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Course:  Currents and Contexts

University of Maine

Promising Approaches

  • (2) Incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives.
  • (1) Provide instruction in academic disciplines through the lens of government, history, law, and democracy.

Overview

The goals of Currents and Contexts are:

  • To promote and increase civic engagement and discussion among students;
  • To encourage greater understanding of various local, national, and world political events, problems, and conditions within relevant contexts;
  • To offer students a forum in which to discuss solutions to these problems, as opposed to cynicism about them;
  • To challenge students to consider the diverse arguments surrounding various issues, not simply the side with which a given student may be ideologically aligned; to create a unique aspect of the curriculum that places an emphasis on semi-formal debate;
  • To teach students to employ and critique up-to-date information sources;
  • To foster an atmosphere of student-to-student learning.

The texts for this course are current newspapers, broadcasts, journals, web-sites, and magazines that cover news or articulate opinions about current events, including but not limited to such topics as cultural conflicts; the roles of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations; the three branches of the American government; the economy; the environment; and political debates of regional, state, and local concern.  Student groups choose the topics they want to pursue and take turns being responsible for class presentations and debate and for distributing homework questions on current news items to all via e-mail. The bulk of class time consists of a general discussion of the topics of the week, along with about 30 minutes of presentation, debate, and discussion of the topic by the pre-assigned student group.

Special Features

Civic Learning Goals

  • Civic knowledge: Identify and describe issues in the community in which we live; understand principles of effective civil debate in a free society; learn about political issues and the processes by which citizens effect change; appreciate the structure of American government; understand the relationship of current events and history.
  • Civic skills:  Process and evaluate information for objectivity, accuracy, and point of view; develop and use critical thinking skills and ethical reasoning to make informed and responsible decisions; develop and use oral and written communication skills to convey ideas, facts, and opinions in an effective, persuasive, and reasonable way; work cooperatively with others and develop effective team building practices; speak in public, listen actively and respectfully; how to effectively promote their own goals in contentious political arenas.
  • Civic attitudes:  Willingness to enter dialogue with others about different points of view and to understand diverse perspectives; tolerance for ambiguity and resistance to simplistic formulations of complex questions/ simplistic answers to complex problems; respect for the tradition of a free press; a sense of efficacy, responsibility, and confidence in one’s capacity to make a difference. 

Contact Information

Charlie Slavin, Ph.D.
Dean
The Honors College
The University of Maine
Charlie.slavin@umit.maine.edu

Richard J. Powell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science
The University of Maine
243 North Stevens Hall
Richard.powell@umit.maine.edu

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools: Education for Democracy