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Second-Class Citizens: Teaching Civics at Home


In this age of high-stakes tests, teachers must place more emphasis on tested subjects – reading, mathematics and science. This means they have less time to teach other subjects, including social studies.
According to a recent report by the Center on Education Policy, 44 percent of school districts nationwide have made deep cuts in social studies, art and music in favor of subjects that must be tested according to federal law.
Teachers do their best, but parents must express their concerns to administrators and local school boards. The decreased emphasis on social studies in many of our schools leaves children with less knowledge and understanding of our institutions – knowledge they must have to be responsible citizens of our communities, our nation and our world.
The good news is that parents can easily supplement their children's social studies education at home. Teaching children history, geography, economics and citizenship is essential to civic competence. It is also essential to the maintenance of a democratic society.
Research has made it clear that parents who are actively involved in their children's learning at home help them become more successful learners in and out of school.

So what can you do?
Here are five ways you can support social studies instruction at home, no matter how much your children are learning at school:
1: Talk about the holidays, especially public holidays such as Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. These days mean much more than a day off of work. Discuss the meanings of these holidays, the people and events they celebrate, and how they impact our lives today.

2: Take every opportunity to explain to your children about our civic rights and responsibilities. When it's time to vote, vote. And explain the importance of this right and critical responsibility. Remind children that for most people in our history, especially women, people of color and the poor, this was a hard-won right. If you are called to jury duty, teach your children how our justice system works.

3: Discuss with your children the topics you learn about while reading the paper, surfing the Web or watching the news. Then ask their opinions on political, social and economic matters. Listen, ask probing questions and compliment them on their reasoning. You should also challenge them to think about what is not being covered in the news. Model an interest in current events and public life.

4: Visit monuments, memorials, libraries, parks and other public spaces. Explain that "we the people" pay for these things through taxes. Question the names and events that are memorialized and ask, "Who do you think that was?" or "Why do we remember this event?"

5: Learn together about the history and geography of your community, state and country. Buy a globe, atlas or wall map for your home if you do not already have one. Refer to it as you discuss history and current events.

It is unfortunate that our children are receiving less formal education in social studies, especially in a nation that prides itself on its history and government. But parents can make a difference.

Kevin P. Colleary, Ed.D, teaches education at Fordham University. He is also an author of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill TimeLinks, an elementary social studies program for grades K-6.

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