Civic education in Roaring Fork School District
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”
– Thomas Jefferson
One of the core missions of public education in the United States has long been the preparation of citizens for participation in our democracy. Every graduate of the Roaring Fork School District must master the Colorado Civics Standards, which I teach to juniors at Roaring Fork High School.
Civic education requires both knowledge and skills: knowledge about the history and principles of our Constitution, and the skills necessary for participation. Civics today is an active and engaging course, far different from the textbook-oriented sleeper common a generation ago.
To learn about the Bill of Rights, students in my class role-play lawyers and judges deciding landmark Supreme Court cases.
Is it “cruel and unusual punishment” to imprison a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole? My students research, write, argue and decide authentic constitutional questions so they understand the role of the courts.
Students in another class prepare answers to constitutional questions, which they present at competitive hearings in the “We the People…the Citizen and the Constitution” program. At the state capitol last year, my students took a stand on President Lincoln’s use of executive power during the Civil War and defended their position before a panel of Colorado Supreme Court justices and other legal scholars.
To learn about their responsibilities in local policy making, my students research current local public policy issues, propose a realistic policy solution and present their proposals to elected officials every spring as part of Project Citizen. They conduct authentic research in the community, make connections with local leaders and officials, and weigh the trade-offs involved in alternative policies.
To learn about foreign policy, my students simulate a Senate committee hearing and deliberate “What is America’s role in the world?” To learn about taxes and spending decisions, students research, discuss and vote on realistic proposals to balance the federal budget.
If you are ever accused of a crime that you did not commit, you’ll look at the jury and hope your fellow citizens have the civic knowledge and skills required to reach the right verdict. When you attend a public meeting on an issue of concern, you’ll hope your fellow citizens can weigh the trade-offs and understand your position. When you need strong leadership on your city council, you’ll hope there are competent candidates to step up and run.
Teachers in the Roaring Fork School District work hard every day preparing tomorrow’s jurors, voters and leaders for what Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter called the “highest office,” the office of citizen.
Ben Bohmfalk teaches social studies in the Roaring Fork School District. With a history degree from Duke and a masters of education from the University of Denver, Bohmfalk has written curriculum and trained civics teachers nationally and internationally. He is currently C-SPAN’s Senior Teacher Fellow and the chairman of Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
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