In Defense of the Public Square
A robust and vibrant public square is an essential foundation of democracy. It is the place where the important public issues of the day are subject to free and open debate, and our ideas of what is in the public interest take shape.
Civic Purposes of Public Education and the Common Core
One 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.
Conversation on Civic Education
In May 2010, ASI gathered together a remarkable group of researchers, policymakers, journalists and other leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., on May 3 for a thoughtful, in-depth, off-the-record discussion on the role of civic education in the United States.
What Do We Really Know About High School Dropout Rates & What Can Be Done To Improve Them?
The reliability of the data on high school dropout and graduation rates and the best way to calculate them have recently become the subject of intense debate, often generating more heat than light.
The Challenge for Democracy in the Middle East: The Art of the Possible
The Institute sponsored this conference on the challange of developing practical international programs to implement the traditional commitment of the labor movement to democracy and democratic institutions in the core Middle East region. It challenged participants to help conceive innovative, practical program approaches for the Middle East region.
Seminar on Education to Build Democracy
On May 6, 2003, the institute hosted a forum on international civic education. An invited group of academics, program developers, and leaders from the AFT, the U.S. State Dept., USAID, the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, the AFL-CIO, and private industry attended the Washington, DC, meeting, to discuss effective program design, content, and strategy for civic education and democracy promotion abroad. The meeting provided those who are involved – funders, researchers, and practitioners – with a chance to share their knowledge and experience. According to participants, the seminar was unprecedented in its promotion of open nteraction among the many diverse elements of the civic education community.
Our Democracy Takes Work: Support Those Who Sacrificed for Us
Our democracy means citizens have a voice in their government, like the right to vote. Our democracy provides freedoms, such as the Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Association. But creating and sustaining our democracy takes work and sometimes even great sacrifice. Voting and preserving access to the ballot box help support our democracy. Some of our neighbors and community members go further to support our democracy by joining one of the branches of our armed services which sometimes results in sacrifices to their health.
Last week, Congress had a significant opportunity to support our democracy, by supporting our veterans who sacrifices their time, talent, health, and even their lives to protect our democracy by passing the PACT Act. But Congress refused. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which is also known as the PACT Act, provides a “grace period for veterans who served near burn pits to get medical care, and legislation that tells the VA how to approach certain illnesses and cancers.” When our service members do come home, they are often injured—physically and emotionally -- and need continued care and support. That is what the PACT Act addresses. The PACT Act sent the message to our veterans that, “You did the active and dangerous work of defending democracy, now we will do the work of supporting you.” Except when it came up for a vote last week in the U.S. Senate, veterans got a very different signal, as some senators reversed their supportive votes, and the PACT Act failed to get the support it needed to pass, so veterans failed to get the support they needed and deserved.
A Special Message from the Shanker Institute
We go into Memorial Day—a day reserved for honoring those who died for our democracy while serving our country in the U.S. military—after a month of heart-breaking news and experiences.
Putin’s War On Ukraine Is A War On Academic Freedom (And An Occasion For Solidarity In Its Defense)
In his second post for the Shanker Institute, guest author Jeffrey C. Isaac, the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Blooomington, explores how the West should respond to Putin's use of higher education to spread his progaganda about the War in Ukraine.
As I observed in a recent commentary, Russian teachers are at the center of whatever debate is still possible in Russia about Putin’s bloody war on Ukraine. The regime is doing its best to use public schools as vehicles of its propaganda, because it is only through propaganda and disinformation that its war can be sustained in the face of the Russian military’s incompetence and the extraordinary Ukrainian resistance. Many brave Russian teachers are resisting, and thus placing themselves at odds with the authorities.
A similar dynamic is unfolding within Russian higher education.
On March 4 the Russian Union of Rectors issued a statement, signed by over 180 university leaders, supporting Putin’s war and declaring that “it is important not to forget our fundamental duty, which is to teach our students to be patriotic, and to help the homeland,” and that “universities are a pillar of the State.”
The statement, an offense to both human decency and academic freedom, met with much outrage, and raised serious questions about how Western academics should respond to the increasingly grave situation on Russian campuses.
iCivics, A Trusted Resource For Teachers
Our guest author today is Amanda Setters, who taught middle and high school social studies courses, including U.S. History, World History, AP U.S. History, IB History and Government, in Cincinnati, Ohio for over 20 years. Amanda loved iCivics so much during her teaching career that she recently joined the team as a Curriculum Associate in 2022 to support the creation of new resources and curricular materials for teachers and students nationwide.
When the COVID-19 pandemic upended so much of what was taken for granted in people's lives, not even our children's education was spared. But, for the love of their students, teachers did what they do best—found a way through. That way was to pivot, pivot, and pivot again.
The move from in-person to hybrid to remote (and even quarantine) learning has put teachers and students in a constant state of flux. Administrators, families, and teachers have worked incredibly hard over the past two years to make difficult decisions for the well-being of students and the larger school community. The lingering needs of students now need to be addressed.
As a teacher, I definitely felt that pressure. We had to keep both feet on the gas to maintain pacing and make up for lost instructional time. But we also faced classrooms full of students who needed assistance with school routines, skill development, and social-emotional needs unlike anything we’d dealt with before.
Amidst the chaos, I relied heavily on iCivics resources to relieve the pressure I was experiencing. The high-quality and low-prep materials from iCivics lightened the demands of lesson planning and creation, and helped me teach my high school World History and AP U.S. History classes. It was also extremely valuable as the need to provide literacy instruction to help fill instructional gaps in reading and writing skills (which has been huge in the last few school years). I’d particularly recommend iCivics for teachers who may be struggling with the following areas, like I was.
Teaching The Constitution As A Living Compact
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? Our final guest author in this series is Randi Weingarten, president of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers. Other posts in this series can be found here.
At a time when the future of American democracy hangs in the balance, how should we teach the U.S. Constitution?
The Preamble to the Constitution, where the framers laid out its purposes, provides us with six words that help answer this question. The Constitution was intended, its authors wrote, “to form a more perfect union.” With this phrase, the framers made it clear that they did not conceive of the Constitution or the republic it established as a finished product, perfect and complete for all time, but as a work in progress, in need of continuous renewal and “re-founding.” By the design of the founders, the Constitution is a living compact, changing and evolving with “we the people” who authorize it and give it legitimacy anew with each successive generation of Americans.
Federal Policy And Tribal Sovereignty
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? Our guest author today is Jordann Lankford-Forster. an educator and an IEFA instructional coach for Great Falls Public Schools in Great Falls, Montana. Jordann is A’aniiih and Anishinaabe, and her A’aniiih name is Bright Trail Woman. Other posts in this series can be found here.
American Indian Federal policy has historically played a significant role in tribal sovereignty. This is always a difficult subject to explain because it is so multifaceted. Prior to colonization, tribal sovereignty was exercised absolutely, with tribes interacting on a government-to-government basis, and under total self-sufficiency. Today, major contributing factors to achieving total sovereignty include location, access to resources, and relationship status with the Federal Government. It is important to remember that tribal sovereignty—or the ability to remain separate and independent—looks different for every tribe. As (the 574) tribes and individual American Indians navigate their future, the Constitution is continually referenced as a means to gain a strong foothold within the country that we now know as the United States of America.
I teach in a small district in Great Falls, Montana. Our student population is 16.5 percent American Indian and 44 different tribes are represented within our school system. My district is considered “urban” because it is in a city rather than located on a reservation. In 1972 the Montana Constitution was revised to recognize the “distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians” and to be “committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.” And, as a district, we are continually trying to ensure we honor that. At times, it is difficult for my students because they do not always feel like they have a sense of identity within this country.
Why Teach The Constitution?
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? Our guest author today is Zeph Capo, a public school science teacher, president of the Texas AFT, and member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors. Other posts in this series can be found here.
Collective bargaining is the cornerstone on which we built the middle-class. As a labor leader, it is the best tool used by workers to earn a seat at the table as equals with their employer. It is also how we develop a contract outlining one another’s roles, rights, and responsibilities in the workplace. As an educator, I ask: How do we expect workers to understand the process and power of collective bargaining if they don’t understand the power and process of governance as outlined in our Constitution?
I believe teaching the Constitution is vital, because it is the premier collectively-bargained contract present in our lives. The rights, responsibilities, and regulations set forth in the Constitution serve as the bedrock on which we develop all other aspects of the agreements governing the many facets of our society.
Teaching Students The Textualist Interpretation Of Law
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? Our guest author today is David Said, a social studies teacher at Athens High School in Troy, Michigan. Other posts in this series can be found here.
In a fairly recent court case, Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that sex discrimination does cover gay and transgender individuals under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. One of the more surprising aspects of this case was that the majority opinion was delivered by associate justice Neil Gorsuch. Appointed by President Trump to replace the late Antonin Scalia, most assumed he would tow the line of conservative jurisprudence. In joining with Chief Justice John Roberts and all three of the court’s liberal leaning justices, Gorsuch’s majority decision showcased a level of judicial independence that is important for the maintaining the integrity of this important institution.
A key part of Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy is grounded in a concept called “textualism.” Simply put, textualism is an interpretation of law in which the words of the legal text are analyzed through the lens of their normal meaning. It is quite common for Justices to include authors’ intent, historical examples, and most importantly precedence as factors when deciding a case that comes before the Supreme Court. Textualism appears to simplify this process altogether by requiring one to truly dig deep into the meaning of words and phrase. In the Bostock case, the word that Gorsuch zeroed in on was “sex” within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Discriminating against an individual or group because of their sex could reasonably be interpreted to include gender as well as sexual orientation. The six Justices in the majority agreed with that preceding sentence. Conversely, the Justices in the minority were quick to point out that members of the legislative branch were likely not thinking of anything beyond men or women in the year 1964.
Understanding The Complexities Of History
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? Our first guest author is Stephen Lazar, is a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher, who is typically teaching students Social Studies and English at Harvest Collegiate High School in NYC, which he helped to start. This year, he is on sabbatical and a Ph.D. candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center and is one of the Shanker Institute Civics Fellows. Other posts in this series can be found here.
This is my first Constitution Day in some time where I will not be teaching high school students, since I am on sabbatical as I work towards a Ph.D. in history. When I am teaching history, there are two things I want students to understand more than anything else. First, history is complicated; things are rarely simply good or bad. Second, I want students to understand that that history is not merely a list of sequential facts. Instead, history is made up of competing interpretations. I regularly tell my students that historians, far more knowledgeable than we are, look at all the available evidence and come to different conclusions from each other. When I return to the classroom next fall, I plan to engage my students in one such disagreement in looking at the impact of the Constitution on people who were enslaved.
Increasingly over the past few years, my students have come with strong opinions on the Constitution’s relationship to the institution of slavery. This happens for a variety of reasons: engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement, watching Thirteenth on Netflix, and exposure to the growing public discourse that examines the history of racism in the United States. Whereas a decade ago, most of my students knew very little about the Constitution or had a relatively positive view of it, now a critical mass of my students strongly believe that the Constitution laid the foundation for a racist society because it was proslavery.
Trouble In The Neighborhood
Our guest author today is Randy Garton, former Director of Research and Operations at the Albert Shanker Institute. He retired in 2015.
I recently went with my oldest son, a young adult on the autism spectrum, to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a movie featuring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. It is a grown-up movie, inspired by real events. It tells the story of a reporter (played by Matthew Rhys), who is assigned to do a profile of Rogers.
The reporter, Tom Junod, is depicted as a cynical, angry, but honest man who endeavors to find the “real” Mr. Rogers — who he supposes is much different from the kindly figure seen on TV. Instead, he discovers that Rogers is a complex, kind, thoughtful and brilliant artist. He was certainly not a saint, but a decent man who tried to live his life by the values he taught on the show and, by and large, succeeded.
The acting was top notch. As expected, Hanks was great in the role and was the perfect guy for the part. Junod’s wife was played by an African-American actress, adding an extra layer of complexity. I don’t know whether or not the wife of the real journalist was Black, but it struck me as important in the film. She was depicted as very strong and smart. Junod was portrayed as a man in pain due to his father’s actions at the time of his mother’s death. He didn’t know how to deal with those feelings, and Mr. Rogers helped.
I believe that many people left that movie wanting to be a better person. I certainly did.