Last month, 300-some Georgia social-studies educators – teachers of eighth-grade Georgia Studies – spent Constitution Day at the Georgia State Capitol, immersing themselves in the ins and outs of civic engagement and preparing to take that knowledge back to their students.
“It is essential that our students leave our schools with an understanding of Georgia’s constitution, of its structure and the checks and balances and rights it guarantees, of the role of government – and the role of citizens – in maintaining those rights,” State Board of Education Chair Helen Rice said, as the workshop opened. “When we educate our students about government and civics and the society in which they live, we are empowering them to make meaningful contributions to that society.”
With representatives from the state government, legislature, and civic organizations, attendees discussed the role of the legislature in state government; the judicial system; citizen duty and voting; the juvenile justice system; local government.
And, of course: the Constitution.
“You can’t help but be amazed when you think about this group of relatively small, relatively untrained men, going against the most powerful nation in the world – and putting a document together that has stood for more than 200 years, has laid out the structure of our government and our democracy,” said Shaun Owen, GaDOE’s Social Studies Program Coordinator.
The goal was to bring back to students a concept of civics as it truly is – living, engaging, not simple but not dry or mundane, either. Students who get a glimpse of that have a better chance of growing up and engaging in the communities around them, of analyzing the world around them and making choices accordingly.
“Social studies is not a bunch of dead people and dates,” Owen said. “This is social studies: active, involved participation. It’s what our founding fathers aspired to.”
And teachers, attendees were reminded, are uniquely positioned to spark that passion in their students.
It was an eighth-grade teacher who sparked State Board of Education member Lisa Kinnemore’s interest in civics, she told attendees. Years after, she majored in political science.
“I appreciate you,” Kinnemore told attendees.” We appreciate you – the whole State Board of Education. We just want to do everything we can to support you.”
IN THE CLASSROOM:
Brookview Elementary (Fulton County Schools) sent us a great video of their Constitution Day celebrations – a filming of We the Kids, which helps young students understand the Preamble and the Constitution as a Whole. Watch it here.