By Denis Horgan and Mitchell Pearlman
Study after study confirms a grim reality whose impact we see before our eyes every day: Too many Americans lack even a basic understanding of their Constitution. Nor do they truly understand such important rights as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information – each so critical to the survival of our democracy.
The consequences are dispiriting to a society where freedoms need to be understood to be applied – and defended.
CFOG, believing that there must be increased emphasis on all three of these absolutely vital topics, has begun developing an ambitious program to meet the challenge where it will first register the most significant good. In Connecticut’s middle schools.
Working with state and national educators, students, media professionals and legal experts, a CFOG team is creating a series of multimedia, interactive classroom and internet-based lessons, video presentations and academic challenges designed to stimulate new discussion and knowledge in ways with which young people are most familiar.
Complementing the state-mandated civics curricula, the CFOG project is being designed to approach the teaching and learning process for these issues with the most modern technology and youth-accessible approaches.
The CFOG program will center on a series of short internet-based classroom elements. Each will be engaging, age-appropriate and will include videos and other digital material.
The interactive presentations will provide real world – real student world – scenarios that require one to research facts, consider alternatives and formulate and express opinions. The scenarios and their corresponding lesson plans are being created in collaboration with subject matter experts, social studies educators and students, so that they easily fit into the established common core curriculum of Connecticut schools.
These lessons will combine the important and related topics of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information as well as emphasize student critical thinking skills, media literacy and civic engagement.
The program will be at first tailored to middle school students. During elementary school, students begin to learn about voting and elections. In the 5th grade, a growing number of elementary schools and their students are now participating in Connecticut’s award-winning “Kid Governor” program.
By middle school age, these seeds of knowledge should be blossoming into the knowledge that young people need to embrace to succeed in a complex and divided world. Too often we are seeing that this is not happening.
The emphasis on using interaction and modern technology reflects the truth that by middle school, many students are already using smartphones, computers and other electronic devices to communicate and learn. These devices – and the social media platforms they engage – are the primary means by which people today obtain information – real and “fake.”
So it is that CFOG believes that middle school students are at the prime age to start learning and thinking about Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information, as well as media literacy and civic engagement.
Supported in part by a modest start-up grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, CFOG hopes to complete a demonstration presentation for this program by December 2020, with several additional presentations available in each of the following years.