Too often, civic education in the U.S. means a high school government class in which students learn about topics such as the distinct roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Certainly, it is valuable for young people to recognize the structure of American political institutions. But it is also critically important for young people to see themselves and members of their communities as political agents who collectively carry forward the democratic project of identifying and transforming injustices. We want youth today to follow the example set by the signers of the Declaration of Independence—to name the “long train of abuses,” “declare the causes,” and propose a course of action.
In June 2018, UCLA Center X hosted an intensive 3-day workshop for 25 high school social studies teachers from across greater Los Angeles. During the workshop, teachers joined UCLA historians in examining themes of freedom, equality, and resistance in the Declaration of Independence. They also worked with leading scholars and practitioners of Youth Participatory Action Research to develop tools for engaging young people in systematic investigations about social issues. The workshop prepared teachers to teach a unit in Fall 2018 that used the Declaration as a springboard for an action civics project. Those units culminated in December 2018 with a youth summit at UCLA at which groups of students made public declarations about their grievances and plans for change — presenting findings from their research to one another and to civic and political leaders.
On April 27, 2019, students from five schools—San Fernando High School (LAUSD), Social Justice Humanitas Academy High School (LAUSD), Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology at Esteban E. Torres High School (LAUSD), John Muir High School (Pasadena), and Santa Monica High School (SM-MUSD)—will share their work at UCLA with local and state elected officials.
The UCLA Declaration Project has received generous support from the Stuart Foundation.