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SJCS Perspectives

Government: A New Teaching Strategy for Developing Critical Thought

November 29, 2017

As we head further into 21st century educational standards, the way students study our state and federal government is changing. Less emphasis is put upon the memorization of facts while critical thinking, conceptual understanding, and a more inclusive look at all the people of history has become paramount to modern education. History is no longer only the history of wealthy men of European descent.

In 4th grade, we study government from the ground up.  We kick-off with discussion of the essential structures of local, state and federal governments, the components and the branches of our government, and how people rule themselves with a critical eye. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of inquiry, we are avoiding the biases of American perfectionism and traditional textbooks’ previous unquestioning reverence for our founders and constitution. Instead, students are participating in activities to help them understand the complex question of how people govern themselves.

Some over-arching “essential questions” that consistently surface when studying government are:

  • What rights should governments protect?
  • What are human rights? Where did they come from?
  • How do personal circumstances influence the kind of government one desires?

As students delve into these questions, they experience the difficulties that all scholars have in defining human rights or rights in general and what role our government should play protecting the rights of its people. Students are often surprised at how complicated it is to address these questions and how much a person’s individual life experience, socio-economic standing, religion, race, and  gender affects how they view what rights they deserve and what rights other should be given.

Jane Shay, 4th Grade General Studies Teacher