Teaching democracy matters

William Woods EDU

54.9 percent of eligible voters actually cast their ballots for the 2012 presidential election. For the youngest group of voters, that number is closer to one-third.  57.1 percent of eligible voters voted in 2008, which, even reaching the highest voter turnout since 1968, was still pretty weak. Among Americans, civic knowledge, engagement, participation and awareness is very low.

According to a recent Pew report, those who are not learning about the current election (about one-in-ten Americans) are more likely to feel that their vote does not matter as much as those who are informed.

“This group shows other signs of being less engaged in government affairs: Only 37 percent of them follow government and public affairs at least some of the time, compared with 82 percent of Americans who got news and information about the election,” added the report.

While many roll their eyes at the idea of campaign ads, debates, delegates and posters — social studies teachers take advantage of the exciting time to not simply tell students about voting, candidacy, electoral colleges and government responsibilities ­— but to show them.

At William Woods, education students interested in teaching history, social studies, civics or politics in high schools pursue a Bachelor in History Education with a secondary education certification, taking classes in both education and history and gaining a firm grasp of both pedagogical skills and the history they’re passionate about.

Students will take courses like HIS 418: Methods of Teaching, where they will examine both the theoretical and practical side of teaching social studies at the secondary level, as well as gain clinical experience teaching. History education students will also take LGS105: Politics and Government, where they will gain introductory knowledge to the field of political science, from theory and practice to political action and institutions.

A social studies teacher has a significant opportunity to educate his or her students to be active participants in the democratic processes. It’s often here that the first sparks of a student’s passion for politics ignites.

In a TED talk, civics teacher and practitioner Eric Liu, explains how important it is that people understand their role in the democratic processes, and that understanding power is what makes it interesting.

“Civics is the art of citizenship, what Bill Gates Sr. calls simply showing up for life, and it encompasses three things: a foundation of values, an understanding of the systems that make the world go round, and a set of skills that allow you to pursue goals and to have others join in that pursuit,” says Liu.

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