Teacher Talk: The Road to Civility Starts With Civics
Feb 25, 2022
By Alisha Sanders
I say this sincerely and with urgency: teaching civics today is one of the most important things we can do to save humanity and restore civility.
Over the last 13 years, I’ve watched the civics classroom evolve from one in which teachers introduced simple lessons about government, presidents, the Constitution, citizenship (and what it means to be a responsible citizen), to a space where students wonder and are more curious about the world around them.
They are more aware of current events and seek to understand the historical causes of them. They want to dive deeper. They thrive on interacting with each other and get excited when they learn and begin to understand their civil liberties and civil rights, and how genuine argumentation doesn’t have to cause pain.
They desire discussion and debate like never before. Today, students want us to show them the connections between what they are learning and what they are living.
Students are not afraid to discuss topics that were once forbidden or considered taboo. Issues about divorce, gender equality and identity, racial equality, social justice, and climate change have been on the table for quite some time.
In fact, many students are quite candid about their beliefs and where they stand on the issues. For this reason, we must create a space that allows them to safely acknowledge their different perspectives and that gives them a forum to express their viewpoints in a way in which they feel heard and justified.
In this space, they must know that they can “agree to disagree” and walk away unscathed.
Sadly and most, unfortunately, what students often witness today is the political division that has weaved its way through every topic imaginable, leaving little room for candid and sincere dialogue free of this divisiveness.
Conspiracy theories have taken the front stage to examine evidence and truth-seeking among the public. Media pundits have not only become spectacles but celebrities. Presidential debates have less structure and decorum than a high school competition. News is no longer just news.
And students are watching.
They must learn that they are not just watching this history, but they are a part of it and they don’t have to stand on the sidelines. They are free to become change agents and shift the way people interact with one another.
As teachers, it is our duty to provide a safe, supportive, and compassionate learning environment as we prepare them to become active and engaged citizens. Classrooms cannot be microcosms of the House floor, biased news roundtable “discussions,” or a political rally or protest. We must harbor safe spaces for mutual respect and civility.
Alisha Sanders is an 8th-grade civics teacher at Gettysburg Area Middle School in Gettysburg, PA. Sanders is also a member of the Bill of Rights Institute Teacher Council.