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 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.
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 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.
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.
More information about the series & registration.
WEBINAR 1, Sept. 29, 6:30 PM ET
Constitution 101: How to Teach the U.S. Constitution in K-12 – co-present with National Center for the Constitution.
WEBINAR 2, Oct. 6, 6:30 PM ET
A More United America: How to Create a Safe and Welcoming Environment During Divisive Times.
WEBINAR 3, Oct. 13, 6:30 PM ET
Teaching the Civil War Amendments: Reconstruction’s 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments
WEBINAR 4, Oct. 20, 6:30 PM ET
A More United America: How Book Banning Prevents Literacy For All
WEBINAR 5, Oct. 27, 6:30 PM ET
Constitutional Voting Rights: Teaching the 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments
WEBINAR 6, Nov. 17, 6:30 PM ET
Teaching About Tribal Sovereignty and the U.S. Constitution
The Shanker Institute, the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University and Share My Lesson held a virtual three-day conference on Educating for Democratic Citizenship. Participants will be eligible for professional development recertification credit for these on-demand webinars.
Countering Misinformation in the Classroom: A Media Literacy Discussion with Randi Weingarten and NewsGuard
In this Q & A style session, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Steven Brill discussed the misinformation trends NewsGuard’s analysts are encountering in the field, and the tactics educators can employ in their classrooms to counter these trends.
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.
In The Teacher Insurgency, Leo Casey addresses how the unexpected wave of recent teacher strikes has had a dramatic impact on American public education, teacher unions, and the larger labor movement.
In “Slaying Goliath…,” Diane Ravitch writes an impassioned, inspiring look at the ways in which parents, teachers, activists--citizens--are successfully fighting back to defeat the forces that are privatizing America's public schools.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.