Civics 101


earth-handsDid you know that your local school board has arguably more influence on your daily life than the president of the United States?

All this attention on what our president does or doesn’t do, yet most students know very little about the folks who really have power over us. The great (or more often, crappy) cafeteria food that you eat, the dress code that governs what you wear, the books you read, the courses you take for graduation are all decided by the local school board, usually comprised of five elected people, which means that it really can come down to a majority of three people who have a lot of power over your life.

Three people. Think about it.

What if you could change these things, for real? What if what you learned in school was directly relevant to learning how to use the democratic process? What if what you learned in school directly strengthened and improved what you learned in school? What if we learned by doing?

Let’s take a step back and ask: how come our local boards have so much authority? The U.S. Constitution contains no mention of education. With the federal government limited to those powers either expressly stated or implied in the Constitution, the federal role in public education is secondary to that of the states and local districts. The state legislative mandate to provide for a system of public schools is found in the state constitution, usually in language requiring a “general,” “uniform,” “thorough,” or “efficient” system of public schools. In a school district, the school board and superintendent comprise the legitimate political system. The board passes, amends, and repeals policy, and the superintendent implements policy and oversees operations (Danzberger, Kirst, & Usdan, 1992; Kowalski, 2006). So the board makes policy (often in accordance with state and federal policies) and the superintendent implements it.

This is why “Our Future, Now” empowers students to work with local school boards to ensure school policies align with the state’s 2009 adoption of P21 Frameworks in the Curriculum Support and Reform Act of 2011. The law was intended to, as State Superintendent Tom Torlakson put it, “provide California with additional tools and resources to implement the Common Core State Standards. This partnership underscores our commitment to prepare every student for the challenges of a changing world.”

What does this P21 stuff really mean? The Partnership for 21st Century Education promotes the teaching of the 4Cs — Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication — in every classroom across all courses. P21 is about preparing students so we can be successful in college, careers and life. The P21 frameworks have been embraced by the California State Department of Education and now California is the 18th P21 state in the USA.

And more importantly, civic literacy is a key element of P21 learning. Getting better school lunches, sensible dress codes, and YES — more engaging, relevant, and in-depth learning — and learning HOW to do that, is partly what P21 learning is all about.

So the idea is to help inform local the school board about P21 and our experiences with it. We want to collaborate with them to develop policies that would impact teaching and learning in the schools — every day in every classroom — for every student. Not only would that be a big deal for students and parents, it would also be a great civic educational accomplishment in ensuring our democracy will thrive for generations to come.

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