Citizenship Educationand the
world wide web


C. Frederick Risinger
For decades, educators, policy makers, and average citizens have argued about the purpose and content of social studies. The appropriate "role" of academic disciplines such as history and geography within the social studies curriculum has been heatedly debated. But, for all the arguments, convention speeches, and journal articles, it seems clear that the term citizenship education lies at the heart of social studies. We teach history and geography and U.S. government and all the other courses; but our purpose is not to create historians or geographers. Instead, we are helping our students acquire the knowledge, skills, and, most importantly, the dispositions necessary for an informed and active citizenry.
While I'm sure that our colleagues in science and mathematics and other subject areas might disagree, it seems to me that teaching social studies is far more than just teaching a subject. It is (if you'll pardon the lexicon of growing up in the southern Midwest) a calling. Without an informed citizenry committed to the principles of the American democratic system and willing to participate in that process, the nation as we know it cannot and will not survive. As usual, Thomas Jefferson expressed it best when he wrote in 1816, "Where everyman is participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year but every day, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte."

Recent developments in technology have brought us to the threshold of direct democracy, as practiced in a New England town meeting or-to a degree-in ancient Athens. In a recent article, Charlie White warns that "most citizens are not prepared to participate in anything approaching direct democracy."1 The vast, complex, and sometimes befuddling storehouse of information on the World Wide Web (WWW) makes our task as citizen educators both more important and more difficult. There is a critical need for professional development programs to help preservice and inservice teachers use the World Wide Web effectively and design learning activities that enlighten rather than confuse or turn off our students. Today, a website developed by a West Virginia peace commune or a hate-mongering neo-Nazi group can appear just as sophisticated and information-rich as a site maintained by the U.S. State Department or "Thomas," the website of the U.S. Congress (http://thomas.loc.gov/). Helping young people develop the skills of obtaining, evaluating, and using information has always been a significant goal of social studies education. That goal will become increasingly important as the Information Age roars into the 21st century.

There is an overwhelming number of websites related, in one way or another, to citizenship education. I've selected only a few. However, as WWW users know, a single site will lead you to hundreds of others. You might as well begin with the aforementioned "Thomas." Newt Gingrich's brainchild includes up-to-date information about current legislation moving through Congress, including both summaries and the complete text of bills. It also has links to many primary documents and to nearly all websites managed by federal, state, and a number of local governments. Here are more sites that I think you'll find interesting, useful, and exciting.

The Civic Practices Network
http://www.cpn.org/index.html
Civic Practices Network (CPN) is a collaborative and nonpartisan project that brings together a diverse array of organizations and perspectives within the new citizenship movement. While it is not exclusively focused on K-12 education, it can provide provocative ideas and projects for both students and teachers. Its goal is to bring practical methods for public problem solving into every community and institutional setting in America. The Network is designed to bring schooling for active citizenship, which has always been at the heart of our rich democratic and public life, into the Information Age.

Civnet
http://civnet.org/
Civnet, developed and underwritten by the U.S. Information Agency, was introduced in June 1995 at the Prague Civitas conference on strengthening civic education in new and old democracies. It's an international gateway to information on civic education, providing a vast library of civics teaching resources, discourse on civil society, information on organizations and programs, and links to other web sites. Resources include book-length documents, articles, and many lesson plans contributed by educators, authors, and organizations. It also offers a discussion group, CivTalk, through which educators, teachers, and researchers can talk with colleagues about teaching materials and resources, as well as exchange information, ideas, and experiences.

The Close Up Foundation
http://www.closeup.org/home.htm
Close Up has been an NCSS partner in many citizenship education programs. Their website always has a major issue under discussion. Articles, graphics, and opinion essays designed for student use are available, as well as links to a wide variety of other websites interested in citizen education.

C-SPAN
http://www.c-span.org/
Every knows about C-SPAN, but if you haven't used their website, give it a try. You can actually hear audio from both C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 on weekdays. The topics covered by C-SPAN are quite varied and should appeal to students of different abilities and diverse interests.

The Electronic Model Congress
http://www.col-ed.org/pro/temc.html
Teachers from eighty secondary schools all across the United States participate in The Electronic Model Congress (TEMC) project. The program focuses on civics, citizenship, and telecomputing skills. Teacher participants work to improve the civics literacy, political involvement, and leadership skills of students in small-town and rural schools. The program especially addresses the national goal of preparing youth for effective and responsible citizenship, including application of technology in a global economy.

The Electronic Policy Network
http://epn.org/
This site is a "must" for your bookmarks, as verified by its inclusion in the "Top Five Websites" list and USA Today's "HotSite" list. It has well-selected information on contemporary and significant public issues such as Economics and Politics, Welfare and Families, Education, Civic Participation, Health Policy, and Media Old & New. If you want your students to understand and be able to talk and write about the major issues of the day, this is the site for you. Whether you assign students to do research on the site, or use it as a teacher resource where you download information to be used by your students, you won't find a better place on the Web.

RealCom: National Politics & Personalities
http://www.rtis.com/nat/pol/
I always have to include a website like this one. It's a source for links to just about every political party, pressure group, and quirky politically-oriented group you or your students will ever want to read about. It provides excellent examples of websites that you can use to teach about determining the validity of information. The array of sites you can reach from RealCom includes all of the major and minor U.S. political parties, political conspiracy sites (these are great for student analysis), the National Rifle Association, socialist parties from around the world, religious-oriented political groups, and the G. Gordon Liddy Home Page.

Social Studies Sources
http://education.indiana.edu/~socialst/
Change your bookmarks. For over two years, Howard Levin of Washington state has maintained one of the best general websites for K-12 social studies educators, Social Studies Sources. Howard has accepted a new administrative position and cannot continue with this endeavor. Along with Robert Konczal, a graduate student at Indiana University, I have taken over management of the site. Bob and I hope to continue its high reputation among social studies educators. We'll be making some changes and adding new categories over time. Stop in and give us your ideas and suggestions.

Notes
1. Charles S. White, "Citizenship Participation and the Internet: Prospects for Civic Deliberation in the Information Age," Social Studies 88 (1997): 23-28.

C. Frederick Risinger is associate director of Teacher Education at Indiana University and a former NCSS president. He spends far too much time surfing the Web.

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