“a concerted pushback”

(En route to Baltimore and New York City) In general, Americans are abandoning our obligation to prepare young people for active and responsible citizenship, but there was good news last week for those who want to revive civic education–which includes service opportunities, extracurricular activities, and whole-school reform as well as social studies classes.

Last Monday, as I already reported, the national advisory committee of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools met. C-Span broadcast speeches by its co-chairs, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and L.A. School Superintendent Roy Romer. The same meeting also generated a very nice syndicated column by David Broder entitled “Saving Democracy, Pupil by Pupil.” Broder writes that “No Child Left Behind,” the major education reform act of 2002,

was not intended to push other subjects out of the schools, but, Romer said, ‘Quite often, the tests that states will use for No Child Left Behind will be only on certain core subjects, such as language arts and math and sometimes science, and school systems, if not careful, can be warped into the neglect of social studies.’

O’Connor and Romer are the national spokesmen for a concerted pushback against these trends calling itself the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org/). Twenty-nine national organizations and a dozen notable private individuals have lent their support; foundation money as well is behind it.

Those 29 organizations and “notable” individuals then met on Friday for the semi-annual steering committee meeting of the Campaign, which I chaired. We approved a white paper on high school reform that we had debated and revised for more than a year. I like the final version, which the Campaign will soon release. We also discussed our position on No Child Left Behind, without (as yet) reaching agreement about what should be done.

On Thursday night, Justice O’Connor attended the annual awards dinner for Streetlaw, an organization that provides curriculum and training for civic education. In giving an award to Mrs. Cecilia Marshall (Justice Thurgood Marshall’s widow), she noted her own work for the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and said that “civic education is very much part of my concern these days.” So it must be: in addition to giving the two speeches I mentioned above, the Justice also met privately with David Broder and chaired a meeting of the American Bar Association’s committee on civic education–all in one week.

I had the honor of giving Streetlaw’s Educator Award to an excellent high school teacher from Brooklyn, Patrick McGillicuddy. He has achieved remarkable success in a school reserved for students who have dropped out or been expelled from other institutions. He teaches the whole of American history as a series of mock trials. The kids not only have fun and learn debating skills; every one of them passes the New York State American History Regents Exam.