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 ns 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.
     

  • 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.

  • In Defense of American Democracy

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    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. Watch the video.

  • Civic Education: Is There Common Ground?

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    Civic Education: Is There Common Ground, March 13, 2019, noon, 555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC. Speakers: Leo Casey, Executive Director, Albert Shanker Institute; Peter Levine, Research Professor in Philosophy, Tisch College Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship; Public Affairs, and Research Professor in the Tufts Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute at Tufts University; Jessica Marshall, co-author, “Let’s Go There: Making A Case for Race, Ethnicity and a Lived Civics Approach to Civic Education ;doctoral candidate, Northwestern University; former Director of Social Science and Civic Engagement for the Chicago Public Schools; Joe Rogers, Director of Public Engagement and Government Affairs, Center for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University. Watch the video.

  • The Right to Vote and the Future of American Democracy

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    THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED


    Today, American democracy is in crisis, and voter suppression is at the center of that crisis. There is ample evidence that it has been used to thwart the democratic will of “we the people” in a different states and in a number of recent elections. Our panel gathers not to belabor the self-evident – that voter suppression is morally wrong and injurious to democracy – 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?

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    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? From a variety of perspectives ranging from political actor to scholar, our panelists will address this question. Speakers: Domingo Morel assistant professor, political science, Rutgers University; visiting scholar, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University; Michael Petrilli, president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; research fellow, Stanford University's Hoover Institution; executive editor, Education Next; distinguished senior fellow, Education Commission of the States; Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker Institute. Moderator: Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs, American Federation of Teachers. Watch the video.
  • The Crisis of Democracy Conference

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    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. The speakers will venture into a deeper analysis of the political forces and dynamics at work, with an eye to identifying opportunities in the resistance as well as dangers. October 5-6, 2017, Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. Watch the sessions.

  • Teaching Democratic Citizenship When Democracy is at Risk

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    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. Almost daily, we see attacks against the rights of citizenship, especially on the right to vote, and against the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press. Demagogic attacks are regularly launched against “other” Americans—immigrants and refugees, people of color, Muslims and Jews, and LGBTQ people. What role should American education play in responding to this crisis of democracy? How should we teach democratic citizenship in our schools and universities to ensure that the “whole mass of the people” can see that it is their interest to preserve the republican government established by the founders to sustain liberty and democracy? How can America’s educators ensure that their classrooms and lecture halls are places where students learn to recognize demagoguery, oppose bigotry and resist tyranny? Two of our nation’s leading public intellectuals, Harvard professor Danielle Allen and Yale professor Timothy Snyder, joined AFT President Randi Weingarten to discuss these questions. . Watch the video.
  • International Refugee Crisis

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    Co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute & the Jewish Labor Committee. The distinguished speakers discuss the current international refugee crisis and draw historical parallels with the anti-refugee sentiments in the World War II era. More information and video here.

  • 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 courts liberal leaning justices, Gorsuchs majority decision showcased a level of judicial independence that is important for the maintaining the integrity of this important institution. 

    A key part of Gorsuchs 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.

  • Marginalizing Views In A Time Of Polarization

    Our guest author today is Peter Levine, Academic Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life. This post was originally published at Professor Levine's blog, and has been reprinted with permission of the author.

    I recently posted “marginalizing odious views: a strategy,” which was about a powerful and sometimes valuable tool for self-governance. When communities define specific perspectives as beyond consideration, they uphold norms without needing formal censorship. This is good when it happens to Nazis (for instance), but problematic when it’s used to block serious consideration of minority views.

    I assume that marginalization is a perennial strategy. Its advantages and risks – especially as compared to a strategy of engagement – are also perennial. But the context does make a difference.

    When most Americans got their news from three rather similar TV networks plus a metropolitan daily newspaper that had from zero to three local competitors, marginalization depended on the mass media. You could try to marginalize a position that you considered odious, or create space for a currently marginalized view, but your success would depend on what Walter Cronkite and his ilk thought. If a position wasn’t marginalized on the network news, it wasn’t marginalized. And if a view never got aired in the mass media, then it was pretty marginal even if you and your friends believed in it.

  • It Was Never About The Buses: Personal And Political Reflections On “Forced Busing”

    White protestor attacks African-American passerby with American flag at a 1976 ‘anti-busing’ rally in Boston. (Photo credit: NPR)

    I have only a few distinct childhood memories of hearing someone utter the racial slur “N*****.” To be honest, I do not doubt that there were more incidents than those I now remember, but some instances were so stark and hateful, so soul wrenching, that I could not forget them, even as the passage of time has come to be counted in decades.

    One of my earliest recollections dates back to the fall of 1964, in my 6th grade class at St. Matthias Elementary School. The nun who taught the class had us research that year’s presidential election, and each of us had to decide which of the major party candidates – Johnson or Goldwater – we would support. During the ensuing class discussion, a fellow student announced that she supported Goldwater, as he would keep “the Niggers from being bused into our neighborhood schools.” Even as an eleven year old, I was stunned that this racial slur was used openly in a school dedicated to educating students in the values of the Catholic faith, and that the reaction of the nun teaching our class was to mollify, rather than admonish.

    St. Matthias was located in Ridgewood, a neighborhood on New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens border. In those days, Ridgewood was far to the right, a home to many who had been Nazi sympathizers and American Firsters during the 1930s and to others who had fled Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.[i] It was the anchor of the only assembly district in all of New York City to vote for Goldwater in 1964, and I was one of just two students in my large 6th grade class to support Johnson.

  • Citizenship, Rights, And Race

    A week ago, the Departments of Sociology and History at the University of Michigan organized a symposium in honor of Peggy Somers, Theorizing and Historicizing: Political Economy, Rights, and Moral Worth. I have learned much from reading Somers and consider her to be in the first rank of sociologists and theorists of her generation, so I was honored to be asked to contribute to a conference that recognized her work. What follows was adapted from my presentation. – LC 

    As the subtitle of Peggy Somers’ 2008 book, Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rightsmakes clear, her subject rests on a conceptual foundation taken from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. That is, the twin ideas that citizenship is the “right to have rights” and that the denial of citizenship takes the form of “statelessness.”The architecture of Somers’ compelling argument – including her powerful analysis of the dialectic of citizenship and race in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which unfortunately has proven so prescient for understanding the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico today – is built upon this foundation. To fully appreciate Somers’ use of these concepts, it is important to begin with the understanding that, intertwined in these Arendtian formulations, are political science claims of an analytical nature and political philosophy claims of a normative nature.

    Arendt’s political science claim is rooted in her analysis of the historical experience of Jews under Nazi Germany. She finds the immediate origins of the Holocaust in the post-World War One breakup of the Austrian-Hungarian, Ottoman, German and Russian empires. Europe was reorganized into nation states defined by distinct ethnic identities, creating national-ethnic minorities that were denied citizenship in a number of cases. As people who had been the historic target of racist tropes that questioned their loyalty to the community as a whole, Jews and Roma were particularly vulnerable in this new European order, too easily made into "stateless" people with no rights.

  • Finding Common Ground In Civics Education

    The following post is based on remarks by Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, delivered March 13, 2019 at the ASI conversation, "Civic Education: Is There Common Ground?"

    Ever since the mid-19th century, when the United States adopted a system of universal and free public education in the form of “common schools,” we have debated what should be taught in our schools and how we should teach it. The controversies over the Common Core are only the most recent chapter in a large volume of what one historian of American education has described as the “education wars.” In a democratic and pluralist society, such debate is both inevitable and necessary. Education is the process by which we enculturate and socialize our youth. What we teach and how we teach it is a statement on who we believe we, as a people, are and how we came to that identity. And, perhaps even more importantly, it is an affirmation of who we aspire to be as a people. Education is our declaration on what we believe it means to be an American.

    While language arts, mathematics and science all involve different and important aspects of American identity, no subject is more central to American identity than social studies and history, and in particular, than civics. In the United States, civics is education into citizenship in a republic founded on the ideal of rule by its citizens, the ‘we the people’ that announces itself as the ultimate author of the American constitution in its very first words. So civics goes directly to the heart of who is and is not a citizen of the United States, and what rights and duties American citizens possess. It goes directly to the question of the power of ordinary citizens — rather than elites — in determining both how we rule and how we are ruled. It should be a matter of no surprise, then, that the fiercest contests over the content and method of American education have taken place in civics, social studies and history. Our ability to find common ground in the teaching of civics cannot be separated from our ability to find common ground on what it means to be an American — both as a matter of history and as a matter of aspiration — or from our ability to find common ground in how we understand American democracy itself and what we want American democracy to be.