To help social studies teachers prepare students for civic life after high school, the Nebraska Department of Education has come up with a draft definition of “civic readiness.”
Under the definition, readiness would mean not only understanding history and how government works but also demonstrating “the dispositions that citizens need in a republic.”
The dispositions would include respect for the law, “concern for the constitutional rights and freedoms of others” and “a recognition of the need for public welfare, safety and fairness.”
Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education were briefed Wednesday on the draft, which they will consider approving next month.
It’s not clear yet how the definition would actually be used in schools, or whether schools would even have to adopt it. That could be clarified at the board’s December meeting.
It’s possible that the board could make the definition, and its adoption, a part of the state’s accountability system.
There are currently no state plans to implement a statewide social studies assessment. That means local districts would most likely still determine how to gauge the civic readiness of students, as they do today.
There have been attempts in the Nebraska Legislature to have students demonstrate civic knowledge by taking a test similar to the one immigrants take for citizenship, but those efforts failed to get support.
Cory Epler, the department’s chief academic officer, said the current effort to define civic readiness arose from a “social studies summit” involving state educators last winter and a desire to satisfy legislators’ interest in making sure that students are prepared.
“We didn’t have a definition of what it is,” Epler said. “So, it’s hard to measure civic readiness if we hadn’t clearly identified what do we mean by civic readiness.”
The one-page definition says civic skills “encompass thoughtfully speaking, listening, collaborating, community organizing and public advocacy.”
Civic skills, it says, “require the ability to gather and process information, including opposing viewpoints, in order to demonstrate a substantial understanding of why that view is held.”
Epler said one possible way to gauge a student’s readiness could be with a capstone project.