The next generation of Pennsylvanians faces a daunting challenge: it is coming of-age when the democratic system in the United States is up against severe cynicism and hyper-partisan gridlock. Draw the Lines sets out to reverse that trend, particularly by engaging students in democracy in a nonpartisan, educational way. Students will participate in a fundamental act behind U.S. civic life.
DTL is currently developing a versatile social studies curriculum for teachers to use with students in grades 6-12. It will conform to the Standards Aligned System set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. When complete, this curriculum will be housed on this website and free to all educators who wish to use in their classroom.
The value of civic education through service-learning
According to CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) at Tufts University, 40 states require high schoolers to take a class in civics and/or government, but as standardized testing has changed curricula, school districts are shifting resources to subjects included on those tests (which rarely include social studies). Accordingly, students are becoming less knowledgeable about the U.S. political system and their efficacy in it.
DTL pushes back on this trend through service-learning. In classroom and community projects, “students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.” According to a report by the National Youth Leadership Council, “Young people who engage in service-learning during their high school careers will be more likely to… see themselves as agents of positive change in their communities.” There is a host of studies available that indicates service-learning can improve students’ civic knowledge, feelings of responsibility toward social welfare, the belief they can make a difference in their own community, and intentions to serve in the future.
Draw the Lines fits this model perfectly, offering students the chance to engage in multiple subjects in social science and STEM (political science and government, applied geometry, statistics, GIS, computer science, etc.) with real-world implications. DTL has consulted with over 30 teachers around PA (largely through the Pennsylvania Council of the Social Studies) who are excited to use this competition in their classrooms and pitch it to their colleagues as a cross-curricular program that can be used in a range of subjects.
By giving students the same digital tools and information as the political pros, DTL levels the playing field. It can demonstrate to a new generation of Pennsylvanians that the system is responsive to their efforts and reinvigorate a sense of civic engagement and public purpose in communities across Pennsylvania.
Brookings senior fellow Thomas Mann and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Normam Ornstein wrote that, “The best student plans show that… with the right tools, citizens anywhere can create better plans to choose their representatives than the representatives do to protect their own careers.” They found that public and student maps outperformed legislature-created maps in a number of ways.
Further, DTL gives students an incentive to learn about other communities across the commonwealth. Imagine a civics class in Erie videoconferencing with a class in Philadelphia to share why they drew their maps as they did.
Ladder of engagement for students
DTL sets out a practical ladder of engagement, laying out ascending actions suited to the available time and comfort level of different students. For example:
- Learn about redistricting as a part of US democracy;
- Complete your own redistricting map;
- Vote on other maps in the contest;
- Encourage your social media network, friends, and family to do a map;
- Share your map with your representative and local media;
- Go to Harrisburg to engage your representatives on redistricting reform;
- Give testimony for a mock Legislative Reapportionment Commission;
- Use these lessons to learn about how to get involved in another issue you are passionate about.
To measure this impact, every individual participating in DTL programming will be asked to complete pre- and post- surveys to determine DTL’s impact on their feelings towards redistricting specifically and their feelings of efficacy within our political system more broadly. We will use metrics from previous studies led by CIRCLE and the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University, which studies civic life in America. Measurements will include: methods and frequency of civic engagement before DTL programming; perception of one’s power in our political system; their feelings on the importance of redistricting reform; and others as needed.
Draw the Lines curriculum
DTL’s custom, project-based series of lesson plans will be available and free to use for all teachers beginning Spring 2018.