NYSSBA report finds that traditional classroom instruction in civics has not kept pace with new forms of student activism

FOR RELEASE: March 13, 2019



CONTACT: David Albert
(518) 783-3716 or (518) 320-2221 cell



Students today are engaging less in traditional methods of civic participation – such as meeting with lawmakers – and turning instead to social media and storytelling as their preferred way of influencing public policy, according to a new research report from the New York State School Boards Association.

"Civic instruction in schools has not kept pace with technology and student interest," said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. "Rather than memorize Constitutional amendments, students are using social networking platforms to connect, mobilize and participate in social activism. This is civic engagement, circa 2019."

The report, entitled "We Hold These Tweets to Be Self-Evident," chronicles how students are using platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to engage on issues such as gun control, school safety and voter registration.

Social media platforms allow students to bypass traditional political gatekeepers to effect change, and the phenomenon is creating a gap between traditional classroom civics instruction in schools and real-world student activism, says the report. 

NYSSBA’s release of the research report coincides with an ongoing initiative by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department to develop a "civic readiness index" for New York schools and students. This initiative will require educators and school leaders to rethink what it means for students to be well prepared for civic life in the 21st Century.

State education officials are building the index to help fulfill their commitment under the Every Student Succeeds Act to measure schools’ success in fostering life-long civic engagement skills.

"Today’s students are inheriting both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead society forward on countless fronts -- from civil rights, social justice and principled governance to health care, the environment, and much more," said Kremer.

"It is our responsibility, as educators and school leaders, to understand the power and the perils of social media and other emerging tools of activism, so we can empower our students to lead meaningful, personally rewarding civic lives," he said.

The report recommends that, in order to keep students engaged in civic instruction, school leaders should: 

  • Understand new ways of being civically active and expressing a civic identity;
  • Provide professional development opportunities that focus on modern-day youth civic expression, including competency in media production, storytelling skills and navigating political discussions in the classroom; and
  • Expand partnerships with community hubs, including libraries, colleges, museums and arts organizations, to ramp up student interest in civics and to make the subject meaningful in the lives of diverse students.

The report is available at:





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