E/RS panel talks teaching for active citizenship

Ethics Religion and Society (E/RS) continued the “Community Conversation” series with Monday’s panel titled “Educating for Citizenship in Cincinnati.” A panel of leaders deeply engaged with education in Cincinnati came together for a discussion about the challenges and innovative approaches they see emerging in teaching for active citizenship.

The panel included educators from an array of institutional backgrounds, including non-profits geared toward education for adults and children as well as principals from both a private and a public high school in the Cincinnati area.

E/RS Director Dr. Richard Polt moderated the panel, which spoke broadly about immersive learning and service experiences throughout the community. Many of the panelists said they saw such hands-on learning as an essential component of fostering engagement with civic life. Each seemed to agree that teaching for good citizenship required the cultivation of care for the student’s community.

The panelists also elaborated on their own ways of teaching good citizenship.

Terry Tyrell, the principal of St. Xavier High School, talked about service learning requirements. Mary Delaney, the executive director of educational nonprofit Community Matters, spoke about connecting community members who can teach about justice by drawing on their lived experiences. Lisa Votaw, the principal of Aiken High School, discussed affording students the opportunity to propose and create organizations within the school that they are then responsible for, a practice she has long encouraged.

Dr. Laney Bender-Slack, a middle childhood education professor at Xavier, added that opportunities to teach about citizenship can present themselves in seemingly insignificant places.

“With the very young, you can begin with those moments when they see something and recognize ‘That’s not fair,’” Bender-Slack said. “That is a basic place to have conversations about justice, power and fairness.”

The empowerment of young people became the central theme of Monday’s event. Libby Hunter, the executive director for WordPlay Cincy, described a program she runs called “Word Up,” which helps children and young adults to learn to write about social justice issues. She then works to publish their writings.

“We speak up and we speak out if we see something wrong,” Azaria Pittman-Carter, an alumni of WordPlay and  a sophomore education student at the University of Cincinnati and alumna of WordPlay, said when describing her approach to empowering young voices. “You have to find what’s comfortable for you.”

“There’s generally seven categories of movement builders,” Delaney added, “and the one that is most often overlooked is that of the nurturer: those who aren’t on the forefront but are essential to the pursuit of justice.”

Dr. Myron Jackson, the current Besl Chair for Ethics/Religion and Society, offered his thoughts after the event.

“I have a theory that younger people are the most empowered that they’ve ever been in history,” he said. “We need to get young people to recognize they have way more power than I could have ever had in my generation as an active citizen. I think there could have been a Parkland-style social movement years ago if educators would have been less worried about policing technology and using it to empower students instead.”

The next event in the series will take place on March 25 and will feature a talk by historian Nancy Isenberg entitled “The Rural Roots of Class Politics in America.”

By: Ryan Kambich | Opinions & Editorials Editor