The Time is Now: APAC Panel on Civic Engagement
Stefanie Sanford, the College Board’s Chief of Global Policy and External Relations, shared at the opening plenary for this year’s Advanced Placement Annual Conference (APAC)
Less than half of the public can name a single Supreme Court justice, and nearly two thirds can't name the three branches of government. These are just two facts about civics knowledge that Stefanie Sanford, the College Board’s Chief of Global Policy and External Relations, shared at the opening plenary for this year’s Advanced Placement Annual Conference (APAC). Joined by Jad Abumrad, host of the hit podcast RadioLab, and Stephen Meinhold, professor and chief reader for AP Government and Politics, the panel explored the intersection of civics and education.
Rising engagement and interest in civics, politics, and policy among youth—from DACA to the Second Amendment—presents an important educational opportunity. Educators are uniquely positioned to help students make sense of their questions, engage in civic discourse, and translate their passions to effect change and potentially shape policy.
The panelists touched on how teachers and other educators can make civic education interesting and relevant for their students. They include:
- Make (a safe) space: Creating a space for students to engage in these conversations is the first step. It’s important to foster an environment that welcomes students' differing perspectives, which leads to the second tip.
- Promote perspective taking: Abumrad described how the Supreme Court justices often have opinions that are diametrically opposed and are still able to engage in respectful discourse. “They have deep friendships across huge ideological divides…there are these rules which allow for very extreme divisions to coexist and to coexist civilly,” said Abumrad. Invite students to share their different perspectives but also encourage them to view issues through a lens other than their own.
- Change the language: Framing and language can be the difference between an engaging, respectful conversation and an awkward deafening silence or, even worse, a shouting match between students. Perhaps swap out the word “argument” for “debate” or “discussion”. Meinhold believes the word “argument” can be polarizing and set the wrong tone for civic discourse. Flip the script and tee up your next classroom discussion with positive, inclusive language.
Presidential elections often bring a renewed interest in civic education in the classroom. But educators don’t have to wait for an election year to engage their students in these conversations. In fact, they shouldn’t. These discussions are not only important for developing informed, active citizens but they also support students’ college readiness.
This is just a starting point. How will you engage your students in civic dialogue? Share your thoughts in the comments.