ABOUT THE CURRICULUM
An initiative of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (EJSCE) at Harvard University, the Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP) is part of a consortium of ethics and civic education initiatives at Harvard called the Design Studio at the EJSCE. The Design Studio is led by Dr. Meira Levinson, faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and EJSCE faculty committee member. The DKP offers curriculum development resources, professional development workshops for educators, and assessment tools and resources—all in support of education for constitutional democracy.
Our 8th grade curriculum, "Civic Engagement in our Democracy" was originally co-created in collaboration with the History and Social Studies Department and 8th grade educators in the Cambridge Public Schools in 2019. We subsequently collaborated with over 38 educators in 15 Massachusetts districts (including Cambridge) in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years to implement and provide input on revision of subsequent iterations of that curriculum.
In September 2021, the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recognized "Civic Engagement in Our Democracy" as one of just four comprehensive, year-long core civics materials meeting DESE's standards for high quality- out of nearly 100 reviewed by an expert educator panel.
Other important points about our approach to 8th grade civics:
- We welcome interest in the Democratic Knowledge Project’s Grade 8, “Civic Engagement in Our Democracy,” curriculum. An introduction to the content of the course, centered on American civic institutions, United States history, the philosophical foundations of constitutional democracy, and the development of civic agency, is available free of charge for all via HarvardX: https://www.edx.org/course/civic-engagement-in-us-democracy
- We seek to offer students opportunities for deeper civic learning, in which students develop a civic identity by integrating their understanding of their potential civic roles with self-understanding of their personal identity and values, mastery of knowledge about our constitutional democracy, and the skills necessary for effective civic participation. Our curriculum aligns with the Massachusetts state standards for history and social studies and the Civics Legislation of 2018, as well as the state’s guidance for student-led civic projects. Our curriculum supports experiential and viewpoint diversity, and seeks to help students integrate their own perspectives with embrace of a civic role.
- For our definition of constitutional democracy, we adopt the definition offered in the bi-partisan American Academy of Arts and Science report, Our Common Purpose (https://www.amacad.org/ourcommonpurpose/report):
In the twenty-first century, democracy refersto a politicalsystem in which legislative and chief executive decision-makers are elected by majority or plurality rule by eligible voters, with a presumption that the franchise approaches universal adult suffrage among legal citizens and that mechanisms are in place to protect ideological, religious, ethnic, and other demographic minorities. .... In traditions of American political thought, all these terms capture forms of rights-based representative government in which 1) elected government leadership is constrained by constitutionalism, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the free expression of the people, and the legal protection and moral affirmation of the rights of individuals; and 2) groups and parties that are not part of electoral majorities cannot easily be disenfranchised or suffer loss of rights. We do not naively claim that more democracy simply in the form of more participation willsolve our problems. We seek instead to achieve healthy connections between robust participation and political institutions worthy of participation.
- All students should enter adulthood with the dispositions, knowledge and skills they need for effective civic engagement in a constitutional democracy defined as above. We define the core civic role that students need to learn how to perform as being a member of a self-governing community committed to shared decision-making.
- We are currently piloting the curriculum and welcome feedback on the curriculum via our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org; we launched co-design of the curriculum with Cambridge Public Schools in 2018, and are grateful now to be engaged in co-design with additional districts; we expect that the curriculum will continue to evolve over the coming 2-3 years, and appreciate input and suggestions.
- In the U.S. we currently invest approximately $50 of federal monies per student per year in STEM education and 5 cents of federal monies per student per year in civics education. This is a good indication of our disinvestment over time in civics education. Consequently, as we seek now to rebuild civic education, we must start from a recognition that we are building anew and that collectively we have to develop new muscles for delivering civic education. This requires a context of experimentation, evaluation, and redesign as we begin to work our way to stable, effective, and broadly accepted approaches to civic education. For this reason, we work on a process of co-design with educators, inviting educators to build on our curriculum with their own materials and to share back to us what works and what doesn’t work, to support learning and re-design over time. We also support a research team to evaluate what is and isn’t working in the curriculum.
- In addition to piloting the curriculum, we are currently piloting professional development for educators, and we also welcome feedback and input on that. Our approaches to professional development will also evolve over the coming years.
- Our belief is that communities supporting schools need to be engaged in the development of the civic learning of their schools, and we welcome and encourage parent engagement and feedback about what is and isn’t working, as we collectively seek to help our young people become successful participants in the rewarding project of civic engagement.
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The Democratic Knowledge Project is an initiative of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.