Lois Henry

Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 06:26 PM

LOIS HENRY: Best kind of civics lesson is the hands-on variety

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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By Lois Henry

Absolutely none of my schooling prepared me for the job I have.

Specifically, navigating government agencies.

Related Info

Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

Civic task force meeting

The meeting will be Thursday, March 20, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Larry E. Reider Education Center, Room 204, 2000 K St., Bakersfield, CA 93301

There will be several local speakers including attorneys, teachers, former students and a representative from the Coalition for Sustainable Government.

Register online:

www.eventbrite.com/e/california-task-force-on-k-12-civic-learning-regional-meeting-tickets-10304530127

Or contact Anna Vue at avue@solskenpr.com

Learn more here:

www.myboe.org/portal/default/Group/Viewer/GroupView?action=2&ql=CivicLearningTaskforce

For draft recommendations go here:

http://myboe.org/cognoti/content/file/resources/documents/de/de5d552b/de5d552bbd647a94acfddae7f9bb080212c22b82/CLTF__Reg_MeetingDraft_Recs2614.pdf

Sure, I paid attention to national headlines. But understanding the inner workings of school boards, planning commissions, or public utility districts? No way.

And let's face it, those governmental capillaries are where most of the decisions are made that affect us on an everyday level.

It's one thing to say we have one of the most transparent governments on earth, but it's another thing entirely to actually wade into the thick of it and figure out how to participate.

So, I applaud efforts by the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning, which is attempting to come up with ways to boost civic education and involvement among school children.

The task force was created by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. It has been working to come up with new curriculum, resources, training, student assessment and help for schools to form partnerships with businesses and communities.

The task force has completed a set of draft recommendations that eventually will be presented to the State Legislature for possible funding and/or inclusion in statewide curriculum standards.

Now it wants your input on those draft recommendations. The task force will be holding a series of public meetings up and down the state between March 8 and April 1.

Because one of the task force members is our very own Terri Richmond, Golden Valley High School civics teacher (and the heartbeat of the wonderful We The People competition and Project Citizen program), one of those meetings will be here in Bakersfield. (See side box for more information).

Last year, Richmond said, Golden Valley won one of three statewide awards for excellence in civic learning.

That, in turn, got Richmond a spot as an advisory member of the task force and she convinced the group that Bakersfield should be one of six cities in the state to hold a public meeting.

The key, she said, is how to make civics part of overall curriculum for all grades, kindergarten to high school senior.

"We're talking about using the Common Core standards as a vehicle," Richmond said. "Common Core is about reading, writing, listening and speaking and the materials you use to practice that can just as well be from Jefferson or Adams as 'Catcher in the Rye.'"

English language arts teachers already use a lot of nonfiction, she said, so this would be a good fit for them.

I skimmed over the draft recommendations but, I confess, I don't speak very good "edu-jargon," so it all seemed a little dense to me.

I asked Richmond why there couldn't simply be more hands-on education, such as having students read through the paper, select a local topic that catches their interest and have them research and follow that topic from start to finish through government documents and meetings.

You can't learn to swim without getting in the water.

Richmond wholeheartedly agreed.

She described how just such endeavors were extremely enlightening to both a high school Project Citizen program she oversaw, as well as a group of fifth graders.

In Project Citizen's government encounter, her students took on the issue of safety plans for local schools should Isabella Dam break. (This was back when there was actual water in Lake Isabella, or "Lake Isapuddle" as my friends in the Kern River Valley have taken to calling it.)

First they had to find the safety plan, which they stumbled over almost by accident in the back of a thick PDF file.

They learned Golden Valley would be under eight to 10 feet of water if the dam broke and called the county to learn what the evacuation plan was.

"The county said it was all fine, the school knew what the plan was and all schools had evacuation plans," Richmond recalled.

The students checked and, oopsie, the schools didn't know anything about it.

When the students wrote their report, noting the lapse and recommending ways to correct it, Richmond said, the county went silent.

"The county was very cooperative until the students found a flaw; then they weren't so helpful," Richmond said. "I guess we were living in your world briefly."

Hey, she stole my line!

Richmond's fifth-grade class had a better experience.

A number of young people wanted a skate park in Arvin back in the early 2000s. Her fifth graders joined the process, even making a plea before the city council. The skate park was built, Richmond recalled.

Those kinds of "performance based" teaching experiences are the best way to learn about government, in Richmond's mind, and mine.

And that kind of teaching is in the task force's draft recommendations. But it may not be the easiest fit for all teachers.

Either way, boosting civic teaching will mean a lot more training and that means money.

"It comes down to dollars from the state to train teachers and turn our schools into little laboratories of civic learning," she said.

Well, hmmm.

I can't imagine why any politician wouldn't want to fund an effort resulting in whole generations of energetic young people focusing more light on the doings of government.

Can you?

 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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