Teaching Civic Education

Social Capital Curriculum/Curricula
We suspect that individuals trained in the importance of social capital and in how to build social capital will be more personally effective throughout their lives and their communities will similarly prosper. Some evidence suggesting that 'social capitalists' are trained rather than born as social capitalists comes from "Teaching Executives to See Social Capital: Results From a Field Experiment" (Ron Burt and Don Ronchi, March 2006) that showed that business executives taught about social capital in an executive education class were more effective long-term than similar executives not taught about this.

Jonathan Milner (Winston-Salem, NC) teaches social capital at the high school level over a week long period. Here is a list of questions and exercises he uses and a mini-unit on social capital and Bowling Alone.

At their 2006 annual meeting, the University of South Florida Collaborative for Children, Families and Communities enlisted high school students to make recommendations about how better to build social capital. Read the story here.

Sofi Frankowski, a teacher at Fremont High School (Sunnyvale, CA) and Southeast Raleigh High School (Raleigh, NC) in conjunction with Dan Cotton, Ina Sakaguchi and Bob Grover (Fremont H.S.) developed the MOSAIC program (Making Our School An Inclusive Community) in 1997, and Sofi taught it from 1998-2003. The course was built on the premise that all students can become leaders and that by raising the awareness of the importance of strong social connections and helping students navigate those connections, they could become more successful. In Saguaro's jargon, the program worked on both creating bridging social capital and fostering civic leadership and engagement. Here is a MOSAIC Project Overview, a list of the leadership traits they hoped to instill, some sample lesson plans, their final exam, and a list of questions to consider in developing a project.

The Melton Foundation uses a Desert Survival Game to teach the wisdom of collective knowledge. Members of the group read the problem; then each individual has to rank the items in terms of their importance to survival. Following that, the group discusses their choices and then comes to a collective decision about how to rank the items. Invariably, a much higher percentage of group members survive with the group's prioritization than the individuals'. A variant on this in the context of Lunar Survival can be found in this PowerPoint presentation.

For students to better understand the importance of trust, it may be useful to do some exercises where trust and collaboration play an important role in performance. Some of these trust exercises can be found here. This Melton Foundation Trust exercise is also interesting.

[Please e-mail us other interesting curricula you've seen on social capital or related topics for elementary to high school students or college students.]

Related Curricula
Project 540 was started by the Pew Charitable Trust and has since been passed off to the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The project's objective has been to give teens a voice on the issues that are most important to them in their schools, communities, nation, and world. To this end, Project 540 has initiated student-led dialogues in nearly 250 high schools nationwide. Read NASSP's report here.

YouthOnBoard has been working with Boston Public Schools on teen voice and has a grant from the Surdna Foundation to write up their experience for others.

A Cry For Character (by Dary Matera) describes one high school's efforts to restore its civic culture. At Mundelein High School in Illinois in 1995, the administration had proven ineffective at stanching a series of pranks and rowdy behavior. A group of students, aided by a French teacher (Royer), enlisted students in a successful effort to restore civility through cross-grade small discussion groups, led by student-trained leaders. The students and Royer, following an approach tried at neighboring Deerfield High, convinced the administration to develop a curriculum on moral character and civic values that blossomed among the younger students. Administrators agreed "to be more tolerant of minor misbehavior and more flexible in their response to situations requiring disciplinary action" with the result of a changed school culture and spirit.

College Curricula
"The Lasting Impact of College on Young Adults’ Civic and Political Engagement" (2005) (by Kim Misa, Jodi Anderson, and Erica Yamamura, Higher Education Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles) describes how colleges can foster students' civic and political engagement through experiences like community diverse, diverse peer networks, etc.

Here are some sample college syllabi:

Service Learning
The Learning In Deed Commission has put out an interesting report and has on the importance of “service learning” (community service that is tied to classroom learning).

More Curricula
Sites like the Center for Civics Education offer “civics education” curricula.

Harvard University's Institute of Politics also has a CIVICS program (where college students teach civic engagement).

Learning to Give has lesson plans for classes K-12 on philanthropy, civil society and social capital, and these lesson plans are tied to state educational standards.

PBS has some good resources on civic engagement entitled Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st Century Civic Engagement..