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March 12, 2021

Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age

Are you concerned about the health of our democracy? Do you feel like schools aren’t doing enough to prepare young people to fully leverage the potential of the digital age or to avoid the pitfalls? Do you wonder how to prepare young people to address the great challenges of our age from climate change to racism?

The Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age (EDDA) Initiative in Oakland, California includes more than 100 teachers who are grappling with how to productively engage their students in today’s civic and political world. EDDA is a partnership between Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), Mills College, and the National Writing Project (NWP). Check out an overview video on this Initiative, Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, below.

Preparing Students to be Community Ready

EDDA aims to expand the opportunity structure in OUSD high schools and to develop students’ commitments and capacities for meaningful civic action in the 21st century. The Initiative leverages web 2.0 tools and best practices in civic education to provide all high school students with civic learning opportunities that will prepare and motivate them to work for positive change in their communities. In other words, we aim to prepare students to be college, career, AND community ready.

To be Community Ready, today’s young people need both civic skills and digital literacies enabling them to fully leverage those civic skills. For example, with the onslaught of information available online today, youth need to learn how to find credible sources, judge whether information is trustworthy, and access multiple perspectives in order to understand the various angles of an issue.

Community Ready means students are prepared for:

  • Issue Analysis: Identifying and analyzing issues that matter to them and their community;
  • Taking Action: Taking informed, thoughtful action in collaboration with others; and
  • Reflection: Analyzing the effectiveness of their actions and reflecting on what they learned.

To read more about the three components we focus on in our work, click here. You can also explore the civic engagement planning tools (accompanying the video above) that include aspects of community readiness.

Examples from the Classroom

Two EDDA teachers — Matt Colley and Chela Delgado — invited us into their classrooms to capture this work in action and share it with others. Both teachers worked with students as part of a broader unit on deeply analyzing a civic and political issue, identifying ways to take action in response to an issue, and reflecting on how their action steps may have an impact on the community and others.

Taking Part

Are you wondering how you can go about integrating civic engagement and digital civic learning opportunities into your classroom or school? Here are some things to consider as you get started:

  • Learn From and Tap Into What Youth Are Already Doing: Research shows that youth are at the forefront of utilizing digital tools for civic engagement. Learn about ways that youth are getting involved locally, across your state, or nationally to respond to issues they care about.
  • Engage In Dialogue With Your Colleagues: There is great power in working with your colleagues to think, plan, brainstorm, and innovate around your curriculum, as well as school wide efforts. You can also engage with other educators through online networks and get inspired by efforts happening nationally and internationally.
  • Experiment By Starting Small: Start small and take manageable steps. You can build on that over time in powerful ways. Don’t feel like you have to scrap everything and launch a whole new unit. Think about one small, innovative step at a time.
  • Seek Support From Administrators, Families, and Your Community: Find ways that civic engagement supports what your school, district, and/or community are already working on and try to align your work so you can build off one another’s efforts.

More Resources

Here are some other resources that you can reference:

Thanks to the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation for their support of the EDDA Initiative.


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