The way we teach civics matters. In this week’s video, Carolina Friends School teacher Randall Williams shows how Quaker School teachers can engage students by showing civics in action.
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- How did you learn about civics and government? What value do you see in Randall’s approach to it?
- Randall says that at many Friends Schools, conflict is seen as inevitable, creative, transformational, and an invitation to pause and reflect. Is this what you were taught about conflict? What happens in our community when we see conflict this way?
When students are given a chance to apply their knowledge, they really learn the lesson. If you say, “Open up to page 200; this is the way that checks and balances work,” you might as well not even say that, because oftentimes the kids are daydreaming. They don’t have context for how that impacts their lives. So to teach civics with an actual application I think is the only way to really teach it.
How to Teach Civics in a Quaker School
My name is Randall Williams, I am a teacher at Carolina Friends School and today we’re filming here on my farm, Fireside Farm in Efland.
Teaching “Quaker Advocacy”
For the last 3 years, I’ve taught a class called “Quaker Advocacy.” In that class, we learn about Quakerism and then also public policy and particularly advocacy and lobbying skills. The focal point of that class is work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, which is a Quaker lobby in the public interest. The Friends Committee on National Legislation sets up a Spring Lobby Weekend where they invite students from around the country and trains those participants in the best ways to lobby: how to be civil, how to frame the conversation, how to use personal narratives, and then will support them as they go and they meet with their senators and their representatives.
Designing a Growth Experience
You cannot be for certain that an experience is going to be transformative. That happens on the students’ own terms, but you can at least set the right circumstances. So what that means is when you introduce them to people who are different, make that engagement profound and meaningful with authentic conversations. Don’t just tell them to go to the protest rally, tell them to go to the offices of somebody that they disagree with and have a meaningful conversation with them.
For our purposes, the class is a real primer in the legislative process. It is the embodiment of what’s called “action civics”: learning about the way our government functions by participating in it.
Teaching By Example
Spring Lobby Weekend is important to my students because it shows them consistency between the ethical belief and the application, the action. They need adults showing them, “I care about climate change. I’m taking this weekend to go lobby my legislator. I believe in democracy. I believe in representative democracy so I’m participating in it.”
In a Quaker school, a critical number of adults need to model for the students what that engagement looks like on the adult end. Spring Lobby Weekend is a really easy way for schools to show students ethical consistency.
Engaging With Conflict As a Learning Opportunity
My Quaker Advocacy class exists within the context of North Carolina politics, which, over my students’ lifetime, has been contentious and nasty. It has taken a lot for me and them to unprogram ourselves from the type of incivility and winner-takes-all mentality that characterizes politics.
I think a lot of what students learn at a Quaker school is the peaceful resolution of conflict. We see conflict as inevitable, as creative, as transformational, and an invitation to pause, to reflect upon where these differences have come from.
Conflict, for us, ideally, is an invitation to engage in dialogue. “What do you see from your perspective of this reality? This is what I see from my perspective. What have we got here? Ok, let’s explore this together.”
The Friends Committee on National Legislation has really helped us – has trained us – to engage in politics with integrity rather than one-upmanship.
The Quaker Way to Lobby
Lobbying, in addition to being about civics, is about a healthy way of dealing with conflict. It’s about recognizing that somebody has a different opinion from you and standing in such a way that says, ”Here’s my truth. What’s your truth? Let’s navigate this together civilly.” So the lobbying is just practice for the kinds of conversations that these students are going to have in their workplaces, in their family lives, in their private relationships and with their friends.
There is a path of integrity. And that is what the Friends Committee on National Legislation teaches my students.
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