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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
This keynote Speech was delivered by guest author Norman Hill, President Emeritus, A. Philip Randolph Institute at the 2022 APRI Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD (edited). Normal Hill was also the staff director for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
As I approach 90 years young, it is especially gratifying to do so here in Baltimore. You know me as president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which I was privileged to help organize and lead for 37 years, from 1967 to 2004. I traveled the country to 200 APRI chapters we founded to mobilize Black trade unionists, to organize voter registration and participation campaigns, to build the essential coalition of labor and the Civil Rights movement, and to pursue the struggle for racial and economic justice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.