Teaching Civics: Trading Cards

By the time I was nine years old, I knew that Hank Aaron had hit 755 career home runs, that Ty Cobb had a lifetime batting average of .367, that Roger Maris had belted 61 home runs in 1961–a single-season record.  I knew which baseball teams were in which major league, and I knew for which teams all the big stars played.  I learned much by watching almost every televised game that the New York Yankees played for two years.  I learned a significant amount by talking to my father.  But I also learned volumes by collecting baseball cards and reading the backs of them.

Trading cards are a powerful learning tool.  We can begin to imagine the possibilities if we were to use them to teach elementary-school students about government.  A creative and determined team of teachers could transform civics instruction in their school simply by creating trading cards for government officials.  Printing off a few dozen copies of a complete series and distributing them at random around the school could mark the start of a frenzy of fun and learning.

Color coding on the picture side of the card can indicate whether an official is part of the local, state, or federal government.  Distinctive logos can reveal party affiliation.  A written profile on the reverse side can explain the nature of the person’s office and work, along with publicly available biographical information.  Local officials can make appearances at school–possibly even signing cards for students.  Incidentally, school board members are elected officials in most instances; they should also appear on trading cards.

Teachers could spend minimal instructional time introducing and distributing the cards, perhaps providing a brief lesson on two or three people depicted.  From there, they might put more cards into circulation each Friday, giving each class ten minutes or so to look over their loot and start trading.  As students’ collections take on different characteristics, schoolwide prizes might recognize how students have concentrated their collections on specific categories, or how some children can answer civics-bee questions in competition.

Perhaps interest and activity would only flourish during class time.  Still, we might envision how particular students might talk and trade in the cafeteria, on the playground, or at bus stops.  In our wildest dreams, we might even conceive of recurring discussions at the dinner table in dozens of homes around town.

In a culture whose grown-ups can name athletic figures, movie stars, and pop artists but struggle to recall their own Congressional representatives, attorneys general, and mayors, we might draw inspiration from the enthusiasm of our children.

5 thoughts on “Teaching Civics: Trading Cards

  1. So so true, Paul! Hahaha! I so enjoyed reading this. I remember years ago when the kids could all name all the whacky Pokemon characters but couldn’t remember their multiplication facts. I wanted to create a new game where the characters were named with the fact families, like 2,4,8 and 6,7,42! Like minds, you and I!

  2. What a great analogy, but are you sure politician have that adrenaline appeal that sports heroes do? Would that even matter? Nevertheless, information packaged in such a user-friendly, small and concise package (with pictures!) is certainly catering to our new attention spans and want for playtime and social interaction. Bravo for a creative idea with all of the details to actually make it work, and an equally noteworthy post:)

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