First-Class Citizens: Civics Isn’t Just a Class

First-Class Citizens: Civics Isn’t Just a Class


>>Did you get one of these?>>I did.>>Narrator: Once a month, a
group of students and teachers at Hudson High School on
the outskirts of Boston meet to discuss school issues.>>Okay, just a few quick
announcements, and then we’ll move on to issues of cluster
accountability, a report from that team,
and the dress code.>>Narrator: In this community
council, when it comes time to vote, students have the final
say, over everything from the school’s dress code
to the menu in the cafeteria.>>I’m fuzzy on when there’s conflict. How is the resolution
actually worked out?>>These are all simple
majority procedures.>>Okay.>>Sean: Normally, when you
think of the classroom, if the teacher says something,
you normally think of it as right, and if a student says
something, you always look to the teacher to reconfirm that. However, in community council,
it’s now whoever says it, it’s automatically valid.>>The community council decided that
there would be no credits, but still, Doctor Berman wanted some
sort of accountability.>>Sheldon: Public education was
formed because the country wanted to develop a public from which a
democracy could thrive, an educated, thoughtful, concerned public. That’s, I think, the primary mission that we still have
in public education. It’s the melding of
different perspectives. It’s the bringing together
of different viewpoints.>>Narrator: As one of twenty
schools in the nation to take part in the First Amendment Schools
Project, Hudson forces teachers to take a back seat in the
council’s democratic process.>>Brian: I’m biting my
tongue all the time. “Oh, yeah, I know the
solution to that.” But that’s not how this
system is designed to work, but that we find the
solution together.>>A move to a straw vote. All those in favor…>>Narrator: For a school of
1,000 students, it’s a challenge to get everyone to come
together around any issue.>>Motion passes.>>Narrator: So the school decided to break the student body
down into groups of 100. Called clusters, the self-organized
groups meet one period each week to pursue non-academic interests,
everything from soup to knots.>>Oh, I messed up again.>>Eleni: We were thinking of
interest groups for the clustering that we’re doing, and so we thought,
well, why not have them knit hats for the homeless, and we put out
some sign-up sheets, and someone came and said we had to
stop the sign-up sheets because so many kids were signing up. And so we called the senior
citizens and asked for help, and I thought it would be a lovely
opportunity for one generation to make friends with
another generation.>>Fran: People will say
to you, “High-school kids? Whoa!” But it’s not “whoa.” I don’t see any “whoa” at any age. I think they’re good
kids, really good.>>I like it because it relieves
stress, and I play hockey and I have a lot of stress.>>Sheldon: It’s very important that we personalize the high-school
education for adolescents. They are at a time when they
need not only the academic skills and knowledge that they’re
learning, but they need to be in an environment that’s
a caring environment.>>We need more berries.>>Narrator: In the wellness
cluster, students practice everything from meditation to meal preparation.>>Julie: This group over here is
trying to make healthy ways to cook, and something that will
give them nutrient value. And our interest group gives them
opportunities, and they get involved in something that they’re passionate
about, hopefully, and in our case, it’s the idea of wellness.>>Narrator: To allow students the
freedom to pursue their passions on their own schedule, Hudson
created the Virtual High School. For Zoe McNealy, it means being able
to pursue her Olympic skating dreams in the morning and her coursework
any time of day or night.>>Nancy: Zoe has been doing the VHS
classes since she was a freshman at Hudson High School,
and it has enabled her to leave school during the
day so that she could skate on an ice surface that didn’t
have 20 children skating on it.>>Zoe: So I can log on anywhere that
has Internet access, so it allows me to either access the work at
competitions or I can access it when I come home and get
the work done that I missed without really missing anything.>>Narrator: Virtual High School is
now a consortium of 364 high schools in the U.S. and 18 foreign countries, offering more than 200
courses over the Internet.>>Man: We wanted to provide
opportunities for students to take advanced courses,
to take specialized courses, to try to accelerate their learning.>>Student: This is
almost like a textbook. All of my controls are here.>>Narrator: For Zubin Patel, VHS means taking advanced
computer science courses, like cryptography, at home.>>Zubin: The VHS basically
allows me to take these courses that aren’t offered at school. It means extra work. It means staying up some nights ’til
three in the morning doing VHS work, but, you know, you have
to do what you have to do.>>Narrator: While the Virtual
High School allows students to explore courses that aren’t
normally offered at Hudson, it is no substitute for real-world
lessons learned there every day.>>Could you do a bit of
background information?>>Sure.>>Sheldon: I don’t believe you can
have a completely virtual education. I think the social environment of the high school is an
important environment. I think it’s important
that we mix the two.>>Narrator: The council lived
a lesson in the First Amendment when it considered the rights
of a student conservative club.>>Reporter: So how far does
the First Amendment go? Students here at Hudson are
now testing those limits. One school club says it has the
right to freedom of expression, but school administrators say that
expression may be too extreme.>>Narrator: In posters hung
at the school, the club tried to recruit new members by
directing them to an Internet site that featured Iraq beheading videos.>>There were some relatively
inflammatory things on the site, videos that were showing
Islamic terrorist beheadings.>>Within a day of putting up
those posters with the website, the school takes down the posters
and tells us to censor them.>>The administration may not
have handled it the best way, but I do think it was
within their right to say, “We don’t want this
hung up in our school.”>>Sheldon: That is what democracy is
about, those kinds of controversy, those kinds of questions, and I think
our students will walk away, I hope, feeling that they had the opportunity
to voice those kinds of differences.>>Sean: It creates a community
that can think, can reason, can hold disagreeing opinions
but still be civic about it.>>Brian: We’re doing
something unique in the nation and people are noticing it
and it’s not always easy. In fact, it’s not easy at all. But I think it’s worth doing. I’m proud to be part
of it with you all.>>Narrator: For more
information on what works in public education,
go to Edutopia.org.

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