Many in the education reform debates speak of schooling as an individual civil right—and understandably so. The realities of our modern society and global economy dictate that we urge our children to pursue learning as their best avenue toward the American dream, self-fulfillment, and economic prosperity. And yet, we must not forget that Americans' interest in education is not just as a private benefit, but as an essential public good—the reason that we, as citizens, are called upon to provide a quality education to the children of strangers, not just our own. As Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann argued so persuasively, free access to public education and the health of our democracy are inextricably linked.
The youngsters in our schools are not just "other people's children" and someone else's concern. They are also the fellow citizens who will help shape the future and the nation that our children will inherit. As such, one of the primary missions of public schooling must be the preparation of a well informed and engaged citizenry. We must do all we can to provide the nation's youth with the knowledge, the foresight, the vocabulary, and the analytic skills that responsible citizenship demand.
As it has been said, devotion to human dignity and freedom, to social and economic justice, to self-restraint, to the rule of law, to civility and truth, to diversity and civic responsibility—all of these must be taught and learned and practiced. The nation's educators deserve every assistance in this endeavor.
Educating for Democratic Citizenship
The Albert Shanker Institute launched its Educating for Democratic Citizenship Program which features "Action Civics" lessons and related materials developed by a group of accomplished, experienced educators which we hope will improve teaching and learning of American History, Government, and Civics for teachers and students. This Action Civics approach supports students’ learning about the political process as they identify, research, and take informed action on issues that are important to them. These meaningful learning experiences help young people gain knowledge, develop skills, and grow their motivation for lifelong civic participation. These lessons can be found on a dedicated section of ShareMyLesson.
The Freedom Schools of 1964
In 2014, to honor the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Shanker Institute began developing resources for teachers in today’s classrooms. These include lesson plans on the Freedom Schools (which will be posted on these pages in the spring of 2015), historical materials, and interviews with some of the teachers who made history.
Democracy Web is a unique collection of online resources designed to help high school and college teachers illustrate key principles of democratic governance in a “compare and contrast” format that challenges students to think critically across cultural, historical and national contexts. The site’s key elements include country studies, an interactive map and a well-respected categorical rating system that offers an overview of the basic architecture of democracy and a framework for analysis.
March on Washington Lesson Plans
The year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most historic moments in United States history – the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 people participated in the march, which is considered to be one of the largest peaceful political rallies for human rights in history.
The Institute worked to make a special contribution to this commemoration by publishing lesson plans and materials that K-12 teachers across the country can use in their classrooms to teach about this historic event.
The Intersection of Democracy and Public Education
The Shanker Institute and Education International are both celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2023. Both organizations share a common origin, Albert Shanker cofounded EI and was the inspiration for the ASI. To recognize the common origin and priorities of each organization, strengthening public education and committed to democracy, this Panel Discussion & Anniversary Celebration of the Albert Shanker Institute (25 Years) and Education International (30 Years) was held ahead of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to take advantage of both organizations’ leaders being in Washington, DC at the same time.
AFT in Solidarity with Ukraine
Watch a discussion with AFT President Randi Weingarten who recently traveled to Ukraine; Bilingual Special Education Teacher Alexandra Hernandez, who spent the summer teaching Ukraine students in Poland, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, co-founder of the Ukraine Children's Action Project. Contribute to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund at: https://www.aft.org/aft-disaster-relief-fund. Watch the video.
Teaching About Tribal Sovereignty
This session is part of the series: A More United America: Teaching Democratic Principles and Protected Freedoms.
Available for 1.5-hour of PD credit. A certificate of completion will be available for download at the end of your session that you can submit for your school's or district's approval. Watch on Demand.
Constitutional Voting Rights: Teaching the 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments
Educating for Democratic Citizenship Conference
The Shanker Institute, the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University and Share My Lesson held a virtual three-day conference on Educating for Democratic Citizenship. Participants will be eligible for professional development recertification credit for these on-demand webinars.
Countering Misinformation in the Classroom: A Media Literacy Discussion with Randi Weingarten and NewsGuard
In this Q & A style session, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Steven Brill discussed the misinformation trends NewsGuard’s analysts are encountering in the field, and the tactics educators can employ in their classrooms to counter these trends.
Why Voting Rights Matter for People with Disabilities
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth and a distinguished group of experts discussed the threat to voting rights and why it is critical to protect them, especially for people with disabilities, and what Congress is considering doing to protect voting rights for all Americans.
The Teacher Insurgency: A Conversation with Leo Casey and Randi Weingarten
In The Teacher Insurgency, Leo Casey addresses how the unexpected wave of recent teacher strikes has had a dramatic impact on American public education, teacher unions, and the larger labor movement.
"Slaying Goliath" Discussion and Reception with Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten
In “Slaying Goliath…,” Diane Ravitch writes an impassioned, inspiring look at the ways in which parents, teachers, activists--citizens--are successfully fighting back to defeat the forces that are privatizing America's public schools.
In Defense of American Democracy
This all-day event, held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on September 17, 2019, was organized by the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Onward Together, the organization founded and led by Hillary Clinton.
Experiential Civic Learning for Democracy
Our guest author is Wilfred Chirinos, an associate on the Policy and Advocacy Team at Generation Citizen.
In the recent past, commentators such as David Leonhardt in his New York Times article ‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy," have spoken to some of the greatest threats against our democracy at this moment, including the heightened sense of partisanship with calls for a “national divorce”1; the ilk of authoritarianism on the edges of the ideological spectrum, and amplified through the coverage of our political discourse; and the rapid development of social media and AI technology in what some have labeled a “post-truth” era.2 These concerns are rightfully identified as looming threats to democracy. Taken together, they suggest that we stand at a pivotal moment in American history. While some contend that these issues are intractable, reports collected by the Center for American Progress and my experience within civics education suggest that revitalizing our democracy can begin with civic learning in our classrooms.
As said by AFT President Randi Weingarten, “Experiential learning engages students through problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and learning by doing. We need to help kids engage with the world, with ideas, and with each other….”3 Through experiential learning, we can encourage students to engage creatively in their education to develop life-long skills. Experiential learning catalyzes their journey of becoming engaged citizens with the tools to interact meaningfully with the world around them.
At Generation Citizen, students are provided with an experiential learning opportunity through our action civics programs. Students are taught to engage with their community by identifying relevant problems, researching issues that they select, and presenting evidence-based policy solutions to stakeholders and decision-makers. The goal of this process is to instill a spirit of civic duty and engagement while enhancing their practical civic knowledge. Students learn about the history and structure of their local governments while connecting with these institutions, which often feel far removed. As they engage these institutions, they themselves are changed in the process and can influence the public policy process in significant ways, that reverberate far beyond the classroom.
Beyond Brown: What We Must Protect
On the 69th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, our guest author is Leon W. Russell, Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors.
In 1948, the sixty-four-member national board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed its Special Counsel and head of the Legal Defense Fund Thurgood Marshall’s strategy to direct the organization’s legal advocacy efforts to racially integrate society through the education system. Following nearly two decades of legal battles and cases ranging from early childhood to graduate education, this decisive choice made by the leaders of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization set the stage for a victory in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, and subsequent victories in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The all White-male Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled that “Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The significance of their unanimous decision precipitated a journey and fight that has spanned nearly 70 years and continues as we seek to build an inclusive community rooted in liberation where all persons can exercise their civil and human rights without discrimination. But how do we continue to build on the work of those like Thurgood Marshall, Mary White Ovington, Roy Wilkins, Albert Shanker and countless others when we presently face extremist dissenters of equality who continue to use one of the most basic hallmarks of American life – education – as the battlefield to degenerate our society?
Lessons for Today from a Landmark New Jersey Desegregation Case
Next week, on May 17th, it will be the 69th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that “separate but equal” racial segregation was unconstitutional. This landmark case did not happen in isolation. Students, families, and educators from around the country had been challenging racial segregation. The Albert Shanker Institute is privileged to share the history and legacy of Hedgepeth-Williams v. Board of Education written by Kean University President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D.
Education has the potential to be the great equalizer that truly changes the trajectory of people's lives. The struggle to realize that potential has a long history here in New Jersey. Looking back, we know Black activists were demanding civil rights reform in education here in the Garden State more than a decade before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated public schools across the nation in 1954. Concerted efforts by the NAACP, other advocates and mothers weary from discrimination in education led to legal battles that paved the way for changes and pivotal federal legislation. One of the precedent-setting cases that helped the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was New Jersey’s Hedgepeth and Williams v. Board of Education.
In 1943, two mothers from Trenton, Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams, attempted to enroll their children in a neighborhood middle school. The school, the women were told, wasn’t “built for Negroes.” As a result, they enrolled their children in a Blacks-only school more than two miles away while simultaneously filing lawsuits against the Board of Education of Trenton. Represented by Robert Queen of the NAACP, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled intentional segregation in public schools to be a violation of New Jersey law. Schools in New Jersey would no longer be segregated.
In Defense of Public Education
On March 28, 2023, Shanker Institute Board President Randi Weingarten delivered a major speech, In Defense of Public Education. Today, with permission, we reprint the speech as prepared.
I. THE PROMISE AND PURPOSE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
Today, we once again grieve for families shattered by senseless gun violence. Please join me in a moment of silence for the lives lost at the Covenant School in Nashville, and for all victims of gun violence.
Today we renew our call for commonsense gun safety legislation including a ban on assault weapons. This is an epidemic that our great nation must solve.
There’s a saying: You don’t have to love everything about someone to love them. I’m sure my wife doesn’t love everything about me, but she loves me. (I, on the other hand, love everything about her.) Nothing is perfect. Banks aren’t. Congress isn’t. And neither are our public schools—not even our most well-resourced and highest-performing schools. Those of us involved in public schools work hard to strengthen them to be the best they can be. But only public schools have as their mission providing opportunity for all students. And by virtually any measure—conversations, polls, studies and elections—parents and the public overwhelmingly like public schools, value them, need them, support them—and countless Americans love them.
Public schools are more than physical structures. They are the manifestation of our civic values and ideals: The ideal that education is so important for individuals and for society that a free education must be available to all. That all young people should have opportunities to prepare for life, college, career and citizenship. That, in a pluralistic society such as the United States, people with different beliefs and backgrounds must learn to bridge differences. And that, as the founders believed, an educated citizenry is essential to protect our democracy from demagogues.
Women's History Month: Celebrating History Makers, Like Burnie Bond, Working Alongside Us
The attention to great women in history every March is both inspiring and motivating. Being reminded of the work of Frances Perkins, learning from the leadership of Delores Huerta, discovering another extraordinary fact about Harriet Tubman—all the opportunities to celebrate these women make March feel like it comes in and goes out with a roar.
As this Women’s History Month is coming to a close I have been reflecting much closer to home, by thinking about the incredible women I have had the opportunity to work alongside, or work for, in my career. From my first teaching job where I worked for an indomitable principal and alongside talented and dedicated colleagues, which set the tone for my entire career in education, to my current work where I work for and alongside another group of talented and dedicated individuals to strengthen public education, worker voice, and democracy.
Working alongside colleagues who share a mission to contribute to the common good feels like an opportunity to take women’s history off the page and live in the midst of the work to improve people’s lives that has been building up and out for generations. It has become a priority for me to learn what motivates the people I am privileged to work alongside and so, one day when we were launching a project to strengthen civics and democracy education, I asked my colleague, Burnie Bond, where her confidence in leading civics work comes from.
Burnie has been dedicated to the labor movement, public education, and democracy work for her entire career. She is a former staff assistant in the Office of AFT President Albert Shanker, where she served as coordinator of the AFT’s Education for Democracy Project, a program to promote a rigorous history and civics curriculum, and was formerly the director of research and publications for the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO, where she worked on international trade and labor rights issues. She also served on the 1992 Clinton Transition Team at the United States Information Agency. So, when I asked her what story or experience was foundational to her commitment, I was expecting an anecdote from one of the powerful roles she had in her career.
The Albert Shanker Institute at 25
The Shanker Institute turns 25 years old this month!
The Shanker Institute was formed in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of AFT President Al Shanker. The organization’s by-laws commit it to four fundamental principles—vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for working people in decisions affecting their jobs and their lives, and free and open debate about all of these issues.
From the beginning the Institute has brought together influential leaders and thinkers from business, labor, government, and education from across the political spectrum. ASI continues to sponsor research, promotes discussions, and seek new and workable approaches to the issues that shape the future of democracy, education, and unionism.
AFT Ukraine Project
Our guest author is Shari Obrenski, President of the Cleveland Teachers Union. She served as an American History and Government teacher at Jane Addams Business Careers Center in the Cleveland Municipal School District for 22 years prior to becoming President of the CTU.
Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” I think most of us aspire to be a source of light in what can be a difficult and dark world. Whether we are showing a small kindness, such as opening a door for a stranger, or doing something much larger, like giving food or shelter to someone in need, bringing light to darkness is something we are taught from a very early age.
We also struggle throughout the course of our lives to choose light over darkness, both individually and collectively. We have seen this age-old struggle surface once again, almost exactly a year ago when Russia invaded the Ukraine. This conflict has brought darkness, both physical and emotional, to the people of Ukraine as war is waged right outside their doors.
Happy Holidays from the Shanker Institute
We have enjoyed working alongside you again this year, providing you with insightful commentary on critical topics of the day, including pressing public education, labor movement, and democracy issues. To provide time for our colleagues to step away from work, rest, and recharge, the Albert Shanker Institute will be pausing new blog entries until January 2023. We look forward to working with you to make progress in 2023.
If you can, we encourage you to support AFT’s effort to provide generators to Ukrainian schools and community centers. Use this link: https://www.aft.org/aft-disaster-relief-fund and choose “Ukraine” in the dropdown menu
Also, in keeping with our goal to give back this holiday season, our gift to you is to highlight a few adoptable pets from one of the nonprofits our staff members support. This year particularly, shelters and rescues are reaching capacity with record breaking numbers of adoptable pets. Here are a few of the beautiful cats available for adoption from the Montgomery County Partners for Animal Well-being (MCPAW). (See all MCPAW's adoptable cats and MCPAW's adoption application.)
Teaching Kids What It Means To Be An American
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, where he is working on a project to strengthen American identity through public education. He is the author or editor of 17 books, including Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy, and a Shanker Institute board member.
Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, many of us shared our gratitude for the results of the recent election, setting aside partisan considerations, because the outcome provided strong evidence that large numbers of American voters care deeply about the health of our democracy.
While the pundits warned that people were focused only on economic issues (which are important, to be sure), it turned out that “preserving democracy” was a salient theme for many Americans as well.
Candidates who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election – a falsehood that was used by rioters on January 6 to try to disrupt the peaceful transition of power – lost in large numbers. The defeats by election deniers were particularly notable in high-profile elections in the Great Lakes states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
What Do You Know About Tribal Sovereignty?
This guest blog, by National Board-Certified educator Julie Hutcheson-Downwind, walks readers through an understanding of the role and history of tribal sovereignty that should be common knowledge for all Americans. Additionally, Ms. Hutcheson-Downwind concludes with an example of what this can and should mean for our students. The Albert Shanker Institute, whose offices reside in the ancestral land of the Anacostans (also documented as Nacotchtank), and the neighboring Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples, is committed to strengthening our collective understanding of and respect for historic and contemporary tribal sovereignty.
Civic Purposes of Public Education and the Common CoreOne of the primary purposes of public education is to foster an engaged and well-educated citizenry: For a democracy to function, the "people" who rule must be prepared to take on the duties and the rights of citizens.