AUGUST 14, 2014
My civic-mindedness is a result of teachers who modeled for me what it meant to not just be aware of my rights but to exercise those rights. It all began with my parents. I’d see them read the newspaper every morning, watch the evening news at night, and vote when it was time to choose new leaders. In 8th grade a teacher encouraged me to enter a writing contest. The topic- The Constitution. My entry won and as a result I interned for New York State Representative Gary Ackerman. I’d watch him tackle social justice issues for many of New York’s underrepresented groups—those who didn’t have a voice or didn’t yet know how to exert their civic voice. I never pictured myself as a teacher. In fact, it is my second career. My first was a journalist and I proudly exerted my freedom of the press right! But when I began teaching, I was naturally drawn to social studies and civics. Over the years I’ve tried to instill and model for my students to be civically aware and active. “Be an UPstander, never a bystander!” I say.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “We have a complex system of government. You have to teach it to every generation.”
When I was introduced to iCivics about 4 years ago I wanted to scream about it from the rooftops. Justice O’Connor hit the nail on the head by engaging today’s youth where they are most comfortable- technology and games. EVERY single student of mine has loved iCivics and it has reinforced many concepts for ALL of them, without a doubt. iCivics breathed new life into civic education. It’s got avatars and Impact Points which players “donate” (turned into cash) to help community service groups fulfill their missions; players can run their own firm; get a taste of being the POTUS; balance a national budget; and argue landmark cases such as TLO v. New Jersey.
Then the iCivics Teacher Council formed. When the opportunity arose for me to join other teachers, who like me, understand and believe that civics MUST be taught—MUST be required—in our educational system—I was ecstatic! On July 15th, I met with 20 colleagues from around the country for one reason—unite and grow our network in order to use iCivics to support the current civics teaching happening in classrooms around the country.
The energy that flourished in Washington, D.C. July 15th-17th was riveting! Imagine being part of a team, actually a family of like-minded teachers, all advocates for civics and being able to discuss your concerns, ideas and needs with Justice O’Connor herself? Talk about going straight to the top! Justice O’Connor’s passion for the teaching of civics to every generation is as ardent today as it was the day she became the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court. We hope we can one day say it is happening in all classrooms around the country.
Whether we teach 8th grade or high school seniors, there’s one truth- our students will very soon be the citizens making decisions that will influence the direction of our world. It’s disheartening to know that the percentage of eligible voters in the Unites States who exert their civic responsibilities (vote, jury duty, etc) is embarrassingly low for such a wealthy country with universal education. As Justice O’Connor says, “We pay a price when we deprive children of the exposure to the values, principles, and education they need to make them good citizens”. Our young people are learning apathy, not engagement. Our goal as Teacher Council members is to change that.
Soljane Martinez Quiles teaches at The Highlander Charter School in Providence, RI, a Pre-K - 12 dedicated to nurturing passion and curiosity for learning, exposing students to advanced content and engaging students in real-world opportunities and learning. She enjoys spending time with her sons (ages 7 and 10), reading, martial arts, fitness and salsa dancing.