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lwv harvard jon scalaPHOTO:  Middletown High School North social studies teacher, Jon Scala at Harvard Business School, where he was accepted to take part in special workshop to excite students in the study of civics.

RED BANK, NJ -  A frequent criticism of the American educational system is that “they just don’t teach civics anymore.”  Actually they do, but not in a way that necessarily makes it memorable for the student.  According to a 2017 Economist article, “(Civics) by the 1980s had been phased out. Parents and politicians became concerned about schools “politicizing” the classroom. Schools, eager to avoid controversy, sanitized their curriculums. Since then, courses on government have remained common, but most often little more than rote study of the structures of government.” 

David Moss, a professor at the Harvard Business School hopes to change that.  In the Harvard Business School signature Case Method study tradition, he created a curriculum entitled “Democracy: a Case Study” utilizing actual civic problems or cases that occurred throughout American history.  His class was one of the most popular undergraduate courses on the Harvard campus, and soon American high school teachers requested he adapt a program for high school students. With a successful pilot program run in 2014, this year marked the fifth year Professor Moss offered his workshop in the course he developed for high school teachers.

Middletown High School North’s social studies teacher Jonathan Scala was one of approximately 70 high school teachers from the country selected by Harvard to participate. The program took place at Harvard Business School this past August. His attendance was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Monmouth County and Greater Red Bank which promotes civics education in the classroom. Four other teachers attended from New Jersey.  Currently, 37 states and over 330 teachers are involved in this project.

Mr. Scala was recommended to Dr. Moss’s project by the League of Women Voters of Greater Red Bank (LWVGRB) President Barbara Chaudhery.  Scala partners with Chaudhery on a civics program at High School North, which culminates in students registering their fellow classmates to vote.

She states, “The Connecticut league has been working with Harvard on this project and they wanted to expand it. When I got the email, I immediately recommended Jon Scala. I have worked with him for over 10 years and know him as an excellent and motivated U.S. History teacher who would be able to bring the program to Middletown High School North and ultimately Middletown High School South as well.”

lwv harvard teacher groupPHOTO: The attendants of the 2019 Harvard High School Teacher Civics Case Study Workshop at Harvard University, which took place in August.  Middletown High School North Social Studies teacher, Jon Scala, was one of over 70 teachers from throughout the country who was accepted by Harvard for this innovative workshop in teaching high school civics. 

In addition to the LWV referral, acceptance in the Harvard-paid project included submission of a written essay on the role of democracy in America and an extensive interview process with multiple members from the Harvard Business School.

Mr. Scala comments, “This was an amazing opportunity to learn from a wonderful professor (David Moss) and, at the same time, learn a new technique to incorporate in the classroom. The Case Study Project gives a new perspective to teaching curriculum and it also drives deeper student thought and critical thinking skills.”

The program dovetails well with Middletown’s existing curriculum. It represents a different way of presenting material by enabling students to take an ownership role of discovering and investigating information connected to historical events. 

Scala adds, “They explore this in a discussion where the facts come alive for the students.”

For instance, Mr. Scala sites one case study he intends to use entitled “The Jungle and the Debate over Federal Meat Inspection in 1906.” Through that case, the students will focus on the power of the press in muckraking, special interest groups and federal regulation.

For the current school year, Jon Scala will utilize the Case Study Project in three classes --10th and 11th grade United States history classes and a half year elective course called American History.  Hopefully, the success of the class will lead him to promote the project to other educators in the district and refer them to the Harvard Business School for acceptance in future training programs.

Will this new approach revolutionize civics in the high school classroom in a way that will stick with the students?

Jon Scala comments, “I believe that in order for a student to really embrace their own political thought, they must discover the information in a non-partisan way. I think the key is to not express your own political feelings and focus on what the student has discovered based on their political research. Once a student has accomplished that, a great discussion can emerge because then both sides of the political landscape are brought to light.”