Curriculum Themes


While utilizing ADL Education’s anti-bias framework, Strengthening Our Democracy: Civic Participation in the 21st Century focuses on six major civic themes. Through these themes, the curriculum invites students to stretch their ideas of what an active democracy looks like and requires.


1. A Civic Mindset

Participating and engaging in our communities is a right and responsibility for making our communities better through civic discourse, decision making and taking action.


Creating a classroom community that nurtures students to be brave, inclusive and equitable is vital to the success of civic learning and the future of civic discourse in the U.S. Examining implicit bias, practicing discourse and creating a brave classroom where students can learn to engage in discussions of difficult and polarizing topics with respect builds the foundation for civic disposition and participation. Activities such as exploring the impact of identity and culture on how we communicate with others encourage students to develop empathy and seek understanding of perspectives that differ from their own.


2. Strengthening Democracy

Constitutional democracy was structured for mutual accountability between the government and its people. Despite the intentions of being stable, there are societal, economic, political, and global forces that point to its fragility.


The Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents in our nation’s history. It details the rights and responsibilities of its people along with the structures of government and distribution of power deemed necessary for a balanced, representative democracy. Understanding the purpose of the constitution and our capacity to amend it, can motivate students to exercise their rights, including voting, and explore ways to make positive changes in their communities. Activities focus on understanding the Constitution, the Bill of Rights with a focus on the First Amendment, and the Separation of Powers and learning how to advocate for change through passing bills and lobbying.


3. Power & Privilege

Power and privilege is societal, political, and systemic, as well as visible and invisible. Power and privilege can be earned, but it can also be something that is unearned through individual or group status.


While the Constitution lays out the structures of our government, the actual day-to-day operations of the U.S. government are complex and potentially confusing. Civic participation depends on understanding how local, state, federal and tribal governments work. Activities explore the Rule of Law and the powers of government. Through an anti-bias lens, it is also essential to understand how our identity, power and privilege connect and effect our experiences with a representative democratic government.


4. Social Justice & Civil Rights

The Constitution and its Amendments guarantee certain civil rights, but the interpretation of those rights is still evolving and often involves actions to achieve social justice.


Strengthening our democracy depends on civic participation. This unit goes beyond the Constitution and the structures of government to highlight social justice issues that have advanced civil rights and, in some cases, continue to be difficult and challenging to resolve. The civics lessons in this unit are based on the issues that students may be aware of either through the news, or as they come up at school or in their communities. We also use current events as a powerful way to establish relevance and underscore the complexity of applying, for example, the 15th Amendment and the Dream Act. Students are also asked to view decisions and cases with an eye on the roles of identity, culture and bias.


5. Identity & Membership

Identity and membership are key components to a healthy democracy and are accompanied by certain rights and responsibilities. Just as our identities are constantly evolving, our memberships within society also evolve.


Former President John F. Kennedy said that the U.S. is “a nation of immigrants” and based on that history, the immigrant experience should not be ignored or looked down on, but rather, it should be celebrated and studied. Many people in the U.S. have experience with the immigration and citizenship process. Understanding their experiences is key to grasping the issues of identity and membership that arise when we talk about U.S. citizenship and anti-immigrant bias. Activities teach students to differentiate between pathways for immigration, becoming a naturalized citizen and coming to the U.S. as a refugee seeking some type of asylum. Lessons also provide an opportunity for students to examine the biases that are behind anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric.


6. Media Literacy

Creating and analyzing digital and other kinds of media challenges us to think critically about influencing civil life and initiating change. It also makes us aware how the news and information we consume is curated and presented to influence our own civic participation.


We live in a world that provides an astonishing and overwhelming quantity of information to process on a daily basis. We consume media from broadcast television series, streaming content providers, podcasts, blogs, social media, mobile apps, movies, images, videos, data and print. We also have the option to comment and contribute content on the many channels that exist in each category. In the 21st century, critical thinking, media literacy, reflection and effective communication using a variety of media are essential civic skills. Lessons in this unit focus on decoding media, examining the power of “fake news” as well as the increasing use of data and algorithms to influence decision-making. Students can also practice recognizing the role of bias in the media our culture creates and distributes every day.