Category Archives: advocating civic education

launch of Educating for American Democracy #EADRoadmap

Join us at the National Forum on March 2nd from 3-4:45pm ET for the official release of the Educating for American Democracy report.

Moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour, the forum will feature leading scholars discussing the Roadmap’s guidance about what and how to teach in history and civics. This project is the result of 17 months of work by over 300 contributors.

I was one of the co-PIs, and this project has been my focus (outside of Tufts work) since 2019.

Please join us for the launch of the first truly national and cross-ideological conversation about civic learning and history at a time when our country needs it most.

All are welcome to attend the national forum. Please register and encourage others to register at forum.educatingforamericandemocracy.org.

setting a higher standard for success in civic education

Sarah Garland has a good piece in The Hechinger Report on whether schools–and specifically, civic educators–can combat political extremism. She presents the evidence as mixed, and no one thinks that schools are equipped to solve that problem all by themselves.

Meanwhile Weinschenk & Dawes have a new article that re-analyzes longitudinal data from US students and finds that civic education does not boost voter turnout, once other factors are considered.*

My response is the same in both cases. Thousands of dedicated civic educators are doing their best in classrooms and community settings. However, as a society, we have not invested in civics. We have not put much public or private money into it, or built it into policy reforms, or required kids to spend much time on it, or emphasized it when educating future teachers, or even conveyed its importance to most of our youth.

As a result, the aggregate effects from taking a civics course are not likely to be large. Program evaluations and studies of specific classrooms sometimes find big impacts (albeit in the short term, since few evaluations involve long-term follow-up), but the effects of typical courses are limited.

If people take away the conclusion that civics doesn’t work, that will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. (And it would reflect a misunderstanding of the relationship between data–which always describes the past–and envisioning the future.) But it is true that we must invest considerably more in civics to get the results we need.

*Weinschenk, A., & Dawes, C. (2021). Civic Education in High School and Voter Turnout in Adulthood. British Journal of Political Science, 1-15. doi:10.1017/S0007123420000435. See also The Educating for Democracy Act of 2020.

three new cases for learning how to organize and make collective change

The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University has published three cases about the choices and dilemmas that confront groups of people who strive to make social change. These are like business-school cases: they are factual narratives that conclude with moments of choice that are meant to be discussed in groups, whether in high school, college, or in movements and organizations.

I am proud to have played a role in the project from the start. We felt that cases are really useful for teaching and professional development, but most actual cases provided by business schools, schools of public policy, and wonderful initiatives like The Pluralism Project and Justice in Schools focus on individual protagonists. We were interested in voluntary groups that must deliberate before they can choose. David Moss’s excellent Case Method Project does some of what we intended, but its focus is on high schools and American history, whereas we wanted to serve social movements with some current examples.

These are free, and we would love to know how they work in various settings.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

What objectives, targets, strategies, demands, and rhetoric should a nascent social movement choose as it confronts an entrenched system of white supremacy? How should it make decisions?

The Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott of 1955–1956 is a classic example of a social movement episode that accomplished its immediate goals despite severe obstacles. It catapulted the 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into international prominence and launched similar episodes in many American cities across the South and then also the North. By investigating their situation and choices, you can develop skills and insights to use as activists today.

The ISAIAH Trash Referendum

Should a faith-based organization take on an issue not of its choosing? Can relational organizing help its leadership support a new mayor while also engaging their base and holding their coalition together?

This is a case study about an organization in Minnesota called ISAIAH, a faith-based organization that works to expand the power and influence of people who have often been overlooked, especially poor people and people of color.

This case examines what happened when, to support a new mayor with whom the organization wanted to work,  ISAIAH became involved in a divisive issue—not of its own choosing—that revolved around garbage. ISAIAH faced at least three choices: 1) stay out of the fight over garbage; 2) use mobilizing techniques to help the mayor win the garbage issue; or 3) use relational organizing to enter into a power relationship with the mayor in the garbage fight—even though most of the people in ISAIAH’s networks didn’t care much about the issue.

The AMOS Project and the Campaign for Universal Preschool

Can faith-based organizers garner enough support to win universal preschool in a racially divided city? How should a grassroots group manage a disagreement with its own powerful coalition partners?

This case study is about the AMOS Project, an organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its grassroots efforts to pass legislation that would provide preschool education for most of the city’s children. AMOS’s grassroots efforts increased the political pressure to pay for the program, but at one point, the whole effort seemed likely to fall apart. How could a grassroots network of congregations manage a disagreement with allies in the business community and achieve its goals?

The Educating for Democracy Act of 2020

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced the Educating for Democracy Act of 2020. It would significantly increase federal investment in civic and history education. It is the Senate companion to the U.S. House version of the Educating for Democracy Act that was introduced on September 17th by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK). 

Note those D’s and R’s–this is bipartisan legislation with support from influential Members on both sides of the aisle.

The Act would authorize $1 billion in federal investment in civic and history education, including research, innovation and teacher professional development. Funds would go to state and local education agencies to strengthen and improve civic and history education; to non-profit entities to develop or expand access to curricula, instructional models, and other programs; and to colleges and universities to educate future elementary and secondary school teachers. The bill would also require the National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEPs) in civic and history education to be conducted every two years at grades 4, 8 and 12, with state level results made publicly available so that states can be tracked and assessed.

The full bill summary is available here

Senators Coons and Cornyn and Representatives DeLauro and Cole will reintroduce this legislation in the new congress in January, but it is important to persuade U.S. Senators to co-sponsor the bill now. Please be in touch with your own Senators.

who needs civic education?

The Monmouth University Poll released on Nov. 19 asked people (among other questions), whether Trump has done more than other presidents to undermine or to uphold the Constitution, whether respondents fear what their political opponents would do to the country, and whether Donald Trump has “drained the swamp” or made corruption worse. Here are the responses by age group.

Young people are the least likely to think that Trump upheld the Constitution, least afraid of their opponents governing, and most likely to believe that Trump worsened corruption.

I suppose reasonable people might debate these questions. A very conservative person might believe that Trump’s judicial appointments are saving the Constitution. A thoughtful progressive might fear what Trumpian Republicans would do to the country.

But generally, we would want people to answer these questions in the negative. Citizens should know that Trump disparages the Constitution, that it’s important to cede power when opponents win elections, and that the forms of corruption reported during the Trump administration are deeply problematic.

Of course, everyone needs civic education. The young need it most because they are the future and because they must be equipped to become more effective as citizens. But if you want to know who demonstrates the greatest deficits in basic civic dispositions, it is not the young.