Category Archives: advocating civic education

a German/US civic education discussion

At a free online event on April 20th 2021, 5-6pm (Central European Time) / 11–noon (US Eastern Time), Bettina Heinrich, Professor of Social Work and Culture Work at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg, and I will talk about concepts, infrastructures and approaches for civics/political education in our respective countries, with time for questions from the audience.

For Americans who have not especially thought about civic education in the Federal Republic of Germany, here are some reasons you might be interested: Germany has a very impressive system of adult education that serves a wide range of people and includes elements of democratic education. The USA had a positive influence on Germany democratic education after WWII, just as German models had influenced American higher education in the 1800s and early 1900s. In other words, the two countries are more closely linked that you might think. Nevertheless, there are intriguing differences between “civics” in the US and politische Bildung in Germany. Finally, Germany tends to do an impressive job of addressing the evils of the past. Without equating or even comparing historical evils, we can learn from their experience as we reckon with our own history.

Registration information here: https://tece-usde.org/kick-off-event-announced/

Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE): School Based and Non-Formal Civics in Germany and the USA

The Tisch College of Civic Life is excited to announce the launch of the Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE), a new project in partnership with the Association of German Educational Organizations (AdB). This fellowship will bring together ten participants from Germany and ten from the United States to engage in dialogue in the field of extracurricular/OST youth and young adult civic learning.

From July 2021 through March 2022, fellows will participate actively in in-person exchange activities in Germany and the U.S., as well as online programming to include peer-learning seminars, site-visits, and thematic small-group work.

Are you involved in the field of civic learning with young people (ages 12-29) in a community or youth work organization, after school association, museum, historical site, youth organizing nonprofit, research association or other related institution? Can you commit to enhancing your own practice and boosting the work of your organization through international professional exchange?

We are eager to accept your application by the deadline on May 18th. More information on the program and how to apply can be found here.

As part of our project launch, we will host an open event, “Civic Learning vs. Politische Bildung: A Discussion of Concepts, Infrastructures and Approaches in the US and Germany”, on April 20 at 11:00am EST/5:00pm CET with Dr. Peter Levine, Associate Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and Prof. Bettina Heinrich, Professor of Social Work and Culture Work at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg. The main event will be followed by an informal Q&A session, where applicants can ask questions about the application process. The event will be held in English. To register, please visit: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwkfuuorTIsGdWiSdKJJDFLCXl24qVgi29X

Please contact greeson@adb.de with any questions.

Background

The effort to reengage in transatlantic dialogue in the field of youth civic learning comes at a critical time, as both Germany and the United States experience similar societal challenges: structural racism, right-wing populism, polarization and mistrust of democratic institutions and the media, not to mention a strained transatlantic relationship, all exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Germany, the field of non-formal civic education, which falls within the broader “youth work” sector, is legally established and involves a rich array of public and civil society institutions. This system has roots in the democratic “reeducation” effort post WWII in Germany, which was led by the United States. It has its own guiding principles and professional field, separate from school-based civics.

Even though they share a connected history, interactions between school-based and non-formal civic education and between German and US civic educators been sparse. Professional discourse has developed separately, resulting in distinct and diverse infrastructures, concepts, and approaches. In bringing together actors in the field of civic learning, civic engagement and civic youth work from two national approaches and infrastructures, we hope to unlock opportunities for mutual learning through an investigation of common challenges and respective approaches, as well as to identify promising new concepts and future partnerships.  

The Educating for American Democracy Roadmap

The Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Roadmap and related materials are now public on an interactive website. This has been my top extracurricular priority for the past year and a half (working along with many wonderful colleagues), and I’m excited it’s out.

There will be a free national forum to discuss it later today, and you can register to attend here.

In The Wall Street Journal, six former U.S. education secretaries (Lamar Alexander, Arne Duncan, John King, Rod Paige, Richard Riley and Margaret Spellings) write together:

Despite our differences on policy and priorities, we believe that the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy provides a promising path. The project is the result of a 19-month collaboration among more than 300 scholars, educators, practitioners and students from diverse backgrounds. The ambition of this plan is to re-establish civics and American history as essential components of education.

There has also been good coverage so far in EdWeek, the Newshour, the Washington Post,  WGBH, The74.

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.