Ted McConnell, who is director of the Campaign to Promote Civic Education Center for Civic Education in Washington, D.C., and co-coordinator of the Congressional Conferences on Civic Education, said West Virginia is one of the first states to dedicate a conference to civics education that embeds economics, entrepreneurship and geography education into the program.
McConnell, who coordinates a 50 state effort to revitalize and strengthen citizenship education, was the first of several nationally prominent speakers to take part in the Civics for the 21st Century Summer Institute July 24-27, 2006 at the Charleston Civic Center. The four-day event is sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Education.
“When students receive sustained and systematic civic learning opportunities, they become more knowledgeable about their government and how it affects them and more interested in politics, the news and current events,” McConnell said Monday.
McConnell said students who are taught civics also develop a healthy skepticism that motivates them to vote and participate in improving the system. Civics classes also make them more tolerant of those with differing in their opinions. Since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and its focus on student achievement, some state have short-changed civics education to spend more time on core subjects math and science. Educators sometimes forget about other subjects covered by the federal law. In fact, five of the 11 core subjects outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act are social studies-related: civics, government, economics, history and geography. The emphasis on math and science at the expense of other subjects often results in many high school students lacking a knowledge about their most basic civil liberties. “Teachers, administrators, policymakers and concerned citizens all over the nation have drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘Enough is enough. We will work together to restore the civic mission of our schools,’” McConnell said. The West Virginia Board of Education in 2004 adopted a policy that now requires civic education and government for high school graduation. The board revised West Virginia’s social studies content standards in 2005 to add personal finance to the civics classes. Also last year, West Virginia became the second state in the nation to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The Partnership's framework puts a special emphasis on civic and economic literacy as well as critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, global awareness and business literacy. “Civics education cannot be left to chance,” said state Board of Education Secretary Priscilla Haden. “It’s important for the future of society.” For more information about the Civics for the 21st Century Summer Institute or WVDE’s 21st Century Learner Initiative, contact Liza Cordeiro, WVDE Communications Office Executive Director at 304-558-2699.