Why does citizenship matter? For my students, citizenship does not carry much importance. The reason is partly developmental. These students are more self-obsessed and knowing or learning the benefits of citizenship seems too distant to matter. The other main issue is that the classroom venues for learning about citizenship are not at all exciting or even engaging. Students see citizenship as a given, as something that they will always as have, as a fixed good. They also see school and the opportunities within them as given. This, of course, ignores all the struggles and hardships that came before them.
The key to changing the students' attitudes about this topic isn't more lectures or more class. These students need a more personal connection with the material and the questions about citizenship. Creating a research project directed towards these questions will help students understand how these cases came about and their impact on how our nation views citizenship. It will also give students a more personal connection with the questions that our nation has faced about citizenship.
The other main benefit of this will be that it will push students to do some online research. As schools move to the Common Core, independent work and individual drive will play a larger role in our students' success. This means that giving students meaningful research projects to complete will also better prepare them for their future tests. This is also a developmentally appropriate way to test and push our students. Since they are egocentric, personal stories and epics have a better chance of connecting with them and making a lasting impression.
In my classroom, as I am sure in others, I am constantly trying to figure out ways to get students interested in the study of history and why we should study it. History seems disconnected from their experiences and the issue persists throughout our studies. While simulations and historical experiments have improved my students' relationship with history, there are still many barriers. My students see history as a finite and pre-determined sequence of events and occurrences. While no one project can break that paradigm, it is important for students to see and understand how differently events, verdicts and actions could have unfolded.
Many of my students also face difficult situations with the legal world. Many often find the government and agents of the government as interfering with their lives and well-being. From PPTs to 504s to DCF meetings, the government and the legal world constantly impacts them. Many see themselves as helpless in these situations and simply try to survive the situation without much success. Giving them some exposure to the inner working of legal world might go much further than just providing them with a better understanding of how change can occur in the US.