One Community, One Nation
A K-5 study of Community and Civics
Welcome to the One Community, One Nation Project
One Community, One Nation is an elementary social studies curriculum framework, currently under development, focused on teaching young people that they can make a positive difference in the world around them. Children need to understand and experience what it means to be part of a community and the essential interdependence of people within a community. They need to appreciate the value of diversity and understand that the diversity of cultures and races of the people who live here enrich this nation. They need to understand that our rights as citizen and our democratic heritage evolved over time as people confronted the need to advocate for, extend and protect religious, civil and political liberties. The One Community, One Nation curriculum will empower students to be effective, participatory citizens who thoughtfully question, connect to the past to the present, and who will enter the world with an ethic of care and service. Students in grades K-5 will be exploring the concepts of community, culture, and civics explicitly, and through case studies of American history. One Community, One Nation encourages students to value inclusive and just communities, honor and affirm cultural diversity, and become responsible and contributing members of our democratic society.
The One Community, One Nation project has its origins in the Hudson Public Schools, Hudson, MA and the Jefferson County Public Schools, in Louisville, KY. The Andover Public Schools is currently adapting this framework for implementation in our five elementary schools. We will be building teacher teams to develop the instructional materials needed to bring valuable conversations about the value of civics, community and culture to our students, in order to empower them to make a difference in their community.
CIVIC EDUCATION IN THE ELEMENTARY YEARS: ONE COMMUNITY, ONE NATION
The Greek roots of the word “democracy” point to a system of government in which the governed people exert power at the ballot box, giving themselves a voice in how their lives may unfold. In today’s America, the “people” are a highly diverse group, teeming with a complex mix of cultures, races, religions, ages, economic levels, careers, physical conditions, political viewpoints, and personal concerns. This mix, while fascinating to observe in the abstract, also presents America with the pragmatic problem of a society that is inherently engaged in a never-ending struggle among competing interests and resources.
In the midst of these many differences, one commonality stands out: every adult who casts a vote on any issue, large or small, was at one time a student. It is during those years of “student-hood” that the course of future civic behavior can be strongly influenced. In fact, the central mission of public education is to create a well-informed and well-educated public that enables our democracy to thrive.
In order for students to become contributing members of our community and active participants in our democracy, they need to develop civic competence, an appreciation of diversity, an understanding of their historical heritage, and an ability to think carefully and critically about the problems confronting our society. However, all too often at the elementary level, instruction in social studies—particularly civics—simply means teaching children to abide by the rules, understand patriotic symbols, and learn a simplified and episodic version of early American history as teachers race from early exploration of the Americas to the formation of the Republic. Given the emphasis on literacy and numeracy in the elementary grades, social studies instruction tends to receive limited time and focus.
This lack of attention to the development of civic understandings and skills among elementary-age children arises in part from a misconception that children are unaware of the social and political world around them and are unable to understand that world. We inaccurately assume that if we provide children with basic academic competency, they will naturally develop into good citizens. In fact, research indicates that children from a very young age are formulating a conception of how society works and their role in it. In a longitudinal study of children’s political understanding, Moore, Lare, and Wagner (1985) found that some children were already aware of selected current political events in kindergarten. Even more significant, the researchers found that children made the greatest gains in political understanding between second and fourth grades.
The elementary-level social studies programs currently on the market generally fail to address civics in a significant or comprehensive way. This deficiency has a particularly detrimental impact on students living in poverty in urban environments. Economic inequality, racism, and other forms of injustice leave an extended generational impact of dis-empowerment in their wake. The day-in/day-out grind of the culture of poverty and discrimination leads individuals to feel helpless to change their circumstances. A call for civic engagement means little to a person who expects no return on the investment of time and effort. It’s entirely possible that the academic achievement gap that has plagued our schools for decades may actually stem at least in part from an empowerment gap experienced by students and their families. What students from these circumstances need is a strong social studies curriculum that teaches them about the value of community, honors and affirms cultural diversity, and develops the knowledge, skills and convictions to overcome personal circumstances and become responsible and contributing members of our democratic society.
For these students in particular need of our support, but also for all elementary students of this nation, we can and must do better. Districts as diverse as the Hudson Public Schools in Hudson, Massachusetts, the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Andover Public Schools in Andover, Massachusetts, have created a powerful new framework for elementary social studies. This curriculum enables students to experience the value of community and culture and empowers them to participate in making a difference for themselves and their community. At the same, the approach taken in the One Community, One Nation (OCON) curriculum recognizes one of the primary reasons that social studies receives so little attention in the elementary grades—that is, the traditional emphasis on literacy—and uses that reason as an avenue to bolster civic understanding. One Community, One Nation is designed to integrate with and build upon students’ literacy development through the use of children’s literature and non-fiction in such basic literacy program components as interactive read-alouds, independent reading, Reader’s Workshop and Writer’s Workshop. It also integrates visual and dramatic arts as vehicles to deepen and demonstrate understanding. In this way, One Community, One Nation provides a richly integrated learning experience for students while enabling teachers to meet their instructional expectations for both literacy and social studies.
At its heart, One Community, One Nation promotes civic development. Because children acquire a general concept and fill in the details later, particular concepts serve as cognitive organizers to help children make sense of new information. The children who acquire an understanding of these organizers have been shown to be significantly more knowledgeable about the social and political world than those who do not develop such an understanding.
At its base, this new approach to elementary social studies is focused on three core concepts: community, culture and civic participation. These concepts are interwoven throughout the elementary years in a way that directly teaches students to understand that:
- They are a valuable part of a larger community and must carry out responsibilities to ensure the community works together to protect and promote the common good.
- There is a diversity of cultures in the United States and throughout the world and we can learn much about our commonalities from the traditions and values of these cultures.
- Civic participation matters and we can make our community and our world more just through individual and collective actions.
The ultimate goal of any elementary social studies program should be to provide a solid grounding in the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support a student’s confidence in and commitment to civic engagement. Developing civic commitment in young people means reconnecting them with their community; providing them with foundational knowledge about community, culture and civics; and teaching them that they can make a difference.
In order to achieve this goal, we have laid out a year-by-year sequence that builds over time. The One Community, One Nation curriculum introduces primary-age children to the concepts of community and culture so that students begin to understand the interrelatedness of individuals within a community and to appreciate the diversity of cultural backgrounds within their community. The focus for kindergarten and first grade is on creating community from diversity. Children learn about self identity; about the different cultures represented in their classroom, community, and state; and about how people with different backgrounds and skills live together in a community. In second grade, students study a variety of cultures and countries around the world that reflect the cultures present in their own community. They learn about four countries, selected to reflect the diversity of the community. In Andover, those countries are Mexico, China, India and Kenya. Through the study of community and culture, primary-age children are grounded in an understanding of the important role individuals play in a community and how diversity offers us rich opportunities for learning. In addition, as they study community and culture here and around the world, children are introduced to the concept of rules and laws, a critical organizing concept for deeper understanding of civic engagement.
The third-grade program teaches civics on a local and state level while children study local and state history. The essential question students focus on is: “How do people effectively make community decisions and improvements that benefit the common good?” The year begins with a unit on how individuals and organizations make a difference. Students actively engage in a service-learning experience in collaboration with both the local community and service organizations. Each third-grade class in a school identifies a need in their community, then selects and studies an organization that is addressing that need. The students meet individuals from that organization and work with them to develop and implement an action plan to help achieve the organization’s goals. As a culminating activity, the district sponsors a “Make A Difference” fair in which each classroom develops and displays educational materials on the identified need and how the students collaborated with the organizations to address the needs of the entire community. From that point students explore how local government works, meeting with local leaders and visiting or watching local decisions being made. Building on these basic understandings of how community members act to serve their community in organizations and government, the year culminates with students exploring the evolution of the state’s government from colonial times to present day. By studying civics in a local and personal context that is meaningful to third graders, students develop foundational knowledge in how our local and state governments work, as well as how individuals and organizations make a difference in our community. Engaging students in a well organized service-learning experience that introduces them to the diversity of ways people make a difference empowers and inspires them to see how they, too, can act responsibly to help improve their community.
The fourth and fifth graders, who are developmentally focused on issues of justice and fairness at that age, study the evolution of our political society through the lens of the development of civil and human rights. The framing question for both grades is, “What enabled the development and expansion of civil rights and human rights in the United States?” Fourth graders take a case study approach to units on the evolution of religious liberty in the settling of the American colonies, the First Amendment rights to dissent as represented in the American Revolution, the evolution of civil rights through the emancipation from slavery, and the abolition of child labor. Fifth graders build on these experiences with case studies on immigration and the treatment and rights of immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the expansion of rights for disabled children and adults in the last half century. Through these eight case studies, children learn that civic participation of individuals and organizations has been critical to the expansion of civil and human rights in the United States. This approach to civics education serves as a dramatic illustration of how people make a difference in a democratic society, while providing foundational historical knowledge and inspiring historical models. Students also learn that in each of these areas of civil liberties challenges continue and work remains to be done to sustain and enhance these rights.
The One Community, One Nation curriculum is designed to integrate literacy and the arts so that students have a rich, interdisciplinary experience. Through sets of texts, children’s literature and artifacts, teachers can focus on specific literacy skills while providing materials at a variety of reading levels for students to explore. Each unit also integrates the arts as vehicles for student expression of understanding. By integrating these elements, teachers are able to better utilize their time for reading instruction while providing students with rich understandings in culture, civics and history.
As a result of their understanding and appreciation of community, culture and civic participation, children realize that the answer to the essential questions posed in each of these grades is civic engagement. Consequently, students begin to feel empowered to make a difference in their own lives and the life of their community and to be more interested and better prepared for more intensive study of social studies at the secondary level.
We have invited area districts to join us in the development of this framework and curriculum. This involvement can take on many forms, including partnering at the district leadership or teacher level, or sharing resources to support the development of instructional units. Please join us in the OCON Project.
Once you have joined the OCON project, you will gain access to the resources developed in previous iterations of OCON, plus any resources that are developed in Andover and/or through this partnership.