September 7, 2015

Teaching Social Studies Through Participatory Citizenship

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Educational Practice
man giving presentation of project citizen helping our environment

If you’ve encountered the critical pedagogy of Paolo Freire and have only encountered it in theory, meet Shannon White, who teaches social studies “through a social justice and community-oriented lens, fostering deep critical thinking that challenges the status quo and engages students in as many authentic experiences as possible.” She uses YouTube playlists, hashtag galleries and donorschoose to fund and document her programs. If you are interested in educators who use digital media and networks to connect students with the real world, consider Ms. White.

I first heard about Shannon White from Don Wettrick, an extraordinary high school teacher in Indiana. My intuition that anyone Wettrick recommends is worth looking into was confirmed as soon as I talked with Ms White: “Passionate about participatory citizenship and grassroots efforts to bring about change,” White puts her passion into practice as a 12th-grade teacher and counselor in Noblesville (Indiana) High School, teacher and counselor in migrant farm worker camps in California, and elsewhere around the world. I’m still slightly dazed by finding two such exemplars of connected learning and impassioned teaching in the same high school. It’s probably worth looking into. Someone is doing something right at Noblesville High by enabling Wettrick and White to do what they do.

This summer and last summer, White taught and counseled students in Pescadero California, through the University of California, Berkeley Puente program — a process she has chronicled through her YouTube channel. She uses Twitter (@mswhitesocstud) as an ongoing gallery of pictures and videos of her students in action, tying together various projects through hashtags: #mswhiteECON, #mswhiteGOVT, #ProjectCitizen, #breakingbias.

In 2008, I wrote a chapter about “Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement” for a MacArthur Foundation volume on youth and civic engagement. I was particularly interested in learning about how her “Project Citizen” actively engages students with real-world civic engagement, enlisting young people’s affinity and fluency for digital media in direct action to improve their physical communities. You can see for yourself through her students’ YouTube playlist. Shannon White is the kind of educator who shows AND tells.

Check out my 11-minute video interview with Shannon White and I guarantee that you’ll feel more optimistic about the younger generation — and those who teach them.

Banner image credit: Shannon White