California Educator

August/September 2020

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WHAT DOES GOOD CIVIC EDUCATION LOOK LIKE? Th e Ronal d Rea gan Citi zens S chol ar In stitut e i s a c o l l ab orati on b e tw e en Royal High School in Simi Valley and the nearby Ronald Reagan Foundation and Presidential Librar y that seeks to improve civic education for young peo- ple in the community. U.S. government teacher John Downey is an adviser at t h e n a t i o n a l ly re c o g n i z e d i n st i tu t e , which builds civic knowledge and polit- i c a l e n ga g e m e n t s k i l l s w i t h u n i q u e , meaning ful learning experiences. "Students are better prepared to be good citizens — not just able to recite f a c t s a b o u t h o w g o v e r n m e n t w o rk s — and they're doing things in their com- munities," says Downey, a member of Simi Educators Association . "Students are leaving here engaged and ready to partic- ipate. I think that we're doing democracy rather than just teaching it." R o ya l Hi g h stu d e n t s h av e re g u l a r audiences with candidates at every level of government, asking tough questions about controversial issues and learning firsthand about civic engagement. On one winter day, a local candidate for Congress gave a stump speech, while another event saw a candidate for sheriff field pointed questions about recidivism. "It's fun to be able to watch both stu- d ent s and candi d at e s d eal w ith that tension of asking difficult questions and answering them," Downey says, noting that in-person interactions with can- didates and leaders provide a powerful context for students. " We had a person who was running for city council, and she came in reeking of cigarette smoke, and that had a major impact on stu- dents." (These meetings are now being held virtually ; for details on how the Citizen Scholars Institute will continue to op erat e durin g th e pand emic, see page 53.) Helping students to see how elections and politics impact their lives directly is a big part of the civic education process. As Chang leads his students through the complex world of political action com- mittees (PACs), voting rights and the role of the media, he wants to give them the tools to be brave and responsible citi- zens — especially as some of them will be voting in this November's presidential election for the first time. "A good chunk of my class is focused on the media because so much of our views are based on the media we consume," he says. "ey need help sifting through the bias so they can make an informed deci- sion on their own." C h a n g h a s h i s stu d e n t s c o m p l e t e a media bias project to help them be more critical of the information avail- able online and identify erroneous and misleading stories, so they're able to fo cus on i ssu e s that matt er " Getting to the why question is so much more important than the what. Help students understand the why to support the what." — Travis Humble Perris Elementary Teachers Association John Downey helps students learn democracy by letting them lead. 49 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 0

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