A Course of Study in Good Citizenship: Upper Elementary

One of the few requirements for homeschooling in Texas is to have a curriculum that provides for a course of study in good citizenship. For high schoolers, this seems relatively clear since most public high school students take a one semester government class. However, there isn’t any such designated class for middle or elementary school. Furthermore, if you review the Texas Education Knowledge and Skills listings for high school, you will find a “citizenship” category listed under a number of subjects in history and social studies. Citizenship and government are listed as TEKS items under social studies for elementary and middle school. Obviously, a course in good citizenship does not have to be it’s own separate course from other subjects and does not have to be the same thing as government.

In fact, at the elementary school level, citizenship is not the same as government-they are two different items. Citizenship isn’t simply government, it’s what constitutes being a citizen of a particular nation, in this case the United States. What’s interesting is that the public schools require just “citizenship” curriculum. For some reasons, the course in citizenship for homeschoolers must be “good” citizenship. Should we even speculate why?

As tempting as it is, let’s not.

In 2010, Texas revised its Social Studies TEKS. As in the lower elementary levels, there are a few differences. For all grades “good citizenship” now includes “participation in government by educating oneself about the issues, respectfully holding public officials to their word, and voting” which was not in the old standards. So good citizenship now requires more than just participating in the community, it means participating actively in government.

Other interesting differences include adding Ann Richards, Sam Rayburn, Henry B Gonzalez, James A Baker III, Wallace Jefferson as historic figures who have exemplified good citizenship for fourth graders. This is left out for fifth graders which also takes out Benjamin Franklin and Caesar Chavez. Franklin probably makes it back in with the new requirement to “explain the contributions of the Founding Fathers to the development of the national government.”  And the second amendment is specifically mentioned in important individual rights along with other specific rights defined in the Bill of Rights.

The requirements for the upper elementary school grades are pretty much more of the same based on the lower elementary standards. The major distinction is that fourth graders concentrate on state and local government and fifth graders on federal government. Students in all grades are required to

  • identify and explain the meaning of the American and Texas flags;
  • recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Pledge to the Texas Flag;
  • know Patriotic Songs;
  • identify symbols, patriotic and other;
  • identify historic figures who exemplified good citizenship; and
  • explain how selected customs, symbols, and celebrations reflect an American love of individualism and freedom.

The areas relevant only to fourth or fifth graders include the following:

  • explain how individuals can participate voluntarily in civic affairs
  • explain how to contact elected/appointed people
  • identify leadership qualities of leaders, past and present
  • Describe important individual rights include freedom of religion, speech, and press, the right to assemble and petition the government, and the right to bear arms.
  • describe important due process rights including trial by jury and the right to an attorney
  • summarize selected amendments to the US Constitution such as those that extended voting rights to US citizens

A good place to start is Democracy Kids, an online module for fourth to sixth graders. It really does seem to cover all of the new TEKS areas with the exception of identifying historic individuals who exemplify good citizenship. It does have a list of legislators who would probably fall under the “ordinary people” requirement. The Fact of Congress shows a series of videos explaining the importance of citizen participation, what does Congress do, Amendments, Checks and Balances, and more. The Making a Difference sections quizzes users as to what level of government you would contact for different problems such as Backpack Safety, Hazardous Waste, Drug Use, etc. It also gives examples of students taking actions to address the problem. The site covers others issues as well. Essentially, it appears to meet the more advanced requirements for elementary school aged students.

You can find lesson plans that identify historic individuals and characteristics of good citizenship at the free Law Focused Education website. Also check out America’s Story, Meet Amazing Americans from the Library of Congress. If you feel the need for a specific lesson plan to use with the site, EDSITEment has a plan based on a webquest. EDSITEment also has a lesson plan on the Statue of Liberty that can help cover the whole symbol/monument TEKS stuff. And if that’s not enough, Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids has grade appropriate information on symbols, statues, government buildings, etc.

This TEKS seems to emphasize the First Amendment so a visit to the First Amendment Center is in order. It includes a variety of lessons relating to the First Amendment as well as links to other resources. You can also find free materials at the Illinois First Amendment Center. The Center for Civic Education provides Constitution Day Lessons as does The American Bar Association. It’s difficult to find lesson plans specifically on the Second Amendment for elementary level students. Most of what is available is in the context of studying the Bill of Rights. There is a lesson plan targeted at 6th to 8th graders, “To Keep & Bear Arms: An Individual or Collective Right?” that might be appropriate for 5th graders as well.

Please remember using these resources to cover the TEKS requirements for good citizenship doesn’t necessarily mean that you have provided a meaningful study course of study for citizenship. Of course, it all depends on your definition of good citizenship. The point of this listing is to show that simply using a few easily obtained resources can meet the citizenship TEKS requirements for state schools. Ultimately, you could use a resource such as the Theme Pack on U.S. Government from Cobblestone or BrainPop and it would meet the good citizenship requirement since there is no requirement for homeschoolers to follow the TEKS.