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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 5, 2006

COMMENTARY
Creating citizens is schools' mission

Voices of Educators
By Pat Hamamoto

Pat Hamamoto

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National discussions and debates about improving school productivity and student achievement are often narrowly focused on reading and math indicators. We tend to concentrate our attention on what we want our students to know and be able to do; we rarely discuss what we want our students to be.

Yes, it is true that students need to have the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful in life and, equally important, they will also need to be valued members of society. In fulfilling their role in the community, they must consider their actions, the consequences of their actions and the impact on the well-being of their fellow citizens in their neighborhoods and communities.

We cannot leave these actions and commitments to chance because to do so would not be preparing our students to be engaging participants in the life of their communities. Leaving to chance preparation for their role in our community would put "at risk" many democratic practices and beliefs our society values.

Schools are natural environments for fostering citizenship. No other institution has the capacity and the opportunity to instill in young children the desire to be leaders and servants at the same time. Hawai'i's public schools are rising to the call to promote, foster and instill in our students "a call to actively participate in the life of the community," to create a healthy, thriving democracy in their backyard.

Schools prepare their students to become citizens in a variety of contexts local, national and international. As the connections go beyond our immediate view and become global, our backyard is both local and global. Our students are learning and preparing to be citizens of the world. People often ask whether schools should have citizenship as part of the curriculum, and the answer is a resounding yes. We repeat at meetings with parents, teachers, community groups, etc. that one of our priorities is to prepare our students to be "good citizens." This means paying attention and helping our students assume social and moral responsibility, cherish their communities and become politically astute. We expect our students to be adults who engage in community building, adults who engage in the practices of a democratic society, adults who practice the behaviors listed above in their community.

Supporting citizenship as part of our teaching and learning priorities does not diminish but rather adds to our role as educators. Helping students achieve and meet the highest standards is vital to our success as a state and nation. Promoting lifelong learning is never far from the center of our work. Reporting results and showing continued progress continues to be our imperative.

Civic responsibility and the actions that accompany this responsibility is the work of schools. Opportunities to engage in community service projects, Kids Voting, volunteer work within the school, etc. contribute to student achievement because they set a foundation of purpose for future work in our community. The result we seek is to ensure that our students practice being good citizens; that their actions support our democratic society and promote success for all.

All schools recognize early on if they are being successful at promoting citizenship. Fortunately there are early signs that a student is likely to develop into a "good" citizen one who directly contributes to the life of the community. Such signs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Volunteer service in school or in the community events.

  • Participation in organizations that promote and support citizenship and character building (scouting, service clubs, etc.).

  • Academic success along with regular school attendance.

  • Participation in student government programs or activities that promote leadership and citizenship.

  • Encouraging others to engage in community building activities.

    Schools play a key role in developing a social and moral awareness in young people so that they can understand their rights and responsibilities in a changing and diverse world. Our goal is to graduate students who are literate in reading, writing, speaking, reasoning and civic responsibility or citizenship. Focusing on citizenship helps prepare our graduates to be sensitive to the needs of their community, to cooperate with others and to attend to the task at hand in a considerate, empathic manner. We expect to see our future citizens address the issues of voting, sustainability, literacy, etc. We expect all citizens to vote and make a difference for all of us.

    We are responsible for preparing the citizens of tomorrow.

    This commentary is one in a series of articles prepared by Voices of Educators, a nonprofit coalition designed to foster debate and public policy change within Hawai'i's public education system, in partnership with The Honolulu Advertiser. It appears in Focus on the first Sunday of the month.

    Voices of Educators is composed of a panel of some of Hawai'i's top education experts, including: Liz Chun, Good Beginnings Alliance; Patricia Hamamoto, superintendent of the Department of Education; Donald B. Young, University of Hawai'i College of Education; Joan Lee Husted and Roger Takabayashi, Hawaii State Teachers Association; Sharon Mahoe, Hawai'i Teacher Standards Board; Alvin Nagasako, Hawai'i Government Employee Association; and Robert Witt, Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools.

    For more information, visit their Web site at: www.hawaii.edu/voice.