The Second C

Law BooksThe midterm elections are finally over. According to Advertising Age, more than $4 billion was spent on advertising this election season. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited, anonymous funding of political advertising, every TV watcher and radio listener (and anyone with a mailbox) was forced to endure more negative advertising than ever before.

For us poor voters, effectively separating fact from fiction took a lot of critical thinking and civics knowledge. But how much civics knowledge does the average American voter actually have? If we look at the proficiency of our high school seniors, the answer is “Not enough.”

Anne O’Brien, acting director of the Learning First Alliance, writes about civics education in a recent Edutopia blog post. She cites The National Assessment of Student Progress, which found that in civics, only “24 percent of students are considered proficient (24 percent of fourth graders, 22 percent of eighth graders, and 27 percent of twelfth graders).”

That last one is a scary number for a democratic system that depends on the knowledge and understanding of its citizens. We need to do more to develop an informed citizenry, but teachers already struggle to teach their curriculum while preparing students for standardized tests.

Maybe the answer is to focus on project-based learning. O’Brien highlights the story of middle-school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Sally Broughton, Montana’s 2009 Teacher of the Year. Broughton’s students learn how government works by “identifying a problem that can be solved by public policy and then solving it.”

O’Brien writes of her favorite project of theirs:

[H]er students investigated the ways a nearby dam could fail. They met with county officials to discuss ways to solve the problem and presented a final plan to the county commissioners. The county got a state grant, with students testifying at the state hearing, to initiate some of the changes the students had suggested. And the county later got a grant from Homeland Security to implement all the measures students had recommended, including an early warning system, a well-publicized evacuation route, and a reverse 911.

Such projects can help teach students good citizenship in addition to teaching them history, math, research, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.

Do you have any project-based learning ideas? Share them with us below.

* For CHARACTER COUNTS! lesson plans related to media literacy, check out Truth in Advertising, Keeping News Trustworthy, and Political Cartoons about Community Problems.

* For lesson plans related to citizenship, visit the Citizenship page  of our Lesson Plan Bank.

* Read an interview with Sally Broughton on the Learning First Alliance website.