Promoting Civics Literacy: Bringing Current Events to the Classroom

“Obamacare.” Trayvon Martin. Facebook privacy lawsuits. Your students are probably familiar with the names and phrases born of our current events, but have they been given the opportunity to discuss them? Do they have questions about what “Obamacare” is? Or, do they already have an opinion?

This election year poses a great opportunity to get students engaged in civics education. You can choose to talk about the general mechanics of an election, or you can steer the discussion on to other current events, whether seemingly of a political nature or not. After all, in an election year, you can bet the candidates will make a headlining story political if the voters have an emotional investment in it. Consider using the following articles and exercises to spark discussions in your class.

  • U.S. Health Care:  What is the issue at the center of the health care debate? Who is challenging the law and why? Why is it important (or is it?) that students who aren’t of voting age understand the role of the Supreme Court? These questions and more are answered in the lesson “Before the Law: Understanding the Supreme Court Case on the Affordable Care Act” by The Learning Network (a New York Times education resource).
  • The Trayvon Martin Case: No doubt your older students have heard of this case. Are their parents worrying about their safety or behavior? Does this case make them worry about their own safety? Will how a presidential candidate approaches this subject possibly have an influence on their candidacy?  If you need help guiding your discussion, The Learning Network also recently published a guest post by teenager Anthony Turner on being a black male, in response to the Trayvon Martin case, which raises some very potent questions for students.
  • Technology Rights and Privacy. Recently, some colleges and employers have been asking applicants for their Facebook passwords so they can read their private messages and see their private pictures. Do your students think their privacy rights should cover social media? Do they think there should be a law against colleges and employers asking for their private passwords? Would they get the job if an employer asked to see their private account? You can read more about the coverage in MSNBC’s article “Facebook Password, Needed for a Job Interview?” Also, you can have your class listen to a Talk of the Nation interview, “Employment Background Checks: How Far Is Too Far?” with a writer from Wired magazine and an employer on Facebook privacy and employment.

You can also use this election year as an opportunity to discuss what the candidates aren’t saying. What issues do students think are important? The majority of their generation has a physical and a digital identity to protect. Do they fear the government doesn’t value their digital privacy as much as they should? What events and issues are most important to your students?



Before the Law: Understanding the Supreme Court Case on the Affordable Care Act” by Sarah Kavanagh and Holly Epstein Ojalvo. 27 March 2012. The Learning Network. Accessed on 28 March 2012.

“Employment Background Checks: How Far Is Too Far?” 28 March 2012. NPR. Accessed on 28 March 2012.

“Facebook Password, Needed for a Job Interview?” 20 March 2012. MSNBC. Accessed on 28 March 2012.

“On Trayvon Martin: A Guest Post From a Teenager, and Some Teaching Suggestions,” by Katherine Schulten. 26 March 2012. The Learning Network. Accessed on 28 March 2012.

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