The Five Design Challenges

Submitted by sbosna on

The Educating for American Democracy (EAD) project offers many ideas, perspectives, and resources for teachers of American history, government, and civics. Teachers are going to face challenges as they change how they plan, present, and assess lessons, and work with students to help them learn about our history and civic life. None of this is easy, and EAD makes some unique demands of teachers, and near the end of the EAD development process, it was decided to address these challenges directly, accepting them as integral parts of the civics teaching, and not problems to be resolved.

In short, EAD promotes a style of teaching that accepts that educating the youth of a diverse democratic republic will – it must – involve points of tension, as different perspectives are studied and explored as part of our public life. The Five Design Challenges are meant to help teachers ensure that certain fundamental needs of a good civic education are included throughout the school year and from grade to grade. Below is a short summary of the Challenges.

Design Challenge 1: Helping Students Participate – how do we help students recognize their role as citizens, even if they are too young to vote? How can we help students understand the need to work with others whose opinions differ from theirs? How can we inspire students to get informed and then get involved?

Design Challenge 2: America’s Shared Story – How can we help students see the shared story of America, while not losing sight of the variety of contributions of different groups and individuals?

Design Challenge 3: Thinking About Compromise – an essential component of our democratic republic, it is also the source of frustration and political debate. How do we help students understand the role of compromise in our system, while appreciating the difficulty in achieving it, and when, perhaps, to not seek it?

Design Challenge 4: Honest Patriotism – how do we help our students see the good in America, while not falling into blind adulation? Our founding principles are good, and yet we as humans have not always lived up to them. How do we separate noble ideas and goals from people who fall short of them?

Design Challenge 5: Balancing Time & Theme – how do we help students connect course content over time and through various themes? Instead of viewing the study of history as a series of seemingly unrelated events, how do we help students see a greater, coherent whole?

If you teach, you probably thought, while reading those, about units of study or lessons you’ve taught wherein those issues came up – where you and your students were challenged by the issue, for example, of grappling with the enduring nobility of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, while also accepting Thomas Jefferson as a slave owner. How do you help students understand both, and yet act based on the more noble of the two?

Instead of attempting to explain away or somehow resolve teaching challenges like these, EAD accepts them and encourages teachers to meet them head-on in class. Our students, if they are to become informed, respectful, responsible civic participants, will encounter such issues throughout their lives. Making them, therefore, an explicit part of a civics education, serves to prepare them for their civic life, and perhaps – if we do our jobs well – for a public life in which differing opinions are discussed, instead of shouted, and agreements are reached, instead of forced upon the ‘loser’ of an election.

Five Design Challenges Podcast 

Part I

Part II

Author bio
Jeremy Gypton portrait with gray background

Jeremy Gypton is a veteran teacher, teacher trainer, curriculum specialist, and educational project manager. He taught in the Tucson area for 11 years and spent several years in administrative positions there. Since 2014 he has worked for, the leading provider of documents-based resources and programs for American history, government, and civics teachers, working to bring documents-based programs to teachers. He also produces podcast and webinar series for TAH.