History in Action

May 6, 2019
Dr. Brooke Blevins

History, government, economics -- those are the subjects that likely spring to mind when you think of social studies curriculum in the public schools, because those are the subjects with mandated testing.

But when it comes to preparing teachers for the classroom, Baylor seeks to provide something deeper. Faculty members in the School of Education are preparing future teachers by also exploring the "why" behind social studies.

"Why should we learn about history and geography? Why should we care about economics?" asks Dr. Brooke Blevins, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. "Those are discrete subjects. They've been taught for a long time, and they tend to be disconnected."

But there is a common thread. "All of these bodies of knowledge are for the same goal of creating active civic participants who can advocate for change -- through engaging in an inquiry process, seeking out multiple perspectives, and weighing evidence as it supports their claim," she said. "Baylor's goal is to provide a transformational education, and our graduates will go on to transform their own future students and communities through informed civic engagement."

Helping students find their "voice" as a civic participant is a key goal, said Dr. Karon LeCompte, associate professor, who teaches social studies for elementary education majors.

Baylor students can explore this as counselors in the summer program that Blevins and LeCompte founded, iEngage Summer Civics Institute. The camp curriculum teaches "action civics," incorporating the video games produced by the iCivics organization founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Baylor students also benefit from the research that faculty members are gleaning from camp participants, who are in the fifth-ninth grades.

"We see repeatedly through our data that students do learn that they have a voice, and they learn how to use it effectively," LeCompte said. She added that action civics curriculum also works in regular classrooms.

Assistant professor Dr. Kevin Magill, who joined the faculty in 2017, was drawn to Baylor by the civics work being done here. Magill taught previously in a California opportunity school, a campus devoted to interventions to ensure students' success. He found that the action civics approach could help students understand social justice through history. Students in Magill's classroom identified local issues and researched those topics by inviting local leaders to class. "We worked with the police, the city council, the NAACP, and the students would see the current structures and frameworks so they could create effective plans for change," Magill said. "A democracy can't function properly if everybody doesn't have access to it, and we are teaching that democracy is a community endeavor."

Action civics is a nationwide movement that includes efforts in many states, including Texas, to add civics to the required curriculum. Because of that, the approach is becoming more widespread in university programs, Blevins said, but Baylor's approach will remain unique.

It's rooted in our Christian identity that we believe all humans should have the same opportunities, so it's important to empower students to create change," she said.