Exploring or Forcing Citizenship? How PBL can help navigate the rocky waters

Exploring or Forcing Citizenship? How PBL can help navigate the rocky waters

Today’s post is brought to you by the understanding that building great citizens is HARD in today’s world.


It’s a very difficult task to build a well-informed citizenship with the division that’s happening. With the strong extreme beliefs. With the strong apathy (oxymoron, much?). With the litigious atmosphere, whether fought out in a court of law or online in social media.

If we choose to deeply engage our kids in the tough topics of today, it’s HARD.

Which is why I really like the resource, Teaching Tolerance, one of my favorite social studies resources ever.

I read a post from there recently called Pledge Laws: Controlling Protest and Patriotism in Schools. It’s about the rules, policies, and practices that we have built in schools around the Pledge of Allegiance. It explores whether we’re legally able, or morally ought, to force students to stand and recite the pledge. It’s a good read. Take a moment to click in.

This is a common debate right now in the US. I’m not going to debate it here…or on social media threads. But I will state that I am one who fully believes that as students of history, our kids should know the pledge. They should study it. They should tell us where it came from, why we say it, what each piece means to themselves and to others. In my class, they might even compare this pledge with other pledges that do and have existed in the world. I’ll even go so far as asking us to recite it daily for a while to feel what that might mean to others, depending upon their points of view (read as empathy). And then, as we move on to another topic in class, students can choose whether or not to continue to recite it. We can choose as a class and even as individuals inside a class. I will stand and say it with them if they wish. I will refrain if they wish. Personally, I get a little excited tickle in my belly during it, even though I also get a sinking feeling of disgust and cringe during it. You see, I understand there are many sides and the concept of dialectic thinking doesn’t escape me.

But maybe you’re in a school community where this flexibility, this pondering of right/wrong, this exploration of personal choice and beliefs isn’t possible. It’s more than frowned upon. You might lose your job.

As the article outlines, many schools and educators are forcing their students to go only one way on this issue. And some are ignoring the topic altogether, opting for safety as the debate over what is patriotism and when has it gone too far rages in the world outside the walls of school. Meanwhile, middle and high school students lament that school isn’t preparing them for the world and low-and-behold, maybe we’re not. At least in this case.

So what is your school’s policy? Do you know why? Do you have policies (or at least practices) that force students to one direction on this topic? Or does your school ignore the varying sides altogether as if it’s a topic too complex for exploration? Because both are a disservice to our learners, at least in a social studies context. And I literally mean social studies, not just “history.”

To the point of this post how could we, in a PBL context at upper elementary through high school levels, smartly dig into this controversy? Where and why might this topic deepen our engagement with specific content and skills we want our kids to practice. In other words, inside what content topics might this have some legs?

Go ahead right now. Pause. List some. I’ll wait.


As a social studies teacher, I believe in not just allowing, but encouraging others to exercise their rights (in meaningful ways would be nice but that’s not my right to tell them what’s “meaningful” or not), even if I don’t personally agree with those rights.

AND protecting those who are exercising their rights. How might this be enhanced by leveraging the current climate surrounding your school by embracing and inviting those with strong and varying opinions?

It’s hard. But as an educator and a big believer in what this great American experiment was supposed to be about, it is absolutely essential. Even these small things.

How might we help students understand that exercising our rights and practicing tolerance of other’s expression of rights is, in essence, an important way to be a true American? And when, if ever, is it not ok to be tolerant? Should we have policies and practices in place? 

What have I missed?
Or maybe you have a question.
Let me know what you’d like a little help with on the daily realities of Project Based Learning!

You’re looking to support PBL in your school and community? The daily practicalities are precisely the stumbling blocks where new-to-PBL teachers decide that PBL isn’t for them and with over 13 years of K12 PBL experience, I can help navigate and knock flat those pesky daily hurdles.

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Written by GingerLewman

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