Mission San Jose High School teacher Jeffery Alves wants students to focus less on themselves and more on what they can do for others.
The Fremont, California teacher learned about complaints from colleges about “selfish” students focused more on their academic achievement than civic and social issues, and crafted two courses designed to better engage students in government and their communities, the East Bay Times reports.
“I thought this would be a great course for the kids in Fremont because we really focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) a lot, and I think social sciences is kind of forgotten sometimes,” Alves told the news site.
“Civics really works to get them aware of their rights, their responsibilities, but also how to engage in civic dialogue, and how to participate, whether it’s in a company or in politics.”
The courses, implemented last school year, prompt students to take action by writing letters to the editor, creating fundraisers, and starting student clubs, among other projects aimed at advocating for others or challenging the status quo.
“That’s what we want,” Alves said. “We want active, productive, positive citizens.”
Meera Sehgal, a 14-year-old at Mission San Jose who took the class said it’s helped him “develop more as a person.”
“Mission as an atmosphere is quite competitive. Luckily, my personal family, they don’t really push me too hard, but I definitely see other kids here struggling a lot. Because the thing with immigrant parents is they try to push you to succeed a lot. I think that can be detrimental to some kids,” she said.
“If they take a class like this, which shows you that there’s more to life than just your grades, I think that can really help break out of that single focus.”
Jeff Guhin, a UCLA sociologist and researcher with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote about the obsession with personal achievement in urban public schools he visited for a chapter in “The Content of Their Character,” an analysis of character education in a variety of schools.
After extensive interviews with students, teachers and administrators, as well as observations in classes, assemblies and other venues like sporting events, Guhin noted that “self-actualization was by far the most important moral idea in any of the schools, on both an aggregate and individual level.
“It represented what schools were supposed to do according to administrators and to district, state, and federal programs,” he wrote. “It was what the teachers and principals wanted for the students, and what the students themselves wanted.”
The renewed focus on civics at Mission San Jose High School is one example of how educators can successfully redirect students to focus more how they can serve others through civic participation.
The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues offers resources, such as “A Framework for Character Education in Schools,” that can help educators bolster moral and citizenship education in their classrooms.
The Framework delves into the intersection of character and civics through a look at the psychology of moral development, the virtues of good character, and the important role teachers play in character development.