Civic Education

  • 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.

  • Civic Education: Is There Common Ground?

    Our panelists – educators with long, rich and diverse experiences in the field of civics education – laid out their approach to finding a “common ground” in the teaching of civics education.

  • The Right to Vote and the Future of American Democracy

    Today, American democracy is in crisis, and voter suppression is at the center of that crisis. Our panel gathers not to belabor the self-evident but to discuss, from a variety of perspectives, what we should be doing to end it.

  • The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?

    What are the implications of the results of the 2018 election for American education, in Washington D.C,. in state capitols and in the nation’s schools and classrooms?

  • The Crisis of Democracy Conference

    We are experiencing an organic crisis of democracy, international in scope. This conference will draw together intellectuals and activists from across the globe to examine and explore different dimensions of that crisis.

  • Teaching Democratic Citizenship When Democracy is at Risk

    Today, the U.S. finds itself in a crisis of democracy, in which the future of our liberties and our republican form of government hang in the balance.

  • AFT: One Hundred Years of Social Justice Teacher Unionism

    Our panelists will examine a number of different figures and moments in the history of the AFT from a variety of different perspectives.

  • International Refugee Crisis

    The distinguished speakers discuss the current international refugee crisis and draw historical parallels with the anti-refugee sentiments in the World War II era.

  • Teaching Voting Rights

    Using the C3 framework developed for teaching social studies and civics with the Common Core, this workshop will investigate the use of inquiry lessons to teach the theme of voting rights.

  • Strategies for African-American Economic Emancipation

    A panel sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute at the Fighting Inequality Conference at Georgetown University.

  • The Global State of Workers Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World

    The Shanker Institute conceived of and supported the creation of a first-of-its-kind map of labor freedom in the world, by Freedom House and a report entitled: “The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World” which examined the conditions in 165 countries.

  • American Labor in U.S. History Textbooks

    The study conducted by the Institute in cooperation with the American Labor Studies Center (ALSC) makes the argument that labor history is central to an accu

  • Muslim Voices on Democracy: A Reader

    A resource for American teachers and students on the turbulent events taking place in many Islamic countries.

  • Education for Democracy

    Education for Democracy, a signatory statement released by the institute in conjunction with the beginning of a new school year, the second anniversary of th

  • Educating Democracy: State Standards to Ensure a Civic Core

    This 2003 study, authored by the late historian Paul Gagnon, evaluates the extent to which state history, civics, and social studies standards across the nation serve to help teachers in their efforts to prepare an informed citizenry.

  • Bayard Rustin Film Premiere

    In January 2003, the Institute co-hosted the Washington premiere of "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin" at the National Press Club.
  • 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

    Happy Holidays!

    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.

  • 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.