Civic Education

  • New Teaching Resource Highlights Voices Of Leading Pro-Democracy Muslims

    The Albert Shanker Institute has released "Muslim Voices on Democracy: A Reader"—a free, downloadable publication that highlights the speeches, articles, and ideals of pro-democracy Muslims. It is designed as a resource for high school teachers to use in American classrooms, as they seek to help students make sense of the complex forces at work in the Muslim world.

    You can download the publication (PDF) here.

    The individuals featured in this collection include intellectuals, union activists, dissidents, and journalists. Although the voices of women are featured throughout the publication, it contains a special section devoted to their unique challenges and contributions to the democratic political dialogue. The publication also features a glossary of terms and a list of resources for further study.

  • A Call For Democracy And Human Rights In The Arab States

    On Oct. 22-23, a group of Arab intellectuals, politicians, and civil society advocates convened a Conference on the Future of Democracy and Human Rights in the Arab World in Casablanca. Citing the “dramatic and alarming backsliding of political reforms in the Arab world," they issued a remarkable, frank and courageous appeal to the Arab nations. The “Casablanca Call for Democracy and Human Rights” represents a powerful consensus among disparate political groups that democracy must be the foundation for social and political justice in the region. As such, it represents a signal event for Arab democrats and for friends of democracy around the world.

    Among the group’s key appeals was for the right to organize free and independent trade unions. The call underscores both the courage of the signatories and the dismal situation for labor. The Middle East region has the worst trade union rights record in the world, according to a recent Freedom House report, which found that unions in the area are controlled by the government, severely repressed, or banned outright.

    The group also demanded that women (and youth) be empowered to act as equal partners in the development of their own nations, and called for freedom of expression and thought for all citizens.

  • Standing Up For The Rights Of Others

    "...part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others..."   - President Barack Obama

    In an extraordinary speech at the United Nations last Thursday, President Obama asserted his leadership and the leadership of the U.S. in the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world. Think that’s a "no news" story? You’d be wrong. The Bush administration’s effort to frame the Iraq invasion as an effort to bring democracy to the region has had the effect of linking traditional U.S. democracy promotion to military intervention in the minds of many people, in the U.S and abroad. And, although Mr. Obama campaigned in support of democracy promotion, his administration has approached the issue cautiously. In fact, the administration has been criticized for backing away from a tough democracy and human rights line in its bilateral relations, especially in the Middle East and China. Moreover, although he promised to increase the budget for the National Endowment for Democracy, in his first budget, the President actually proposed a funding reduction, but in the subsequent compromise legislation, signed off on a small increase.

    In this context, apparently anticipating a skeptical reaction to the speech, the White House released a "fact sheet" outlining activities and initiatives to illustrate its commitment to promoting democratic ideals.

  • Does Language Shape Thought?

    Do the words we use frame the thoughts that we have? And, if so, does the language we speak affect how we think?

    It turns out that linguists and cognitive scientists have been going back and forth on this issue for years. There is a fascinating article on the subject in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine (which I’m only now getting around to reading). It’s a piece by Guy Deutscher, an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester, and author of a forthcoming book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.

    First popularized in the 1940s, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity "seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think." The lack of a future and past tense in a given language, for example, was supposed to limit some speakers’ ability to comprehend the concepts of future and past.

    Although such ethnocentric and romantic aspects of the theory have been totally discredited, new research does suggest that language can have an effect on both thought and perception. For example, it has recently "been demonstrated in a series of ingenious experiments that we even perceive colors through the lens of our mother tongue." As it turns out, different languages "carve up the spectrum of visible light" in different ways, with, for instance, many languages considering blue and green to be variations of the same color. And, astonishingly, "our brains are trained to exaggerate the distance between shades of color if these have different names in our language." So, "as strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue."

  • One Person, 2.5 Votes

    We hear a lot of comparisons of the United States with other nations in terms of education, healthcare, economics, and dozens of other outcomes. These comparisons provide a frame of reference for us. They give us a way of "seeing how we're doing."

    One area that is not often discussed in these comparisons, strangely, is electoral participation. I say this is strange because we usually compare ourselves with other democracies, but rarely in terms of democracy's central mechanism.

    So let's take a look. {C}{C}{C}