Making Democracy Work


A Public Forum on Civics Education in Falmouth

LWV of Falmouth Local Study for 2013-2015

Promoting Good Citizenship in Falmouth Schools

How do Falmouth students experience civics education and learn about civic engagement? What parts do the academic curriculum and experiential learning play in promoting good citizenship? On April 16, 2014, the League of Women Voters of Falmouth presented a public forum that should answer these questions to the satisfaction of Falmouth citizens, but especially of those with children and grandchildren attending Falmouth's public elementary, middle and secondary schools.

Concerned that, nationally, a large percentage of younger Americans (18 to 25 year olds) do not vote, the Local Study Committee of the Falmouth League set about to discover what Falmouth students learn about civic responsibility. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonnie Gifford and Mark Wilson, Falmouth Curriculum Coordinator, and many other Falmouth educators have given generously of their time to help the League promote local awareness and understanding of their work through this forum.

Marian Lans, History Department Head for grades 7 through 12, spoke about civic education frameworks and civics education embedded in courses. Falmouth High School faculty members Michael Feeney, Joanne Holcomb and Cheryl Milliken spoke about curricular and experiential offerings. Grade One teacher Taryn Dean talked about the programs in which her students participate.

Several former and current Falmouth High School students talked about their own civic education and present a comparative then-and-now view. Tom Moakley, currently a student at Georgetown University, has submitted a video about the importance of participation in government that was shown at the forum.

Town Clerk Michael Palmer and State Representative/ Town Meeting moderator David Vieira also spoke.

Civics Education at Falmouth High School

Our cultural heritage as Americans is as diverse as we are, but our political heritage is one + the vision of a common life in liberty, justice and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To protect that vision, Thomas Jefferson prescribed a general education not just for the few but for all citizens. Our schools are called upon to purposely impart to their students the learning necessary for an informed, reasoned allegiance to the ideals of a free society based upon these three convictions:
1. That democracy is the worthiest form of human governance ever conceived.
2. That we cannot take democracy's survival for granted.
3. That this survival depends upon our transmitting to each new generation the political vision of liberty and equality that unites us as Americans. * (Adapted from Education for Democracy: A Statement of Principles)

At Falmouth High School, courses are designed to help students become knowledgeable and self-fulfilling individuals able to deal with and direct change within our democratic society. To these ends there are the following courses: a two-year American history requirement, a two year AP American history course and an elective on American history from 1960 to the present which will replace this year's Current Events elective. In addition to these, there is a mandatory Senior Project aimed at stretching students' social consciousness.

Civics education also takes place outside the academic curriculum. Students may take active roles in student government, participate in simulations of government bodies and engage in a number of other extra-curricular programs. They can participate in a Model United Nations, where two students recently won awards, the Massachusetts Bar Association's Mock Trial program and Massachusetts Student Government Day. Falmouth High School students also have the opportunity to join the Civic Leadership Project, a group which discusses social problems and undertakes projects to address them.

Falmouth High School also recognizes individual volunteer activities. Students are encouraged to register their volunteer hours with VIPS (Volunteers in Public Schools) which compiles records students can use in applying to college.

Educating Children for Citizenship Begins Early

From their earliest years in our public schools, Falmouth children are learning through experience many aspects of good citizenship. In elementary grades, children make gardens to see where food comes from and learn about the earth-to-table processes involved. Some classes visit the Falmouth Historical Society's museum and docents also take objects to classrooms to show aspects of life in the early history of our town; whaling, food and clothing production, governing and entertainment are all part of its history as well as being responsibilities of many different citizens over the years.

Very young children hear stories about people and events that are celebrated at national holidays, thus providing a beginning of their civic identity. From first grade on their identity as American citizens is re-enforced and expanded as they learn that the United States is a nation of immigrants and citizens represent all races and many different ethnicities and religions. The study of geography and time lines of the many different world civilizations gives children an introduction to the larger world and students can begin to see themselves as part of that world.

At the Lawrence and Morse Pond schools, students can participate in forms of student government, and at election time, some schools become polling stations where the example of citizens exercising their fundamental right and responsibility to vote can be seen by our young future voters. Variations on the "town meeting" concept is also alive and well at several of our schools. Modeling adult participation in representative government is a powerful way of learning about the roles of adult citizens.

Service learning activities are an important part of civic education in our schools. These include food and toy collection drives which can introduce children to an appreciation of a greater sense of what constitutes good citizenship. Coastal sweeps or clean-up and analysis of refuse introduce ecology concepts. Water quality studies include observation and measurement. All of these expand children's understanding of the richness and complexity of civic responsibility.