How Should We Live Together?

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

As we return to the classroom this week, once again we will create a safe civic space to help students process a national tragedy. As I struggled to articulate my thoughts and role in responding, a friend eloquently posted, “My heart breaks for the families of the 11 killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue yesterday. It is especially cruel that these people were killed in the name of hate and in a place that should be sacred. I will continue to work to erase hate and promote understanding”

Another friend replied with a charge for all of us in the classroom, “As we search for ways to react meaningfully, Social Studies educators have a special opportunity. Our classrooms are the homes for students to learn empathy, respect, [and] how to listen to others with understanding.”

The new Illinois social science standards and high school civics requirement promote active student inquiry into the most essential question facing our communities — How should we live together? In doing this rigorous work, students are able to build knowledge and skills to prepare them for effective civic engagement. However, as my friends alluded to in their social media posts, something else is happening in the midst of this inquiry. Students are employing important civic dispositions as they, in the words of the IL Social Science standards, "apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings."

Much of the work of the #CivicsIsBack campaign centers on building networks of professionals who can support one another in closing the civic empowerment gap. In the next month, there are numerous opportunities to join this network to “work to erase hate and promote understanding” in our classroom.


For resources to respond to the events in Pittsburgh consider these resources from Facing History and Ourselves, Teaching Tolerance and the Anti Defamation League.

Do you have resources that would be helpful in helping students address the essential question, “How should we live together?” Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career and civic life.

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