K-12 curriculum: Fostering civic activism

Published on: 
14 Oct 2020
Kristen Keim

Over the past four years, we have seen youth activism surge. In a diverse array of topics, young people around the world have found their voice in advocating for changes they believe in. As educators, we are positioned to teach students about their constitutional rights, empowering them to be fully engaged in our democratic processes.

The newest Ultimate Civics lessons by Earth Island Institute, for grades 6–8, helps teachers use relevant issues to teach the United States democratic system and our rights as citizens to create change. Each lesson features examples of current events to ground student learning and engagement. The Activating My Democracy lessons are available as part of the Learning Lab subscription. The program contains six lessons for grades 6–8 and six lessons for grades 9–12, in which students explore how to activate democracy to protect their rights.

Riki Ott, Ph.D., the author of the Ultimate Civics curricula, shares her thoughts on fostering a new generation of activist leaders:

Why is it important to teach young students about our government and our constitutional rights and responsibilities?

Got activists? Now let’s make sure they realize their potential to become leaders! Our democracy requires a power balance between the people and the government we created. Our history demonstrates that achieving and maintaining a balance of power on an inherently unstable, undemocratic foundation is tricky. It is the peoples’ responsibility to ensure the balance of power between the people and the government by demanding that our government respects our constitutional rights to limit its authority to govern us. For the people to fulfill this responsibility, we need to be educated from a young age that we are the sovereign power of our government.

Grounding the passion of our youth in a working knowledge of our system of governance, our constitutional and other rights, and how to use civic power as responsible citizens, is all critical to the success of our young people in shaping a more democratic and sustainable society—and our collective future.

How does the Ultimate Civics module inspire middle school students to engage in social change through civic action?

The Ultimate Civics module inspires students by meeting youth where they are—in a democracy that is far from perfect. By framing this imperfection as an imbalance of power between the people and the government, youth learn that system change is not only possible, it is our civic duty to engage in it. By introducing youth to our myriad rights—from inalienable to constitutional to civic to our rights under the Public Trust Doctrine, youth become empowered. Through peer learning and exploring examples of adults and youth exercising their rights, youth learn ways to engage in the process of social change and progress. By encouraging students to develop and implement plans to make local communities more democratic, just and sustainable, young people cement their new knowledge and skill sets with experiential learning.

If you could suggest only one lesson to teach, which would it be?

It would have to be Lesson 1, What Can We Do? How to Move Ideas into Action. What if your students believed they could actually change the world? Students need to know how to move ideas into action so that they develop self-efficacy, awaken their power and know that they can use it to change the world. Lesson 1 is the hook that gets students fired up to learn more about how the government works and the principles behind it.

What is next for Ultimate Civics?

Ultimate Civics and The Cloud Institute are currently working together to enhance the unit and lesson plan design components. Our goal is to have this information upfront to make the module content more accessible to institutions and teachers.

Explore the Ultimate Civics curricula