Civics Education for Educators

For three days in June, I had the pleasure of teaching in Western State Colorado University's Summer Teacher Institute.  I taught American Government and Effective Advocacy for 2 graduate credits.  The course participants were educators in a variety of settings--two elementary school teachers, two high school civics teachers, and one environmental studies college professor.  The participants came in with a pretty wide range of knowledge about civics and government, but all agreed that we need to prioritize civics in schools and society. 

We focused on three concepts: civic knowledge, civic values, and civic skills.  We agreed that schools primarily focus on civic knowledge (the structure and function of the government), but that the general public demonstrates a low level of understanding. 

In the course, we examined federalism (enumerated powers v. police powers; the 10th Amendment; the supremacy clause and preemption), Congress (structure and organization; the legislative path; enumerated powers, specifically the necessary and proper clause, tax and spend clause, and the commerce clause; post-Civil War Amendments), the judicial branch (structure and organization; federal jurisdiction; judicial review; limitations such as standing, ripeness, and mootness), the President (the Electoral College; inherent and Congressionally-granted powers; foreign policy; impeachment and civil suits), administrative agencies (structure and organization; creation; rulemaking and adjudications; limitations on agency action; judicial review), procedural due process (sources; meaning; personal jurisdiction; notice and opportunity; important components of a civil lawsuit), fundamental rights (Bill of Rights; incorporation; state actor requirement; recognition of new rights), and equal protection (levels of scrutiny).   We also discussed strategies for legal reading and analysis and briefed a case as a class exercise. 

We also discussed the principles of effective advocacy and ran through a hypothetical involving potential legislation and regulations around public lands.  

The course participants brainstormed with each other and generated several ideas for lesson plans, class exercises, or school-wide clubs, activities, or policies to promote civic knowledge, values, and skills. 

I strongly believe that lawyers have an important role to play in educating the public about civics and good government.  I left the course more energized and committed to promoting civics education as a core value of the legal profession.  The Summer Institute is a fabulous program that gives educators the opportunity to earn professional credit through a really wide variety of course offerings.  I look forward to working with Western State and the Summer Teacher Institute to expand future course offerings in civics, government, law, and advocacy.