The Ballard Talisman

Teacher hopes for civics curriculum next year

Students will provide opportunity for school wide mock elections

Language arts teacher Webster Hutchins has been working towards civics in classrooms for nearly a decade. His passion influences his life inside and outside the classroom. (Eileen MacDonald)

Language arts teacher Webster Hutchins has been working towards civics in classrooms for nearly a decade. His passion influences his life inside and outside the classroom. (Eileen MacDonald)

Language arts teacher Webster Hutchins has been working towards civics in classrooms for nearly a decade. His passion influences his life inside and outside the classroom. (Eileen MacDonald)



Eileen MacDonald, Staff Reporter

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For the past 7 years, AP language arts teacher Webster Hutchins has been fighting for the integration of civics into the curriculums within the Seattle Public Schools system, and this coming fall, his hopes that his dream may become a reality.


Civics in schools

Hutchins is widely known to be a civics enthusiast, and this passion has culminated in an initiative to improve civics education and prepare students for adult citizenship responsibilities. With the help of his former students at Franklin High School, he developed the Civics for All initiative in 2011, which would primarily take the form of mock elections on real world issues if implemented.

“I started off with a big idea and then just narrowed it down more and more to make it easier for the school board to appreciate. And given that, voting is the most fundamental element of civics,” Hutchins said. “Mock elections and voting in general give all citizens the opportunity to contribute to our democracy, which does not exist without the voices of the people, including youth being represented.”

While plans are not yet set in stone, the mock elections will most likely be headed next year by the students involved in the new Civics for All Club advised by Hutchins.  In addition, any interested teachers and faculty will also have opportunities to get involved. Principal Keven Wynkoop feels that a student led charge to educate teenagers about democracy could greatly benefit the population as a whole.

“Even going back to the very beginning of public schools, they were created so that there would be an informed electorate, and to make a democracy work you need to have people who are in the know and knowledgeable about what’s going on,” Wynkoop said. “Part of that is training our teenagers to be involved, to learn about issues, to participate in the process. I completely support the idea that we offer opportunities to do that.”


History of interest

Hutchin’s interest in activism did not begin with his teaching career, but rather with his mother, who was herself a history teacher, as well as other influential teachers who throughout his life taught him to care about others on a local and global scale.

“My mom taught high-school history for 35 years, and she was politically active in the civil rights movement and in the women’s liberation movement,” Hutchins said. “[In addition], my college professors at the University of Wisconsin really inspired me to think about the duty to stand up for what is right.”

These role models led Hutchins to his teaching career as well as to an ardor for helping to create well informed citizens and voters in an educational setting.    



Hutchins hopes that implementing aspects of the program here will prove its success and that eventually it will be implemented in schools districtwide. The goal is that by 2019, all public schools in Seattle will be encouraged to do mock elections and by 2020 all schools will be participating in that year’s presidential election. There are several reservations standing in the way of this goal, however, concerning the potential partisanship of civics education, especially considering the demographics of our city.

“In a liberal city like Seattle, conservatives and independents alike can easily worry that teachers will present in a biased fashion, and those concerns need to be addressed openly,” Hutchins said. “Because bias seeps out, addressing the question of bias in teaching is an opportunity for teachers, but the basic response to that concern is that it is understood that to the extent possible teachers [involved] would present and encourage diverse points of view of the elections.”


Support from the community

Despite this concern, Hutchins has overwhelming support from important figures that are backing his cause. According to Hutchins, both the city council and King County council have passed unanimous resolutions of support as well as all twenty-one representatives of the Seattle delegation. In addition to this, plenty of business owners and local community members have met with him to support the cause. His hope is that next year the new superintendent will embrace the initiative early on in her administration to get it off the ground. In the meantime, Hutchins has not given up on his fight and continues to be an advocate for civics education in and out of the classroom.

“Civics is not just about things like standing up for the flag or knowing who your legislator is, it’s really about finding and articulating your own opinion on important political issues of the day,” Hutchins said. “I think it makes [students] more engaged because adolescents naturally seek ways to individuate, meaning to have their own thoughts and opinions and identities, and civics is a great way to bring that alive.”

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Teacher hopes for civics curriculum next year