Civics for middle and high school students

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the final in a series of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Mary Kate Frank is the Deputy Editor of Junior Scholastic, and Ian Zack is the Executive Editor of The New York Times Upfront. 

With everything that’s going on in Washington and around the world, interest in civics seems to be at an all-time high. At Junior Scholastic and The New York Times Upfront, one of our main goals has always been to help students understand how our government works—and to encourage them to become informed, engaged citizens.

Seeing our democracy in action is an important part of civics education. That’s why we regularly cover topics like the Electoral College, primaries and caucuses, and the Supreme Court—all in digestible, student-friendly formats.

For example, Junior Scholastic’s popular 5-Minute Guide series breaks down complex topics like the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights in short, easy-to-understand text boxes and graphics. In Upfront, we dig a little deeper for our high-school-age audience, previewing the Supreme Court’s new term each October by featuring cases that will grab the attention of teens, such as whether the police can search our cellphones without a warrant. 

But civics is more than just learning about the three branches of government or the U.S. Constitution, though we cover those things, too. (In fact, we created an entire civics website curated with the best articles and videos from our magazines.) Learning about civics is also about figuring out how to be a responsible global citizen.

With that in mind, we routinely profile kids who are making a difference in their communities or around the world, from a 15-year-old who developed an app to combat cyberbullying to teens who are actually running for elected office in their communities.

Another perfect example: A recent story from Junior Scholastic about a group of middle school students fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The girls were outraged to learn that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly protect women’s rights. So they decided to do something about it.

During last year’s election, Upfront profiled teens who were volunteering for the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. As they explained their motivations for getting involved, our readers got a sense of what it’s like to take action based on your beliefs—even if you’re not old enough yet to vote. 

Teaching young people to be responsible consumers is another major part of our civics mission. Our recent feature on the dark side of fast fashion, for example, exposed kids to the reality of how their clothes are made—while letting them know what they can do to help reverse the trend. 

This year, our civics coverage has focused extensively on media literacy and fake news—topics many teachers told us they desperately needed. Recent stories have included how-to guides on spotting made-up stories, identifying celebrity-endorsed ads on social media, and the importance of vetting sources. In today’s digital world, learning how to separate fact from fiction is more important than ever before—especially for tech-obsessed teens.

As you can see, a major goal of our team is to help students make sense of the world—and their place in it. We want young people to know that they have a voice and a role to play—and that getting involved in their communities is the responsibility of a good citizen. With these stories, we’re routinely reminded that just because some of our readers are too young to vote, they’re not too young to make a difference.

To read part one in this series, about teaching civics in early-grade magazines, click here.

To read part two, about teaching civics in upper-elementary grades, click here