"We live in a world of powerful interest groups. We need people who can think about the common good. We live in a world with a torrent of print, media, and electronic information. We need people who can think critically. We live in a world where individuals choose the news that will reinforce their views. We need people who listen to many sides of an issue before making up their minds. We live in a world of harsh rhetoric. We need people who will practice civil discourse. We need these things because the issues that our democracy faces are difficult and complex." from the Portland City Club Report "Educating Citizens"
The Portland City Club has published a draft report “Educating Ctizens: A City Club report on improving civics education in Portland’s high school” (here). As they note, it is not an official Portland City Club report until their membership approves it by vote. That has not happened yet.
The Portland City Club membership should not approve it as written. It should go back to their committee for substantial revision. While the traditional three high school social studies courses (US history, global studies or world history, and economics/government) certainly need strengthening, and while students certainly need more opportunities and better incentives to participate in making community decisions, those improvements are not enough. The report lacks global dimensions and the imaginative use of information technology.
The lack of global dimension in the report is not surprising, but it is unfortunate. I’ve blogged about how the “localism” of Portland’s political culture is crippling our economic future (here):
With explosive economic growth and increased wealth abroad offering the best growth opportunities for Portland businesses and local investments, Portland’s three leading candidates for mayor skip any international thinking and stress growing local small businesses. The three candidates avoid mentioning the job generating potential of more exports and of more foreign investment in local businesses.
That “localism” is again reflected in this report. And it’s not just economic growth that will require more global skills and knowledge. Through technology and commerce the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected. New economic and political powers are emerging. Is not preparing students to deal with these realities a part of any 21st century civic engagement? And do we not need to prepared students with the skills and knowledge to deal with whole new sets of global issues?
On the rise of China, (one of those new issues) for example, back in 2006, State Representative Dennis Richardson and I wrote (here, p. 10):
If the goals suggested, and the associated costs, seem high, ask yourself the question: what if we do not do at least this much? What if we just let the Chinese language courses grow at their natural pace with a few more students here and there, with only a few more college students trickling over to study abroad in China? What price will Oregon pay for not having the robust business and business idea connections to China that can fuel our economy? What cost will Oregon society pay for not having the broad and deep understanding of China that could help build world political stability throughout the twenty-first century? We can do less, but it will not take Oregon or the U.S. either far enough or fast enough. Oregon over time will be missing opportunity after opportunity in the China market. We could become a backwater rather than a major center in the global economy. And we could miss opportunities for world peace and stability. Much is at stake, possibly everything if we get China wrong. We need to put a lot of eager, learning students on the ground all over China now. It could be the primary learning opportunity, responsibility and adventure of their lifetimes. It is up to our leadership to enable them to have this vital, international preparation.
So yes, students do need a whole new set of skills and experiences to engage 21st century issues. More students need better foreign language skills and more students need to spend time abroad. We should, like Utah (here), expand our foreign language immersion programs in languages strategic to our economic and national security future (Utah has selected six: Spanish, Mandarin, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese and German). We should make a year of study abroad a high school option. We, the public, should pay for a high school year abroad for appropriate, willing students (paying, at least initially, no more than the current cost of an in-district student).
The Portland City Club report lacks any discussion of the use of communications technology in engaging students in historical or contemporary issues. Every high school student should have a laptop computer (or its equivalent) connected to the internet. This opens up many learning and civic engagement opportunities from online courses (or mini-courses) to participation in elections, conferences, and research projects all around the world. We are just beginning to develop online learning. Online civics learning and engagement will open many new opportunities unimaginable now.
If we are going to upgrade the civic engagement of our high school students (and we should), we need to engage them with the whole world, not with just the little corner that is Portland. And we need to use all available communications technology to do it.