oppressed (or silenced) were given veto power over policies that negatively affected them? What do the following quotes from the first link below (p.263) mean to you?: “Group representation is the best way to promote just outcomes.” “Group representation is the best antidote to self-deceiving self-interest masked as general interest.” And is speech that expresses anger toward the U.S. or patriotism still covered under the first amendment? (“Polity and Group Difference”) (“Surveillance Under the Patriot Act”) (“Can Twitter Censor Terrorists and Trolls Without Silencing Free Speech?”)

In sum, I believe the simulation provides participants with a meaningful opportunity to think about civics education and develop an informed opinion about why we should or should not teach civics in school. I look forward to analyzing the form’s results to determine how individuals are answering this question.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the simulation after you’ve completed it.

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"Biased people bias people. Better people better people." - David Martin