Civic Education

  • 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

    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.

  • Educating for Democratic Citizenship Lesson Plans

    One of the Institute's new featured programs is Educating for Democratic Citizenship which features "Action Civics" lessons and related materials developed by a group of accomplished, experienced educators. These lessons can be found on a dedicated section of ShareMyLesson.

  • Constitution Day 2022 Resources and Blog Series

    As we recognize Constitution Day this year, so much is stake—our institutions, our rights and our ability to teach. So the Albert Shanker Institute and Share My Lesson are launching a series of teach-ins to provide content knowledge on the rights granted in the Constitution, with teachable strategies for the classroom.

  • Voting Rights and Disability Rights Blog Series

    This blog series builds on an event ASI co-sponsored with The Century Foundation where 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.
  • Constitution Day 2021 Blog Series

    In honor of Constitution Day (September 17th), this blog series invites teachers and leaders in the field of civics and democracy education to address the question: Why is it important to teach the Constitution?

  • Democracy Declaration

    View and sign the Democracy Declaration.
  • Eugenia Kemble Research Grants

    In honor of its founding executive director, the Albert Shanker Institute announces the creation of the “Eugenia Kemble Research Grants Program.” Tax-deductible donations to this program are welcome. Please make donations through PayPal or by check to the Albert Shanker Institute (555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001). More information. Watch the Memorial Service.

  • Democratizing Evidence in Education

    This book chapter explores how to make the evidence movement more inclusive so that education stakeholders can meaningfully participate in the production and use of research.

  • 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.

  • March on Washington Lesson Plans

    2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 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.

  • Democracy's Champion

    This report chronicles Al Shanker’s contributions in the international arena. It documents Shanker's many international endeavors to support democracy and workers’ rights and records the living memories of those who worked with him.

  • 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.

  • From Circletime to Civics: Involve our Youngest Learners in Civic Engagement

    Early childhood classrooms are a surprising yet ideal site for introducing meaningful civic engagement. Schools, particularly preschools, are often the first institutions where children must work alongside others, beyond the members of their families and their immediate circles. With the somewhat shocking change that entering a school environment brings, there is also the opportunity to introduce and practice good civic skills. Think about it, at the blocks center, children begin to develop their negotiating and compromising skills for a limited set of resources. At dramatic play, children navigate competing interests, advocate for themselves and their ideas, and navigate big emotions as they are experienced when they don't get their way. Do these skills sound like they should be applicable outside the classroom? I hope they do, because they are the foundational skills for engaging in civil discourse and participating in the democratic process. This is more than just voting on what to name the classroom pet fish—democracy, in its purest and most beautiful form, is woven deep within the seemingly mundane play interactions children engage in and teacher-supported instruction. Too often, we observe children developing these skills without giving the experience the acknowledgment it deserves: lived experiences that cultivate civic capabilities and a developmentally appropriate understanding of equity. These skills, and the acknowledgment of these skills, are more critical now than ever.

  • AFT Solidarity with Ukraine

    “We have a long history of showing up. Showing up for freedom, showing up for democracy, showing up for education, both here and abroad.”

    This is what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told Nicole Wallace of MSNBC News about why she led a delegation to Lviv, Ukraine this month to meet with Ukrainian educators, trade unionists, medical workers and others engaged in the life and death struggle for Ukraine’s survival against Russian aggression.

    The AFT’s history of showing up is longstanding in Central and Eastern Europe. It dates to efforts before, during and after World War II to save trade unionists from fascist and communist tyranny in the region. As well, the AFT was the most active international union among AFL-CIO and international trade secretariat affiliates supporting the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland, both during the decade of martial law repression as well as the country’s dramatic transition from Soviet-imposed communism to democracy in 1988-89.

  • National Civics Day: Civics in the Classroom

    Today is National Civics Day. For the last year the Albert Shanker Institute has been working with a team of accomplished educators to create high quality civics and democracy lessons, written with state standards in mind, to share with educators via our partnership with ShareMyLesson. While an unproductive debate about what to teach our students simmers across the country, these lessons serve as an example of how seriously teachers take their responsibility to create healthy teaching and learning environments and lessons where students are introduced to founding documents, like the US Constitution, and the honest history of our country in ways that foster critical thinking. Today we wrap up our 2022 Constitution Day blog series with one example of how these lessons are framed to give readers a glimpse of the work our educators do in their classrooms to meet the academic expectations of students. For more lessons and examples, please visit our Educating for Democratic Citizenship Community on ShareMyLesson.
    -- Editor

  • Student Free Speech Rights: A Lesson on the Constitution

    In the fourth blog of our Constitution Day 2022 series, guest author Stephen Lazar, a national board certified teacher and a Shanker Institute Civics Fellow, uses his students' natural interest in their free speech rights in school as an opportunity to teach them about the Supreme Court's role in helping to redefine and enhance the rights enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

    I always tell my students that (other than the Dred Scot case of those of a similarly evil tilt) Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier is my least favorite Supreme Court Case, as it’s the only one that’s ever been used against me. I was editor-in-chief of my high school paper and was set to publish two op-eds that were critical of the school. The Hazelwood case enshrined a limitation on students’ freedom of speech in school-sponsored publications, deeming them school projects that therefore are subject to complete editorial censorship by the school administration. Our advisor took the critical pieces to our principal, who told me I could not run one of them and had to make edits to the other, that I had written.[1] I was livid, but swallowed my pride.

    Over two decades later, when I teach students about their free speech rights in school, my primary aim is to help them embrace and understand the rights they do have in school—particularly for political speech—as well as the fact that their free speech rights are not absolute.

  • The First Fifteen Days: Building Community Through Civic Experiences

    In the third post of Shanker Institute Constitution Day 2022 series, guest author Shawn Fisch, a UFT Teacher Center Instructional Coach at Long Island City High School and a Shanker Institute Civics Fellow, asserts that the skills practiced by the Founding Fathers in building a consensus for a new model of government is the same thing teachers repeat each year with classroom culture and norms.

    There is no other feeling quite like the first day of school. A bunch of strangers come together from different places with different ideas and have to create a classroom/school where everyone can work together. In a sense, it is similar to the issue facing our new nation with the Constitution. How do we ensure that the values of the country are reflected in our curriculum? The answer is civics. The way we feel on the first day of school (for students and staff alike) can impact how we feel about our classrooms, our schools, and our communities. This year back to school was a statement of fact. Many students were literally returning back to a physical school building for the first time in years. It has been fifteen days since the start of the school year at Long Island City High School (LICHS). I’d like to take you on a journey with me looking at those 15 days through the lens of civics.

  • Education for Democracy

    From 2005, Unionism and Democracy, sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute in cooperation with the AFT International Affairs Department (edited). Given the fight for democracy today—given the assault on universal suffrage, on workers’ rights, on a free media, and an independent judiciary—it is worth revisiting this piece.

    Within the AFT’s motto—“Education for Democracy, Democracy in Education”—are several important ideas. One is that the common good is served by the creation, through a public education system, of an informed and knowledgeable citizenry. That is why post-colonial Americans first agreed to pay for the education of other people’s children. Second is the idea that, beyond the democratic content of such an education, the public school system—as a common place for educating all children equally—transmits and promotes a democratic sensibility and culture. And third is the idea that if education is for democracy, then education system should be democratic itself and that free teachers unions can play a unique role promoting democracy, not only in the classroom but in the workplace. Teachers and other educational employees should, therefore, be fully empowered through the unions of their choice and that they control.

  • I Don’t Like History... But I Love Civics

    In the second post of the Shanker Institute's Constitution Day 2022 Blog Series, guest author James Dawson, a UFT Teacher Center Instructional Coach at Paul L. Dunbar Middle School in the Bronx and Shanker Civics Fellow, contends that by infusing the concept of civic readiness into lessons, we are able to impart civic knowledge while encouraging civic engagement.

    When I first started coaching my school's social studies team, I was excited and naive. Excited by the chance to share my enthusiasm for (and, if I flatter myself, my considerable knowledge of) history Old World and New, ancient and modern. I was surprised to discover that my retention of the latter was considerably less than I had envisaged; I was surprised and dismayed that only a few students shared my enthusiasm. The narratives of the human experience that had drawn me to my history classes, my teachers’ descriptions of the earthier and less celebrated sides of well-known historical figures, their ponderings on the “could-have-beens” that would changed the course of the river of time, enthralled me.

  • The Constitution Holds the Government Accountable

    In this first Constitution Day 2022 Blog Series post, Guest author Sean Thomas, a Shanker Institute Civics Fellow and National Board Certified Teacher, encourages his students to develop a deep personal relationship with the U.S. Constitution because when students become aware of how to exercise their democratic liberties, they can accomplish amazing things.

    Democracies work best when the citizens of a nation hold their government accountable. In democracies, the people must take responsibility for their government, its actions, and its laws, because we are the people who put our political leaders in power. The personal responsibility to hold the government accountable is a benefit to all of society. John Locke said, “…by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself [people] under the obligation to everyone in that society.” In order to do this, the people must be aware of the role of government and the job it’s supposed to fulfill. The citizenry must also be aware of when the government is overstepping, so it can check the government’s power. For the United States, the rule of law that establishes the role and limitations of government can be found in the seven articles and twenty-seven amendments contained in the U.S. Constitution.

    As a teacher, I encourage my students to not only read the U.S. Constitution, but also to have a deep, personal relationship to it. If students develop this relationship, they have the ability to understand the debate around what the different clauses in the Constitution mean. They can develop an informed position on the rights that are ensured to the people and they can challenge and discuss the variety of interpretations presented to them by politicians, media pundits, and other parts of society. It also helps my students realize that interpretations change over time and allows them to advocate for issues and causes they are passionate about through constitutional arguments. Most importantly, it teaches my students not to be controlled or overly influenced by people who provide interpretations of the Constitution to support a specific political agenda.

  • A More United America: Teaching Democratic Principles and Protected Freedoms

    by Kelly Booz

    On the last day of the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787, Elizabeth Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?" to which Franklin replied: "A republic, if you can keep it."

    America is built on the foundation of democracy. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution spells out the democratic principles we seek to achieve for "We the People.” The Constitution was written, the preamble says, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

    Now, 235 years later, as we celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17, 2022, our Constitution is considered the longest-serving Constitution in the world. The U.S. Constitution and the freedoms granted within it belong to all of us, as long as we can keep it.