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Citizenship and the New HSS Framework

created Sep 07, 2016 11:15 AM

by Beth Slutsky

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The fresh start to the new school year provides the hope to get things right this time, at least that’s what I tell myself as a teacher and as a mom. One thing I’ve noticed is that along with this fabled fresh start is a renewed emphasis on being a good member of the schoolwide community.  And it’s a justified focus; a well-rounded education of course involves educating the whole child with a focus on social and emotional health in addition to an emphasis on academic rigor.  With this context in mind, this blog focuses on one of the four key themes of the newly adopted HSS Framework that we haven’t yet explored in this setting – citizenship.  Of the four major themes of the Framework – content, inquiry, literacy, and citizenship – the citizenship component stands out in relevance especially at the start of the school year.  When I say that one of the goals of the Framework is to promote citizenship, I don’t mean to spread a superficial layer of patriotism on a nationalistic narrative of world and U.S. history; especially for California’s students, this won’t work.  Instead, what the Framework means by supporting citizenship is what we wrote here in the introduction: “From the earliest grade levels, students learn the kind of behavior that is necessary for the functioning of a democratic society in which everyone’s fundamental human rights are respected. They learn sportsmanship, fair play, sharing, respect, integrity, and taking turns. They should be given opportunities to lead and to follow. They should learn how to select leaders and how to resolve disputes rationally. They should learn about the value of due process in dealing with infractions, and they should learn to respect the rights of the minority even if this minority is only a single, dissenting voice and to recognize the dignity of every person. These democratic values should be taught in the classroom, in the curriculum, and in daily life outside school….  [Moreover], in these discussions about the role of citizens in society, students will gain an appreciation of how necessary an informed electorate is in making possible a successful democracy. Students learn that reading informational text in newspapers, articulating similarities and differences between political candidates, making claims supported by evidence, and discerning genres of arguments for example, are all essential virtues that an informed citizenry must possess.”  In other words, in learning about the past and present meanings of what it means to be a member of a community, students will also be learning to read, think, and write historically about the evolving nature of citizenship.  So with that definition of citizenship in mind, here are a few thoughts on how to impart citizenship in a real, meaningful, and concrete way across the grade levels. 

Citizenship means learning to think critically about the past and the present

In third grade students learn inquiry and focus on the important concept of continuity and change.  The new HSS Framework applies continuity and change to citizenship by defining what citizenship is in different settings, starting small with the class and then the school.  As the Framework explains, “Students can discuss the responsibilities of citizens, make a list, or create an illustration of what is considered a “good citizen.” They can also study how this notion has changed over time: for example, how did children living on farms in the 19th century imagine citizenship; how did this change for children in the early twentieth century who worked in factories. What are the similarities and differences?” Students are learning that citizenship, as a notion of belonging, is a concept and an identity that shifts over time.  This will build a foundation for students’ future explorations of shifting rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Citizenship means learning about the construction of laws, governments, and leaders

     In sixth-grade ancient world history, students learn about the organization of early civilizations.  Sixth grade students are asked to study the notion of citizenship in Mesopotamia by addressing this question: “How did people’s lives change as states and empires took over this area?” As the Framework goes on to describe: “In the Mesopotamian cities and states, a small elite group of political leaders (officials, warriors, “nobles”) and priests held the most wealth and power, while the majority of people remained poor farmers, artisans, or slaves.  Mesopotamia was a patriarchy and men had more power than women. However, priestesses and noblewomen did have some access to power.” Students read Hammurabi’s Code to find details about the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a very different historical context.  By learning in sixth grade that for thousands of years social order and laws have defined community and citizenship, students will gain a broader perspective about the varied roles of leadership and government. 

Citizenship is both something to be studied and something personal

In twelfth-grade government, a capstone course, students consider the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen?” The Framework guides students to address questions like “where in the Constitution, for example, does it connect to the courtroom or voting booth experience? Where in the Constitution does it connect to rights guaranteed to all persons? What is the citizen’s role in assuring these basic rights and protections to all?” This mixture of practical and somewhat personal questions allows students to analyze what being a member of the community has meant, currently means, and will mean for themselves as they age into full citizens.  The Framework emphasizes providing students with more than a list of the rights and responsibilities of membership in their community.  It guides students through years of exploring the changing nature and purposes of citizenship. 


Image: Ralph Weill Public School, San Francisco, 1942. Image from National Archives and Record Administration: NARA record: 1372774.




Tags: Framework, Civics
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