CLOSE UP METHODOLOGY AND INSTRUCTION
Our pedagogy arises directly out of the Close Up mission: To inform, inspire, and empower students to exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.
Though our many student programs each have their own distinct learning goals, they all share a common grounding in the aims of our mission. That mission informs every aspect of the design, content, and instructional method of all Close Up programs. The overarching goal of all our student programs is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for effective and responsible participation in the processes of democratic society and the American political system. Given that goal, our core commitment to experiential learning becomes clear: Citizenship in a democracy demands a readiness and capacity to act; Close Up’s role in helping students develop that readiness and capacity lies in direct exposure to the historical foundations, institutional structures, and day-to-day practices that underlie reasoned discourse, debate and cooperative decision-making.
The methodology and instructional practices described below rely on over 40 years of developed expertise, allowing us to precisely craft experiential learning models to the goal of our programs and the aims of our mission.
While there is no single “ism” that defines the Close Up methodology, we draw from a family of four interrelated influences as we design, adapt, and innovate our programs.
We see the primary role of the Close Up experience as complementary to classroom civic learning; our part is to take learning out of the book and place it in the lived experience of the student. In order to move from the conceptual basis of civic education to an empowering engagement with the concrete processes and controversies of contemporary politics, Close Up provides students with practical opportunities to experience for themselves the problems and prospects of political activity.
Implications for instruction: Extensive use of case-studies of law and policy, simulations, role-playing activities, and other demonstrations of the actual processes of government and policymaking. Students also engage in more organic forms of political discourse and deliberation while visiting the Capital’s many institutions where such activities take place, and at memorial sites that are symbolically central to concepts and controversies of American history and the American political system.
For Close Up’s educational aims, the use of cooperative learning techniques is not only a method for efficient content mastery as David Johnson and Roger Johnson state in “What Makes Cooperative Learning Work”:
Cooperative experiences are not a luxury. They are an absolute necessity for the healthy social development of individuals who can function independently...[They are] essential for developing pluralistic values.
While studies vary as to the efficiency of cooperative learning structures as means for the transmission of information, one of the most fully researched and agreed upon conclusions regarding cooperative learning is its unparalleled effectiveness in promoting students’ cooperative and communicative skills. Among the demonstrated benefits of cooperative learning is the development of skills and dispositions correlated with pluralism, pro-social behavior, and democratic self-government—skills at the heart of democratic citizenship and the Close Up mission. We are proud of Close Up’s role in advancing state-of-the art implementation of cooperative learning in site-based experiential learning programs.
Implications for instruction: Instructors provide precisely calibrated scaffolding and specially designed instructional materials to support student-facilitation and peer-to-peer engagement for small-group work, discussion groups, jigsaw activities, as well as simulations and other activities.
At the heart of experiential education is the idea that the most natural and effective way people learn is through encounters with real-world problems. Thus, whenever people seek to train students for real-world skills, they inevitably turn to the time-tested approach of presenting subject-related problems that the student must solve. For Close Up’s brand of civic education, since the skills we seek to help students build are those of effective democratic citizenship—not least among them critical thinking and civil discourse—the real-world problems we set before students are controversial political and public policy issues.
Implications for instruction: Our instructors are trained in the use of controversial issues and to present these issues in a ‘multipartisan’ manner, ensuring that students explore all sides of any given issue and that various sides of an issue are civilly debated, and fairly evaluated. The types of controversial issues we place at the center of our lesson plans are current policy controversies and political debates, as well as enduring tensions or conflicts among central concepts of democracy.
Education for Democracy
Dating as far back as Thomas Jefferson, one of most durable themes in American education is the deep connection between democratic self-government and education. From Jefferson to Albert Shanker, from Horace Mann to Walter C. Parker, from John Dewey to the most recent report from the Civic Mission of Schools, American scholars, educators, and statesmen have envisioned a method of education that would provide students a model forum in which to learn democracy through its guided practical enactment. For Close Up methodology, this influence reminds us that our aim is not to teach students about democracy, but to empower them to do democracy.
Implications for instruction: Our instructors are trained, and our lesson plans are crafted, to build students’ skills and dispositions for democratic engagement. In addition to reflecting on new knowledge and skills students build during the program, instructors help participants reflect on their own political efficacy and to assess their growth as powerful democratic citizens.