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New Report: Civic Education and Deeper Learning

A comprehensive paper authored by CIRCLE's director and deputy director argues for a focus on skills and knowledge that prepare youth for civic life.

On February 5, Jobs for the Future (JFF) a national nonprofit that advocates for all youth to gain the skills they need to succeed in the economy, released a paper entitled “Civic Education and Deeper Learning” by CIRCLE Director Peter Levine and Deputy Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg. This paper was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of its Deeper Learning Initiative. It was discussed at a Harvard Graduate School of Education event: “More than College Readiness: Engaging Students in Work and Civic Life.”

The Hewlett Deeper Learning initiative envisions k-12 students “using their knowledge and skills in a way that prepares them for real life.” When deeper lear`ning occurs, students “are mastering core academic content, like reading, writing, math, and science, while learning how to think critically, collaborate, communicate effectively, direct their own learning, and believe in themselves (known as an ‘academic mindset’).” Deeper Learning should occur in all disciplines and should encourage interdisciplinary learning.

In “Civic Education and Deeper Learning,” Levine and Kawashima-Ginsberg argue that k-12 civic education must be strengthened to meet these goals. The best civic education exemplifies deeper learning, but many students receive more superficial and less interactive forms of civics. For its part, the deeper learning agenda must encompass civic education, because among the topics that students must learn to think critically about, discuss, and collaborate on are social and political issues.

The authors argue that aligning civic education with deeper learning points the way to pedagogical, curricular, and policy innovations that will be overlooked if we think of civic education as merely the acquisition of basic facts about the political system—the view that seems to drive such policies as requiring students to pass multiple-choice civics tests.