Linking History and Current Issues
In Diana Laufenberg's 11th grade American history class, students must complete an active citizenship activity every quarter. In the first quarter of the year, students go to the polls and interview voters about why they choose to vote. In the second quarter, students attend a public meeting of the city council, the school board, or another community group of their choice. In the third quarter, students volunteer for a community service organization. And in the final quarter, students build on one of the first three activities.
These projects powerfully reinforce the work of the classroom. When students study the Voting Rights Act or discuss the American Dream, they see how historical events and modern-day issues are linked. Senior Yadi Angeles-Figueroa explained that the election-day project helped her understand how the most basic act of citizenship, voting, is tied into a much larger picture of what it means to be an American. As she interviewed voters, she connected their stories with what she had learned in class about the struggles of disenfranchised groups to get the vote.
Diana Laufenberg talks about the need to make American history relevant and powerful to students:
Democracy is not a spectator sport. To enable students to both appreciate the history they learn and apply it to their lives, they must engage in the day-to-day working of their own communities. The spiraling back and forth between their personal experiences and the lessons of history allow a connection to the past that I cannot create otherwise.
We owe it to our students to create pathways for them to meaningfully engage in the civic world while learning about their nation's history.
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