Civic Education

  • 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.

  • Teaching Voting Rights

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    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. This panel is part of the AFT's TEACH conference. Watch the panel.

  • In Defense of the Public Square

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    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. Watch the sessions.

  • Conversation on Civic Education

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    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?

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    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. What are the hidden assumptions and implications behind the dueling methodologies? What can we say with some certainty about how many students leave school prior to graduation, when, and why? And, more importantly, what do we really know about the policies and programs that are most effective in preventing dropouts and promoting school success?

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Teaching – And Defending – American Democracy

    If recent history demonstrates anything, it is the old truth that American democracy is a work in progress, and that it can suffer reversals as well as advances. The teaching of civics in our schools should convey the complex and fluid character of American government, and the concurrent responsibility of citizens to be actively involved in politics in order to defend and expand the rights and freedoms of American democracy. At a moment of great risk for democracy, both in the United States and abroad, it is especially important for young people to understand that the moral arc of history does not bend on its own, but only by the active intervention of ordinary people. We may still have a republic, even in this moment of dangerous turmoil, but—as Benjamin Franklin famously opined—only if the citizenry can keep it.

    Seen in this light, the crash course on how to teach civics offered by the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn is an exemplar of what NOT to do. In an age of the rise of authoritarian and racist populisms of the far right, including that found at the pinnacle of American government, Finn is exercised about the emergence of an embryonic democratic socialist current in American politics. Of particular concern is what he sees as an “appalling” New York Times op-ed by two young editors of the socialist journal Jacobin, which argued that “subversion of democracy was the explicit intent of the framers” of the Constitution, and advocated constitutional reform to make the American system more democratic. 

    The idea that the 1789 Constitution contained significant anti-democratic elements seems to be anathema to Finn. Armed with an exegesis of Federalist Paper 10 which misses the essence of James Madison’s argument, he asserts that the purpose of the Constitution was the promotion and defense of democracy, full stop, and that is how it must be taught in civics courses.

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Guns Do Kill: They Don’t Belong Near Schools

    “When is enough enough?” – Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

    “We call BS.” – Emma González, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior

    A new year, a new bloody record: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 now marks the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the United States, surpassing the infamous Columbine High School massacre of April 1999. In another expression of senseless violence, at least 17 people lost their lives when a former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida.

    While the people of Broward County struggle to heal, how can the country as a whole heal? With the calendar year less than seven weeks old (a period that included the end of many winter breaks), the Broward County massacre already marked the 17th school shooting of the year. Only in the United States do school shootings happen so frequently. And even here, that rate exceeds the number of school shootings through the 14th day of February in each previous year since 2013, when Everytown for Gun Safety started keeping count, and far exceeds the average of 9.2 school shootings through February 14 between 2013 and 2017. The Gun Violence Archive, which has compiled statistics since 2014 and uses a more restrictive definition of school shootings that excludes incidents that took place after hours, also counts the Broward County massacre as the 17th school shooting this year (and provides a slightly higher average of 9.25 school shootings through February 14 between 2014 and 2017).

    This is a nation at peace domestically. How many gravestones, crosses and urns should there be marking the remains of schoolchildren and educators slain by guns of war?

  • The Importance Of Civil Society And Civic Education: The Bulgarian Example

    Our guest author today is Tatiana Vaksberg, one of the founders of the 1989-90 Bulgarian students movement and an award-winning investigative journalist based in Sofia, Bulgaria, concentrating on issues of human rights and transitional governance. This post was adapted from her remarks to the ASI’s recent Crisis of Democracy conference.

    My country is one of those places in Eastern Europe that said “no” to communism 28 years ago in an attempt to build a new and democratic society. Back in 1989, I was among the young students in Bulgaria that formed the first free student organization in 40 years. We struggled for a new constitution that would allow a multiparty system, freedom and respect for human rights.

    In 1991, I started working for Bulgarian television’s central news desk. I have worked in the field of journalism ever since, which obviously changed my perspective. I started reporting on the way the new constitutional provisions were implemented and on the way other people continued to struggle. But what has never left my mind was the importance of one repetitive and persistent question which is common to many Bulgarians today: have we achieved what we struggled for?

    The quick answer is “yes.” In 28 years, we achieved almost all of the main goals that we had in the beginning of the 1990s: Bulgaria is now a NATO and European Union (EU) member and all of its citizens’ rights and freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed. Even if Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU —with an average monthly salary of only 420 dollars — the country has the fourth highest GDP growth rate in the EU. Technically, we live in a democracy with a poor but growing economy. Like Germany, we have elected for a third time the same conservative government, which could be seen as a sign of political stability. Nevertheless, something is terribly wrong with our achievement. The more we look democratized and stable, the worse are our achievements in the field of constructing a true civil society and true democracy.

    I want to speak about this discrepancy.

  • Not Our President

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

    Last Friday, Donald Trump took the oath to become the forty-fifth president of the United States.

    Civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis spoke for many when he declared that the Trump presidency was not “legitimate.” He was right.

    The democratic tradition captured in the words of the Declaration of Independence is unequivocal: It is the consent of the governed that provides a government with legitimacy, with its just powers. That consent is expressed through free and fair elections in which every citizen has the right to vote.

    The Trump presidency fails this test of legitimacy on four substantive grounds.

  • The Role Of Teacher Diversity In Reducing Implicit Bias

    Last month, the Albert Shanker Institute released a report on the state of teacher diversity, which garnered  fair amount of press attention – see here, here, here, and here. (For a copy of the full report, see here.) This is the first of three posts, drawn from a research review published in the report, which help to explain why diversity in the teaching force—or lack thereof—is a major concern.

    Since the mid-1980s, researchers have argued that the lack of teacher diversity serves to undermine democratic amity by reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating existing social inequalities (see, for example, Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986). A growing body of recent research serves to underscore this point.

    A case in point is research on implicit bias, that is to say, unconscious judgments and opinions that arise through a system of mental processes that are so quick as to be imperceptible. But the fact that they are auto­matic and outside of conscious control can make them very hard to counter and correct for. Being influenced by cultural stereotypes is one of the more common forms of implicit bias. (For previous posts exploring the issue of implicit bias, see here, here and here.)

    Stereotypes are cognitive associations between a group and a trait (or set of traits), such as women and nurtur­ing, men and leadership skills, African American males and aggression, etc. After frequent (and sometimes subtle) exposures from our social environments, these mental associations form automatically, even in the absence of conscious antipathies toward groups (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Devine, 1989; Bargh, 1999; Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004; Greenwald & Krieger, 2006; Jost et al., 2009).