Opinion | ETHS should add more mandatory projects to Civics curriculum

Civics is defined as “the study of the rights and duties of citizenship.” In 2015, the State of Illinois decided that high school students need to explore that idea. Former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law requiring Illinois high schools to administer a semester-long Civics class. The goal was to increase students’ exposure to problems in their communities and learn about ways to help solve them.

At ETHS, teachers and administrators were tasked with rolling out a new sophomore history class. History department chair Nicole Parker explains the vision for the class. 

“I surveyed students who were sophomores (before Civics), and the summary was that they didn’t really know what their place was within the context of history, but also the context of the school,” Parker says. “So I think that the main goal of the course is really for sophomores to walk out at the end of the year understanding and knowing that they have the capacity to create change in the world and their communities and their school.” 

Currently, teachers are given a lot of freedom in their everyday teaching. Ultimately, it also results in a lack of consistency from class to class. 

“[Civics] is probably one of the hardest courses to teach, because it’s not something that’s set in stone,” Parker says. To not be set in stone means that one class might be oriented around current events and applying knowledge of history to the present. The next one might not talk about current events at all. It might focus exclusively on the readings and assignments in the minimalistic, base Civics curriculum.

However, I understand that every student has a different experience as a result of the non-consistent curriculum. I have talked to several sophomores and many of them like their class. Often, it is because they like their teacher, they enjoy the freedom in the class and they learn about current events every time they enter their Civics classroom. They get the benefits of learning about the essential things going on in the world today, something that every student deserves. 

Despite the vague curriculum, there is one clearly laid-out assignment; the Civics in Action Project. This assignment is given in the fourth quarter of all Civics classes across ETHS. Students may choose a topic they care about and create a project about it. Some teachers require that students volunteer for an organization related to the topic selected, while others just assign it as a more typical school project. In the future, this project should be the building block for an improved curriculum.

As I stated, the issue isn’t that everyone hates their Civics class. It’s that there isn’t enough guidance in the curriculum for teachers to know what to prioritize. If there were more curriculum or a more structured class, there wouldn’t be such stark inconsistencies from one class to the next. Specifically, there should be more than just the Civics in Action Project and a few books that teachers can use. There should be more intensive assignments about texts that directly relate to the world right now. I would like to read more about the history of my Evanston community. I would like to learn more about civic engagement opportunities over the entire school year, not just in the fourth quarter. I would like a mandate that every Civics class spends a certain amount of time discussing current events every week. Most importantly, the ETHS administration needs to reassess the Civics curriculum and make necessary and critical improvements to it.

Parker concludes, “I’m proud of the course. But at the same time, I understand it’s not perfect. The teachers who teach Humanities or US History have a basis on which to build what they’re going to do in class. Civics doesn’t have that.” 

Overall, this was a class built on the idea of engaging students. It was built on the idea of education and growth. It was built on the idea of teaching civic rights and duties for generations to come. Now, it’s time to make good on those ideas. It’s time to make a change to the Civics curriculum.