Strengthening Democracy

  • 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.

  • Educating for Democratic Citizenship

    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 Intersection of Democracy and Public Education

    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.

  • AFT in Solidarity with Ukraine

    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: Watch the video.

  • In Defense of American Democracy

    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.

  • The Crisis of Democracy Conference

    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.

  • Teaching Democratic Citizenship When Democracy is at Risk

    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.

  • Philanthropy and Democratic Education: Friends or Foes?

    Ever since their emergence in the early twentieth century, major philanthropic foundations have played a funding role in American education.
  • The Challenge for Democracy in the Middle East: The Art of the Possible

    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.

  • Unionism and Democracy: The Experience, the Legacy, The Future

    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.

  • Educating for Democratic Citizenship Lesson Plans

    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. These lessons can be found on a dedicated section of ShareMyLesson.

  • Constitution Day 2022 Resources and Blog Series

    As we recognize Constitution Day this year, so much is stake—our institutions, our rights and our ability to teach. So the Albert Shanker Institute and Share My Lesson are launching a series of teach-ins to provide content knowledge on the rights granted in the Constitution, with teachable strategies for the classroom.

  • Constitution Day 2021 Blog Series

    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?

  • Democracy Declaration

    View and sign the Democracy Declaration.
  • Education for Democracy 1987

    Education for Democracy: A Statement of Principles, is a signatory statement released by the American Federation of Teachers, The Educationa

  • Democracy's Champion

    This report chronicles Al Shanker’s contributions in the international arena. It documents Shanker's many international endeavors to support democracy and workers’ rights and records the living memories of those who worked with him.

  • 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

  • UK Election: A Lesson for the U.S.

    Our guest author is Stan Litow, professor, Columbia University; vice president emeritus, IBM's Global Corporate Citizenship Program; president emeritus, IBM International Foundation and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors.

    What a month of news! While July is ending with a renewed concern about political violence and a different presidential match-up than the one it started with, before July ends, I’d like to bring us back to a lesson across the Atlantic I’d like to make sure we learn.

    Looking back, for many the joy of this year's July 4th celebration was muted, largely because of a continued controversy after the U.S. Presidential debate.  July 4th in the UK saw game-changing election results, where the newly elected Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his party achieved an unprecedented victory. In his victory speech Prime Minister Starmer sincerely sought to unite and not divide his nation, moving his party more toward the center, praising his predecessor and making it clear he intended to bring the nation together by ending divisive rhetoric and seeking agreement behind an agenda that would benefit not some, but all, and supporting the vital role public service and government action can play. Sounds like the sentiments embedded in the U.S. Constitution.

  • A Nation’s ‘Teachable Moment’: What We Need to Learn from Trump’s Trials and Reactions

    Educators treasure something we call “teachable moments”—those occasions when a high-profile event captures our students’ attention, interest and imagination. As experienced and accomplished classroom teachers of civics, social studies and English language arts, the three of us would look forward to such moments, as they provided unique opportunities to engage students in in-depth learning on important subjects.

    The May 31 criminal conviction of former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, is certainly a “teachable moment,” and not only for students, but for all Americans. It is the first time in our history that an individual who held the highest elected office in our republic has been found guilty of committing a felony—not once, but 34 times, and by a jury of his peers.

    What should educators teach students about this trial and conviction? What should Americans conclude about these events?

  • What Two Civil Rights Heroes Can Teach Today's Left

    Guest author and Shanker Institute Board Member Richard Kahlenberg reviews Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain: The Extraordinary Story of Love, Civil Rights, and Labor Activism, the memoir of civil and labor rights leaders Norman and Velma Hill.

    If you’re worried about threats to liberal democracy in America, emanating primarily from Donald Trump but also from parts of the progressive left, a new memoir published by two veteran civil rights activists provides a refreshing reminder that a better path remains open. Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain: The Extraordinary Story of Love, Civil Rights, and Labor Activism, by Norman and Velma Hill, two black civil rights leaders, provides a fascinating account of their years working closely with Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin to make their country live up to its ideals.

  • Warning Signs: How the Fight for Our Schools is the Fight for Our Lives

    Our guest author is Kristin Penner, a Senior Research Analyst at the African American Policy Forum (AAPF).

    Public education has always been a driver of democracy and anti-racism — that’s why segregationists fought so hard against Brown v. Board of Education and integration in the Civil Rights Era and why the "war on woke" is pursuing a segregation of ideas through bans of books, ideas, and anti-racist instruction. Attacks on democracy and the attacks on racially inclusive and LGBTQ-inclusive teaching, books, and scholarship unfolding across the country today are fruits of the same poisonous tree. The “war on woke” seeks to silence what can be said, what stories we are allowed to know, and whose histories we may share. The so-called “war on woke” is using the power of law and regulations to bully thoughtful educators away from honest teaching of accurate curricula. It aims to erase the very possibility of an inclusive story of our country. It has been highly successful. And we are all at risk. The threat to our ability to teach a fuller history is a threat to our democracy itself. This is not a drill. Our freedom to live in a fully realized multiracial democracy depends on our freedom to learn the full story of who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.

  • Democracy & Abortion Access: How Underrepresentation of Women in State Legislatures Threatens Freedom

    Our guest author is Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

    When the Supreme Court handed down the damaging decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, it did not just strip millions of people of their ability to control their own bodies and reproductive choices by ending the constitutional right to access an abortion. The Court also deepened the effects of long-standing, systemic efforts to silence the voices of women in our democracy.

    Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs argues that women can redress the denial of their individual freedoms, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, by exercising electoral and political power at the state level. But his statement is disingenuous and rings hollow upon closer scrutiny of the actual data.

    The National Partnership recently conducted an in-depth analysis of representation in state legislatures as it relates to abortion access, entitled Democracy & Abortion Access: State Legislatures’ Lack of Representation Threatens Freedoms. It highlights the fact that many of those states which are the most restrictive when it comes to curbing abortion rights are also the least representative of women in their state legislatures. The presence of greater gender representation within the membership of state legislatures is connected to stronger abortion protections and policies which advance reproductive justice for the residents of those states.

  • Libraries: Guarding Our Freedom to Read

    Our guest author is Jenn Kalata, an adult services library associate at Worthington Public Libraries and treasurer for Worthington Public Libraries United, Local #6606.

    I work in a small library system in Worthington, Ohio, just north of Columbus. My colleagues and I have started sharing the latest book bans from around the country as a strange sort of bonding exercise. Although our community tends to be open to all sorts of materials, we have noticed an increase in book challenges. The director and building managers are wonderful at talking to these folks and getting them to reconsider, reminding them that our collections reflect our community.  One librarian put together a display specifically to highlight banned books, and it has been a hit with patrons. It is always satisfying when I can grab a book from those shelves and put them into the hands of someone looking for a good book. However, I often find myself feeling like we are avoiding the worst, given the rise of book bannings happening all over the country.

    When I began working in public libraries six years ago, the culture surrounding book bans was already shifting. At first, book bans seemed to stem primarily from particularly stalwart religious or far-right groups. At the private Roman Catholic School where I grew up, for instance, the irreverent Captain Underpants books were banned. In 2023, though, there is something far more insidious and frightening about the increasing vitriol of the current bans. They are far more frequent and the scope of what is being deemed inappropriate has widened far beyond commonly challenged books such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

  • Civic Education: From the Classroom to the Polling Place

    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. 

  • The Birth of Coalition Politics

    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.

  • From Invisibility to Solidarity: An AAPI experience

    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 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.

  • Beyond Brown: What We Must Protect

    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?