Tools and Strategies

Strengthening Our Democracy High School Civics Curriculum

Strengthening Our Democracy Curriculum Cover Image
For Educators

Overview

Full Curriculum Coming Soon!

Strengthening Our Democracy: Civic Participation in the 21st Century is a comprehensive and flexible one-semester curriculum for high school students. Educators can use the curriculum to help students explore their civic engagement and examine complex topics through an anti-bias lens.

A selection of lessons are featured here now. Check back again for updates.

Unit 1. A Civic Mindset

Description

Civics learning begins with a civic mindset. The characteristics of a positive school climate—inclusive, safe and equitable—are essential in a civics classroom. This unit guides students and educators to create a space in their classroom communities that is not only safe, but brave, so that every student feels they can share and listen to points of view and experiences that may be very different from their own. The capacity for students to communicate their perspectives and remain open to the possibility of changing their minds cultivates empathy and skills that are foundational to civic life and global citizenship. In this unit, students define what it means to be “American” and explore their expectations of a civic education. They are introduced to the key competencies associated with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and why SEL matters in civics. Students learn that everyone is capable of and responsible for creating a classroom environment in which every voice can be heard.

This unit also describes the concept of implicit bias and encourages students to think critically about the impact of bias. The unit ends with an opportunity for students to communicate for understanding and challenge their own biases in a civic discourse vs. debate activity—demonstrating a civic mindset.

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About Unit 1
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Create a brave space for themselves and others.
  • Participate in civil discourse.
  • Identify components of social emotional learning.
  • Identify implicit bias.
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Learning Outcomes

   

Unit 2. Constitution

Description

The Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents in the nation’s history. It details the rights and responsibilities of its people and it assigns powers to each branch of the government. This distribution of power is vital for maintaining a balanced, representative democracy. Over time, the Constitution has been amended to accommodate social and economic changes. Key to students’ civic knowledge and skills is understanding the Constitution and how to exercise their own rights to propose changes that address important issues of the day.

In this unit, students examine the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as the First Amendment and the Separation of Powers. They are asked to reflect on the role of bias in the creation of the Constitution and subsequent proposals to amend it. The unit ends with an opportunity for students to write their own bills and lobby for a change that matters to them.

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About Unit 2
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze the Constitution and its Amendments.
  • Identify the rights and responsibilities detailed in the Constitution and its Amendments.
  • Learn the process of bill writing and passing a bill through legislation.
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Unit 3. Government

Description

While the Constitution lays out the structures of our government, the actual day-to-day operations of the U.S. government are complex and potentially confusing. Civic participation depends on understanding how local, state, federal and tribal governments work.

In this unit, students delve deeper into forms of governments and types of democracies. They explore the Rule of Law, the powers of government and how the U.S. operates under a representative democratic government. Through an anti-bias lens, students examine how our identity, power and privilege are connected within the U.S. government and in turn affect our experiences with the government.

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About Unit 3
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Describe various forms of governments.
  • Explain how a representative democracy works.
  • Distinguish among the different powers of government.
  • Interpret the Rule of Law.
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Unit 4. Participation in Democracy

Description

Civics education is more than learning facts about the Constitution and how government works. Students are exposed to civic issues every day at school, in their communities and through the news. Studying and examining current events in the Civics classroom is an opportunity for students to apply civic knowledge, engage in critical thinking and practice active participation in our democracy. Teaching current events connects students' knowledge of the Constitution and democratic processes to real world issues and their day-to-day lives.

In this unit, students will work through numerous topics ranging from the 15th Amendment to the Dream Act. They will analyze human rights, the gender wage gap, felony disenfranchisement and other current events. At the same time, they will analyze how identities and bias can shape their thinking and behavior, and they will continue to increase their understanding of the impact of culture on communication.

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About Unit 4
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Examine various ways of participating in civic action.
  • Recognize the ways in which people have participated in civic action throughout history to today.
  • Analyze how identity and bias can shape thinking and behavior.
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Learning Outcomes

   

Unit 5. Identity & Membership

Description

Identity and membership are key components of a healthy democracy and are accompanied by certain rights and responsibilities. Just as our identities are constantly evolving, our memberships within society also evolve. Former President John F. Kennedy said that the U.S. is “a nation of immigrants” and based on that history, the immigrant experience should not be ignored or looked down on, but rather, it should be celebrated and studied. Many people in the U.S. have experience with the immigration and citizenship process. Understanding their experiences is key to grasping the issues of identity and membership that arise when we talk about U.S. citizenship and anti-immigrant bias.

In this unit, students will analyze and differentiate between pathways for immigration, becoming a naturalized citizen and coming to the U.S. as a refugee seeking some type of asylum. Students will examine the biases that are behind anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric, and analyze how their own identities play a role in the immigration and citizenship conversation.

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About Unit 5
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Differentiate the various ways people can enter the U.S.
  • Argue for a specific immigration policy.
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Learning Outcomes

   

Unit 6. Media Literacy

Description

Creating and analyzing digital and other kinds of media challenges us to think critically about influencing civil life and initiating change. It also makes us aware how the news and information we consume is curated and presented to influence our own civic participation. We live in a world that provides an astonishing and overwhelming quantity of information to process on a daily basis. We consume media from broadcast television series, streaming content providers, podcasts, blogs, social media, mobile apps, movies, images, videos, data and print. We also have the option to comment and contribute content on the many channels that exist in each category. In the 21st century, critical thinking, media literacy, reflection and effective communication using a variety of media are essential civic skills.

In this unit, lessons focus on decoding media, examining the power of “fake news” as well as the increasing use of data and algorithms to influence decision-making. Students will practice recognizing the role of bias in the media our culture creates and distributes every day.

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About Unit 6
Description

Students will be able to:

  • Evaluate various forms of media, including digital and non-digital sources.
  • Examine algorithmic and media bias.
  • Analyze picture messaging.
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Learning Outcomes