What We Believe: We believe K-12 students across the country have the power to shape America into the true democracy it has consistently aspired to become. We also believe that, rather than simply sharing knowledge about justice and human welfare with students, we must view them as active learners. We must consider and use developmental science to leverage students' capacity for understanding complex issues around race and justice, allow them to wrestle with hard truths, and provide them the opportunity to work collaboratively to solve various issues.
What We Do: Educating for Democracy is a transdisciplinary initiative focused on supporting K-12 teachers and students grappling with issues of race and justice in their classrooms through civics education resources. Although many issues of injustice deserve attention, we assert that race has served a central function in structuring systems (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow) within the U.S. and, thus, must be reckoned with to create a more equitable society.
The Educating for Democracy Initiative was born out of a desire to merge what we know about human development with what we need to know about the past to create a better future. Researchers and practitioners from UVA School of Education and Human Development's Center for Race and Public Education in the South (CRPES), Center to Promote Effective Youth Development (YouthNex), and the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education (CISE), created and compiled civics education resources with an emphasis on civic discourse.
Our resources focus on dialogue because we are living during a time when people holding differing positions are increasingly polarized. Dialogue is underutilized, and contrasting perspectives are often ignored or dismissed. Central to any democracy is substantial space for engaging in generative conversation about contentious issues between people who hold differing views, so they may find effective solutions for complex problems.
We also realize that not every issue can or should lead to compromise through dialogue. One's humanity can and should never be up for negotiation. Therefore, civic action is a central piece of this work to encourage students to use what they have learned to enact change.
This initiative is framed by developmental science and is grounded in critical histories and culturally responsive teaching practices. Our goal is to develop K-12 students into justice-oriented citizens by engaging them in developmentally appropriate peer-to-peer civic discourse based on rich historical content related to issues of race and justice in the U.S. context. We are also committed to helping teachers nurture in students the skills needed to address today’s most pressing issues.
What We Create: Educating for Democracy resources include individual lesson plans, integrated units, independent activities and teacher professional development materials. Elementary and secondary materials all focus on the perspectives of those who have been marginalized by their racial-ethnic identity. Elementary school lessons rely on fiction and nonfiction literature to engage students, while middle and high school units use primary sources and extensively researched secondary sources to investigate complex topics. All lesson materials have been reviewed by historians and experts in developmental science.
These instructional resources are designed to be flexible, so teachers can meet the needs of their unique classroom environments. Resources can be used as supplementary materials or integrated into existing curricula. Instructional resources have additional extension activities for social and civic engagement. Teacher professional development resources include research on the theoretical perspectives guiding lesson development, teachers' racial-ethnic identity development, an inclusive language glossary, and information on existing alternative social justice curricula to support teacher efforts.
Support for the Educating for Democracy initiative comes from the following sponsors:
Bank of America Charitable Foundation and Charlottesville Area Community Foundation