By Tiffany Gruen
On my 18th birthday, I awoke to find a paper taped to my bedroom door. Thinking it might be a sweet birthday note from my parents, I skipped from my bed toward the door and stared. The plain piece of white paper with small lettering read Voter Registration Form. At the bottom was a note from my father: “You are now 18. You can continue to live in this house rent-free under one condition: you register to vote. Happy birthday, Dad.”
Similar messages followed – taped to the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator and in the front seat of my car. Point taken, I registered to vote.
Through that simple action, my father instilled in me the values of civil service and taking ownership in our community. Civic-mindedness was inherited, whether I wanted it or not. I realized I have a voice, a right and a responsibility to utilize the freedom so many have given their lives to preserve. However, not everyone is raised in a similar situation. Kentucky’s proposed social studies standards will change that.
Social studies has long been associated with dates, names and places. While those dates, names and places are important, the reason behind why they are important is lost on our students. Some of those “names” were noting injustices, seeing beyond the accepted and deciding to take action for the betterment of themselves and those in similar situations. Some of those “names” began by asking questions, determining a plan and then taking action. Some of those names were attached to civically minded individuals.
All of our students need to learn to critically analyze their situations and determine whether there is a better course of action and then have the tools and confidence to take such action.
Developed by teachers across Kentucky, utilizing the C3 Framework, How Students Learn: History in the Classroom, the Global Competence Matrix, and 21st Century Framework, the new Kentucky social studies standards require that all students graduate civically minded. Through the new standards, students will begin to think critically about topics that are relevant to their lives, schools, communities and country. Students are encouraged to ask questions. They analyze the past, looking for common themes. Students critique sources, rather than taking things at face value. Students develop an action plan. Most important, students are encouraged to act.
This standard of social studies education should not be afforded only to those in affluent neighborhoods or used only by students in gifted and talented programs. This level of critical analysis and action should be the expectation of every student in the state of Kentucky. From Harlan to Covington to Paducah, all children should be analyzing their settings and situations and determining what can be accomplished to make our communities the best that Kentucky can offer.
We are preparing our students to take the reins of responsibility necessary to run a country. My generation has been a part of the mortgage crisis, multiple wars, skyrocketing costs of college, a gridlocked Congress, and the devastating effects of natural disasters. We have also witnessed the election of the first African-American president, court cases focusing on civil rights of different groups of people, the successful campaign to reduce/reuse/recycle and the end of the Great Recession.
We have witnessed action, sometimes been a part of action, but most often felt helpless. Our students, future adults, do not have to feel helpless when faced with uncertainty. They should always see that action is the appropriate step. Action through education can only promote that we give our students the appropriate tools to ask questions, study the past, critique sources, create a plan and act.
Looking back, I am ashamed that my father had to tape multiple copies of the voter registration form (and threaten charging rent) in order for me to see the value in my voice. I am lucky that he pushed that notion on me at the age of 18. With the new Kentucky social studies standards, the hope is that our students are lining up to register to vote on their 18th birthdays. Civic-mindedness should not be inherited by a few, it should be the expectation of all.
Tiffany Gruen teaches at John G. Carlisle Elementary (Covington Independent) and is one of the Kentucky teacher-writers of the draft social studies standards.