In America and throughout the world, the norms and institutions that provide the foundation of democracy are under assault. Self-government by “we the people” is demanding, requiring a degree of mutual respect, civility and understanding that the Shanker Institute remains committed to fostering. We also believe that citizen engagement, at every level, is both possible and central to rebuilding a strong and vibrant democracy "democracy is achieved or saved when a pro-democratic majority acts with enough unity and purpose to overcome those threats without fracturing." As one of our long-standing priorities, the Albert Shanker Institute is dedicated to research, dialogue, and partnerships that protect and strengthen democracy at home and abroad.
One of the Institute's new featured programs is Educating for Democratic Citizenship 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.
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.
The Shanker Institute and Education International are both celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2023. Both organizations share a common origin, Albert Shanker cofounded EI and was the inspiration for the ASI. To recognize the common origin and priorities of each organization, strengthening public education and committed to democracy, this Panel Discussion & Anniversary Celebration of the Albert Shanker Institute (25 Years) and Education International (30 Years) was held ahead of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to take advantage of both organizations’ leaders being in Washington, DC at the same time.
Watch a discussion with AFT President Randi Weingarten who recently traveled to Ukraine; Bilingual Special Education Teacher Alexandra Hernandez, who spent the summer teaching Ukraine students in Poland, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, co-founder of the Ukraine Children's Action Project. Contribute to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund at: https://www.aft.org/aft-disaster-relief-fund. Watch the video.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Institute received a grant from the ILGWU Heritage Fund in April 2005 to help sponsor this three-day seminar aimed at educating new AFT leaders on the rationale and history behind labor’s support for democracy and worker rights in the world.
On National Voter Registration Day, our special guest author is Rhode Island Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore.
Preparing our next generation of civic leaders, engaged voters, and informed citizens starts in the classroom. In Rhode Island, young people are eligible to pre-register to vote as early as age sixteen. We know that when voters are engaged early, they’re more likely to vote consistently throughout their life. As a former educator, I feel it is essential that we lay the foundation to support students and young people, encouraging them to become civically engaged – as voters, advocates, community members, and even elected officials themselves. As we recognize National Voter Registration Month, we must think about how we set our next generation of voters up for success, including inspiring and encouraging them to register to vote.
I was sworn in on January 3, 2023 as Rhode Island’s thirtieth Secretary of State, but my election as Secretary of State wasn’t my first step into politics. I first ran for elected office in 2012, serving the residents of my hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island as a State Representative for a decade. My role as a part-time legislator, coupled with my career as a civics and history teacher, afforded me the opportunity to advocate for my students both inside and outside of the school environment.
Perhaps one of my proudest moments as a Representative was the passage of the Civic Literacy Act, a bill I sponsored that emphasizes “action civics,” requiring students to demonstrate proficiency in civics education through a project-based, immersive curriculum before high school graduation. Another bill I was proud to sponsor that recently became law in Rhode Island allows 17-year-olds who will turn eighteen by a general election to vote in the primary that determines the general election’s candidates. Better civic education as well as increased access to the ballot box are key to encouraging young people to become lifelong voters.
My classroom and legislative experiences made clear to me what was needed in order to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed as citizens and participants in civic life. There’s no doubt that the policy-making and legislative process can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never been invited to be part of the process before. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to take the concepts and lessons we learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world. In one of my last years in the House of Representatives, my East Providence High School students researched, discussed, and debated an issue of importance to them, compensation for individuals who had been wrongfully convicted, eventually helping to inform a bill that I was able to co-sponsor. That bill was signed into law by the governor – a great outcome. But another positive outcome was that my students got to see that the State House wasn’t only for legislators, and they could truly make a difference by being civically engaged.
Guest authors Norman and Velma Hill have been activists and leaders in the civil rights and trade union movements for six decades. Their joint memoir, “Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain” (Regalo Press) is coming out in the fall.
“Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group, we are not an organization or a group of organizations, we are not a mob. We are the advanced guard of a massive, moral revolution for jobs and freedom.”
Most people remember the stirring speech of the day’s last speaker, but these were the opening words to the 250,000 people who attended the 1963 March on Washington. They were delivered by A. Philip Randolph, the March’s director, still considered “the Chief” of the civil rights movement even as he passed the torch of leadership that day to Martin Luther King, Jr. His was not the call of a day or of a year or even of a decade, but of a lifetime in pursuit of civil rights and economic justice.
Randolph had organized and led the first mass Black trade union in the United States (the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), having forced the Pullman company into submission after 12 years of hard conflict. With the BSCP as a base, Randolph spearheaded the original March on Washington movement in 1941 that, by its threat of 100,000 Blacks marching on the capital, successfully pressured Frankin Delano Roosevelt to sign an executive order desegregating defense industries and federal employment just prior to US involvement in World War II. In 1948, Randolph organized protests on the Democratic and Republican Conventions and threatened to lead a mass boycott of young Black men to the draft to achieve desegregation of the US armed forces. He led the long, successful battle to rid the AFL-CIO of Jim Crow unions and to get the labor federation and its leadership firmly on the right side of civil rights.
In late 1962, seeing the desperate economic conditions and lack of progress towards equality for Blacks on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Randolph called in Bayard Rustin, his long-time collaborator. “It’s time to march again.” He tasked Rustin with preparing a plan for a new March on Washington. We are the two surviving members of Rustin’s planning group, which included the civil rights and trade union strategist, Tom Kahn.
Our guest author for AAPI Heritage Month is Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teachers Union, an AFT vice president, co-chair of the AFT Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force, and a Shanker Institute Board Member. This blog first appeared on AFTvoices.org on May 1, 2023.
While I have called Boston home for over two decades, I actually was born in Ohio and grew up in several states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Jersey. What each of these states had in common throughout my years of attending school was that not once did I have an AAPI teacher. Nor did I ever learn about Asian American or Pacific Islander history.
Like so many AAPI students, I grew up feeling not too sure where I belonged — whether it was embarrassment as a child when I was told my home-cooked lunches “smelled” and “looked weird,” or when during a social studies lesson about an Asian country other students would look at me as if I were supposed to know all the answers. I had never been to Asia and certainly did not know about the dozens of countries with disparate cultures, languages and customs.
It wasn’t until college and later that I truly started to learn more about the Asian American diaspora — those who, like me, had families that immigrated to the United States and shared common experiences. Only then did I realize that I was not totally alone.
On the 69th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, our guest author is Leon W. Russell, Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors.
In 1948, the sixty-four-member national board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed its Special Counsel and head of the Legal Defense Fund Thurgood Marshall’s strategy to direct the organization’s legal advocacy efforts to racially integrate society through the education system. Following nearly two decades of legal battles and cases ranging from early childhood to graduate education, this decisive choice made by the leaders of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization set the stage for a victory in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, and subsequent victories in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The all White-male Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled that “Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The significance of their unanimous decision precipitated a journey and fight that has spanned nearly 70 years and continues as we seek to build an inclusive community rooted in liberation where all persons can exercise their civil and human rights without discrimination. But how do we continue to build on the work of those like Thurgood Marshall, Mary White Ovington, Roy Wilkins, Albert Shanker and countless others when we presently face extremist dissenters of equality who continue to use one of the most basic hallmarks of American life – education – as the battlefield to degenerate our society?
Next week, on May 17th, it will be the 69th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that “separate but equal” racial segregation was unconstitutional. This landmark case did not happen in isolation. Students, families, and educators from around the country had been challenging racial segregation. The Albert Shanker Institute is privileged to share the history and legacy of Hedgepeth-Williams v. Board of Education written by Kean University President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D.
Education has the potential to be the great equalizer that truly changes the trajectory of people's lives. The struggle to realize that potential has a long history here in New Jersey. Looking back, we know Black activists were demanding civil rights reform in education here in the Garden State more than a decade before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated public schools across the nation in 1954. Concerted efforts by the NAACP, other advocates and mothers weary from discrimination in education led to legal battles that paved the way for changes and pivotal federal legislation. One of the precedent-setting cases that helped the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was New Jersey’s Hedgepeth and Williams v. Board of Education.
In 1943, two mothers from Trenton, Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams, attempted to enroll their children in a neighborhood middle school. The school, the women were told, wasn’t “built for Negroes.” As a result, they enrolled their children in a Blacks-only school more than two miles away while simultaneously filing lawsuits against the Board of Education of Trenton. Represented by Robert Queen of the NAACP, the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled intentional segregation in public schools to be a violation of New Jersey law. Schools in New Jersey would no longer be segregated.
Last month the Albert Shanker Institute hosted a virtual event to discuss the Supreme Court. The interest in our country’s highest court has grown dramatically over the last decade. Unfortunately, this interest is grounded in scandal and a serious decline in confidence.
While the headlines about the latest Clarence Thomas scandal are new, the crisis of our nation’s highest court is not. Just last winter the Pew Research Center documented a steep 15 percentage point drop in favorability in the Supreme Court of the United States in only three years, from August 2019 to January 2022. In fact, that same Pew research article pointed out that the “current views of the court are among the least positive in surveys dating back nearly four decades
Indeed, this Supreme Court integrity crisis did not start with Justice Thomas, although he has contributed to it mightily in his time on the high court with billionaire conservative friends lavishing him with gifts and his wife Ginni’s role in the January 6th insurrection. This crisis isn’t just about Justice Thomas. There are unanswered questions about Justice Neil Gorsuch’s property sale disclosure issue and conflict of interest concerns around Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts’ role as recruiter for top law firms that argue in front of the Supreme Court.
The Shanker Institute turns 25 years old this month!
The Shanker Institute was formed in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of AFT President Al Shanker. The organization’s by-laws commit it to four fundamental principles—vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for working people in decisions affecting their jobs and their lives, and free and open debate about all of these issues.
From the beginning the Institute has brought together influential leaders and thinkers from business, labor, government, and education from across the political spectrum. ASI continues to sponsor research, promotes discussions, and seek new and workable approaches to the issues that shape the future of democracy, education, and unionism.
“We have a long history of showing up. Showing up for freedom, showing up for democracy, showing up for education, both here and abroad.”
This is what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told Nicole Wallace of MSNBC News about why she led a delegation to Lviv, Ukraine this month to meet with Ukrainian educators, trade unionists, medical workers and others engaged in the life and death struggle for Ukraine’s survival against Russian aggression.
The AFT’s history of showing up is longstanding in Central and Eastern Europe. It dates to efforts before, during and after World War II to save trade unionists from fascist and communist tyranny in the region. As well, the AFT was the most active international union among AFL-CIO and international trade secretariat affiliates supporting the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland, both during the decade of martial law repression as well as the country’s dramatic transition from Soviet-imposed communism to democracy in 1988-89.
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.