CIVICS 101: There’s a problem with what people know about government and civics—and that problem is that people know surprisingly little. According to national survey results released last fall from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), only 36 percent of respondents could name all three branches of government. Nearly just as many—35 percent—could not name a single one. “This survey offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education,” said APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson at the time.
IN THE CLASSROOM: One way in which the APPC is promoting the teaching of civics is through Annenberg Classroom, an initiative of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics that is an online, interactive website chock-full of high-quality, comprehensive teaching and learning tools about the Constitution and the courts. “Annenberg Classroom was created to provide an access point for teachers to high-quality learning materials,” Jamieson says.
MULTIPLE RESOURCES: The student resources available on Annenberg Classroom are aimed at middle and high school students (though college students have been known to use them, too), and feature news stories curated from unbiased sources, a “Speak Out!” section where students can respond in their own words to a current event that is tied to a Constitutional amendment, originally produced videos on amendments, and even games. Some of the videos, called “A Conversation on the Constitution,” feature Supreme Court justices talking with high school students about cases or issues before the Court.
KEEP IT CURRENT: Ellen Iwamoto, the researcher and writer who oversees Annenberg Classroom, says part of the initiative’s focus is to connect documents like the Constitution and Bill of Rights with current events. “[Teachers] say, ‘We don’t want students to think of the Constitution as this old dusty document that means nothing to them. We want to bring it into the real world and show them how it affects their lives every day, right now,’” says Iwamoto.
SPEAKING OUT: In the Speak Out! section, students are presented a news story in a just-the-facts way, and give their opinion on the issue. Iwamoto says teachers use these items to spark discussions in the classroom, or as homework assignments. “A key part is getting [students] to realize that there’s a document that explains ... why these things happen the way they do,” Iwamoto says.
LIFELONG LEARNING: The APPC is part of the Civics Renewal Network, a group of 26 nonprofits that is a centralized place where teachers can get unbiased information for their civics classrooms. Last year, Annenberg Classroom also worked with Kermit Roosevelt, a professor of law at Penn Law School, on the massive open online course, “Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases.” And coming up in 2015: Videos on the idea of habeas corpus, based on the Guantanamo Bay cases, and the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, a document crucial to the shaping of the Constitution.
WELL-INFORMED CITIZENRY: Jamieson and Iwamoto stress the significance of quality civics education in order to create better-informed citizens. “It’s important to start at a young age to educate and produce young people who understand how their government works, participate in their government, become engaged and informed just about what’s going on in the world around them,” Iwamoto says.