February 1, 2015
democracy it is! (dii!) is a multimedia civics project produced by Wisconsin's Educational Communications Board, Wisconsin Public Television, the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Utilizing video, Web, and teaching guide materials, dii! offers lessons and supplementary instructional materials that are directly aligned with Wisconsin and National cross-curricular social studies standards.
Based on the premise that everyone—including children—has a voice in a democracy, the democracy it is! programs demonstrate how young people can make a difference in their own communities. The first phase of dii! programs target students in grades 1 through 4 and offer democratic education and civically engaged service learning. These programs are now available through AIT. Four more programs for middle and high school are in the works and will be available next fall.
Kurt Griesemer is a co-director on the design team that is producing the dii! programs. He is a husband, father of two, musician, veteran, teacher, and now a project director working on instructional television series. Kurt obtained his bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1995 and his master's of elementary education from UW-River Falls in 2006. More than a hobby and less than a day job, his musical interests keep him busy outside of the daily grind, writing and performing a wide variety of music with incredibly talented people—check out his musical endeavors at the Borderlands Web site.
Technos “talked” to Mr. Griesemer via email last month.
Technos: How did this project come about?
K.G.: democracy it is! (dii!) can be seen as the answer to the question: “Kids don't care, do they?” and that answer is that kids do care. The need for youth-oriented, relevant materials for teachers will never end, and one that in particular could help to stimulate youth activism and discussion seemed particularly necessary at a time when civics instruction has been relegated a distant third behind reading and math—as well as to counter the popular notion that young people today simply don't engage.
Please explain how democracy it is! is different from other, more traditional civics instructional materials. What is the difference between “civics” and/or “government” as subject matter and “democracy education”?
There are two principle differences between dii! and other “government” instructional videos. First and foremost, we tell stories of young people before the age of majority engaged in making a difference. We tell their story from their point of view and ask how they feel this affects them and the world around them. While teachers, advisors and other adults play a role, the primary leads are the youth themselves.
Second, we are telling the story of democracy “writ large.” We are not focusing on institutions or specific historical instances; rather, we are concentrating our efforts on engagement and empowerment, voice and responsibility—those tools that an individual needs in order to participate in a democratic system.
democracy it is! focuses on “local, state, and tribal government,” specifically in Wisconsin—what are its more universal applications?
Broadly stated, dii! can be used in any classroom in the world, let alone in this country. While specific examples come from the United States, the main theme—that in a democracy, these things are possible—can be applied to anyone, anywhere.
The dii! Philosophical Statements sound so humane and frankly, idealistic! For instance: “Learning comes from the heart as well as from the mind.” Are these attitudes par for the course for your team?
These statements were created by the founding team on the project, and while many of the original members have since left, their spirit lives on in the series. The ideal is always worth reaching for, and it reflects the very best of intentions and efforts of the team then and the team now.
Tell us about the various components of the democracy it is! project, and how they can be utilized in the classroom and at home.
dii! consists of eight 15-minute videos, each with a 10-page teaching guide. Each teaching guide consists of standards correlations, summaries, activities, vocabulary, book lists, and more for the classroom teacher. In addition, dii! has a comprehensive Web site with further information on each of our stories, Flash-based activities, downloadable teaching guides, and other materials appropriate for teachers and students alike.
One of your Instructional Goals seems especially tricky: << Address, explore, and mediate problems inherent in the methodologies of service-learning, multicultural education, and democratic education; and model techniques for avoiding indoctrination and marginalization of students throughout the education process. >> How are you going about this difficult task?
Again, we tackle this by focusing on what the youth themselves are doing. This avoids “marginalization” of the student entirely, and, by working toward the goal of “democracy” rather than “government,” we also avoid putting forth a narrow point of view on what we believe (“we” meaning a team, community, or country) to be right or wrong about our particular version of democracy.
Who's on the dii! instructional design team?
The instructional design team consists of teachers, school administrators, other educational professionals, Chad Reuter (co-director), and me—all working with ideas and putting them into action whenever possible before publishing them.
Tell us about the first four programs, for grades 2 through 4, which debuted last fall.
You can access more in-depth descriptions of these programs, including video clips and downloadable teacher guides at the “Programs” section of our democracy it is! Web site. But here's a brief overview:
What has been the reaction from teachers and students to the initial dii! programs? Did you make any adjustments to your plans for the next series of programs, based on those reactions?
As we go about promoting our series at various conferences and receive feedback from teachers in the field, we have found the response to be very positive. We did, indeed, change the format of the interstitial pieces between documentary segments (in programs 5 through 8), based on feedback from teachers and other experts in middle and high school education.
Tell us about the next four programs that are in production. When will they be available?
The next group of dii! programs, for middle school-aged students, will be available on August 1, 2007. While they are subject to change, this is what's planned:
What is the next phase of the project?
While there are no further videos planned in the series, the Web site is dynamic and will continue to reflect changes in educational goals, submitted material from teachers in the field, and storyline updates.
What have you and your team learned about civic responsibility and activism through working on this project?
We've learned that stereotypes about young people not caring are simply not true. There are so many wonderful stories out there of people taking care of people, getting involved, making good things happen—and we only covered 24 of them. The youth of America is ready for the challenges of the 21st Century; we just need to provide them with the tools.
What has been your most difficult challenge during this project? What has been your most rewarding experience?
Finding the stories that fit both our instructional objectives and our entertainment objectives has been, without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of this project. We have to find the news before it happens and get a crew out there in time to film it, and then be sure that it aligns to the standards as we go forward with creating the teaching materials…. Getting all of it together for phenomenal storytelling with clear and concise educational materials makes it all worthwhile.
Speaking as an instructional designer, what advice would you give parents to help them advise their children about civic responsibility and activism?
Gandhi said you have to be the change you want to see in the world, and he didn't specify between children and adults.
Is there a question that you want to answer that I haven't asked? Please, go ahead and answer it!
Chad Reuter (my co-director) and I couldn't do anything without our incredible partners at Wisconsin Public Television, the talented staff here at ECB, and our Teacher Development Team. This series is a credit to their professionalism and dedication to education.
Kurt Griesemer and Chad Reuter may be reached at this email address: eDemocracy@ecb.state.wi.us.
AIT distributes the democracy it is! programs. Visit our online catalog for more information or to order.
Kurt Griesemer has created a PowerPoint® presentation about democracy it is!. Relevant files of teacher and student materials can be accessed at these URLs: