Recently, we wrote about the CivX Summit in Washington, DC, where the Lou Frey Institute was recognized for the work it has done to build a quality civic education program in Florida. The summit closed with a call to arms, a recognition of the need that there needs to be more than simple talk when it comes to the vital need for engaging, action oriented, student focused civics. This cannot happen without those with the power to implement change actually doing so. This includes those we have placed in positions of respect and governance, such as our Congresspeople. Thus, it gives us great pleasure to learn that action has begun. The following was placed into the Congressional Record on the 27th of September:
Our last new development should be highlighted: we are issuing to our
Members a call to action on the crucially important aspect of civic
education. We have formed a partnership with the Lou Frey Institute at
the University of Central Florida. As you are surely aware, civic
education has been one of the most important issues our dear friend Lou
Frey has worked on since leaving Congress, and his institute has become
a leading voice on this topic in my home State of Florida. Included in
this partnership is the Civic Mission of Schools, which works hand in
hand with the civic education initiative of Justice Sandra Day
We envision an extremely active role for former Members to play at
the State level to be an advocate for civic education. Florida, of
course, is a great example on how civics can be restored if there is a
bipartisan consensus and commitment to make it happen.
In addition to this partnership, I am proud to share with you that we
are in the process of taking our highly successful model of the
international Congressional Study Groups and translating it for the
first time to a domestic issue: the Congressional Study Group on
What does this mean, outside of the lovely words and promises? It means that the Association of Former Members of Congress will be collaborating with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida and our wonderful friends at the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools to work on models of civic education policy and implementation, drawing on the lessons learned from the good work done in Florida. Whether that means creating versions of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship in other states, or taking a different approach, has yet to be determined. One of the key points made at the CivX Summit, after all, was that situations in every state are unique and call for unique approaches. It could be the Florida model, it could be the Illinois model, or it could be something completely different. What matters is that the banner has been hoisted, the battle engaged, and fight for quality civic education programs across the 50 states has begun in earnest. These men and women, our former elected leaders, are going to be doing there part, and we will work to hold them to it.
What will you do to make a difference? Take the #CivX pledge now, and join the battle. Civic education has never been more important, no matter the ideological divide that separates us.
Last week, at the Newseum in Washington, DC, the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida, in collaboration with our friends at iCivics, Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, hosted the Democracy at a Crossroads: Our Nation’s Future Needs Innovative Civic Learning Now meeting of civic educators, thinkers, and leaders from across the country (including a number of high school and college students!). Better known, perhaps, as the CivX Summit, the event featured speakers from across the political spectrum and the civics education community.
What was the point of the summit? Why did all of these smart, dedicated people get together to talk about civics? The point, really, was to stress, on a national stage, why civics matters, and to encourage those with the power and ability to do something about civics to actually do it. The summit’s ‘jumping off point’ was the recently released white paper from Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg of Tisch’s College of Civic Life. Throughout the day, speakers discussed the idea of ‘civic deserts’ and the impact they have on our society and on generations of Americans. They discussed why our discourse has perhaps become so degraded, pointing to a growing ‘Big Sort’ as a reason why Americans increasingly demand so-called ‘safe spaces’ for their views, left or right, and view ‘the other side’ as an obstacle and potential enemy, instead of just another American with a different idea.
A significant element of the ongoing conversation was what 21st century civics should look like. We know what it looks like; research has shown, consistently, what most engages students in civic life and civic learning: the Six Proven Practices. These practices (classroom instruction on relevant topics, deliberations on current events and controversial issues, service learning, student-led groups, student voice in schools, and simulations of democratic practices), however, demand additions. To address the severe issues we face in teaching and learning civics, the discussion at the summit emphasized the importance of 21st century news media literacy education, an action civics model, a consideration of social and emotional learning, and school climate reform. You can read more about these important additions to the Six Proven Practices in the white paper.
Let’s consider that idea of school climate for a moment. It is, indeed, an area that has gotten a great deal of attention lately, and not always for the better. And in many cases, we do not often think about the connection between civics instruction and school climate. But one of the most powerful moments in the entire day was when we listened to the voice of a student. A young African American woman from a local DC high school, during a heated discussion of ‘the realities of school discipline and climate’, stood up and shared, with a great deal of power and emotion, why her peers are afraid to speak up, afraid to be involved in civic life in their schools and communities, afraid to be the active citizens they deserve to be. It was a powerful moment, and emphasized the importance of student voice in any consideration of civic education reform.
An additional important focus, especially relevant here in Florida, was the role of stakeholders within the state policy apparatus. Both Florida and Illinois were held up as examples of what can happen when the stakeholders get heard and when civics is given the priority it deserves. The recent work of our friends at McCormick, spearheaded by the incredible Dr. Shawn Healy, placed civic education well up the educational ladder in Illinois. At the same time, the work of Congressman Lou Frey and Senator Bob Graham in Florida, in collaboration with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Dr. Doug Dobson (Executive Director of the Lou Frey Institute) and educators across the state to establish civics as a legislative and educational priority was featured. It was a proud moment for us here at the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, as Congressman Frey and Senator Graham were recognized for their work. You can view the video below to get some sense of the work that has been done in this state. Civics matters in Florida.
The highlight of the event was without a doubt a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It was a powerful conversation, wide ranging over a number of civic topics, from cameras in the courtroom to engaging in civil discourse across ideological divides, and the justice was sure to engage directly with the high school and college students in the audience. It was a powerful moment, and emphasized for us the importance and impact of government officials engaging with students.
It was, truly, an exciting opportunity to discuss the future of civics education in the United States. Now, the next step is to ensure that the conversation does not stop, and that it results in action. Let us all make that happen. Take the CivX Pledge, and commit to making a difference in your community and in civic life.
You can read more about the CivX Summit in the articles below:
Ally Lee Steinfeld had been missing since early September. Her body was found recently, mutilated and burned. She was 17.
Her death made Steinfeld at least the 21st transgender person killed in the United States this year. A record high of 22 murders were captured by the Human Rights Campaign last year.
We have to do better.
Steinfeld’s case is not being pursued as a hate crime. The sheriff overseeing the case told the Associated Press: “You don’t kill someone if you don’t have hate in your heart. But no, it’s not a hate crime.” That talking point was echoed by the prosecutor in the case, who told Time: “I would say murder in the first-degree is all that matters. That is a hate crime in itself.”
Perhaps this is accurate in a practical sense – in Missouri, where the crime took place, first-degree murder is punishable by execution or life imprisonment. A hate crime charge would be unlikely to add penalty.
Such comments, however, miss the point. A woman is dead. We have to do better.
Some advocates have even started to question whether hate crimes prosecution is an effective strategy. As one ACLU lawyer put it, “I worry that what hate crime laws do is narrow our focus on certain types of individual violence while absolving the entire system that generates the violence.”
And that’s the thing – it is a problem with the entire system. We are all culpable in perpetuating the gross transphobia of our society – through violent transphobic acts, through subtle jokes and misgendering, or by being complicit through silence while such hateful acts take place.
We have to do better.
Personally, I’m not prepared to abandon hate crime legislation just yet – whether adding to a punishment or not, ignoring the hate of a crime seems to implicitly indicate that while the crime may be punishable, the hate itself is sanctioned. But I’ve met a lot of good, smart lawyers who tell me that sometimes you have to sacrifice framing in the legal system – you go for the toughest penalty you can go for.
I do not know whether we can best accomplish our work through hate crime legislation or through other modes of advocacy. I only know that we have to do better.
We tell young women that they can be anything, that they can do anything. That they should shut down the haters and embrace their true selves. We tell women that it is their right in the 21st century to be the person they want to be. We tell them this is America. We tell them they are free.
Three months before she died, Steinfeld posted to Instagram: “I am proud to be me I am proud to be trans I am beautiful I don’t care what people think.”
We have to do better.
It’s American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week!) in Florida. Today, on the last day of Freedom Week, we have one of the most important, but perhaps least remembered, Founders: George Mason.
Why does George Mason matter? After all, he was one of only three delegates to the Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the Constitution. But it is, indeed, that very refusal that tells us why George Mason matters: He is the Father of the Bill of Rights. It was Mason’s vocal objections, and his work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, that led to the drafting and incorporation of the Bill of Rights into our Constitution.
Even with the promise from the Federalists to include a Bill of Rights, Mason fought hard against ratification of the Constitution; his arguments failed to persuade enough Virginians to vote against ratification however. And his fervent and sometimes angry opposition to the Constitution in some ways destroyed his relationships with those who he fought beside for independence. In a letter to his son, he wrote that
You know the friendship which has long existed (indeed from our early youth) between General Washington and myself. I believe there are few men in whom he placed greater confidence; but it is possible my opposition to the new government, both as a member of the national and of the Virginia Convention, may have altered the case.
Indeed, Washington himself was bitter about Mason’s opposition, and they never reconciled before Mason’s death in 1792. Despite his opposition to the Constitution, however, is to George Mason that most Americans owed their first tastes of liberty under the new government and his Bill of Rights. You can learn more about George Mason from this excellent lesson provided by the Bill of Rights Institute.
Grab the PowerPoint slide featured at the top of this post: George Mason AFM
Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Thomas Jefferson: A Complex Man
Phillis Wheatley: Poet
Judith Sargent Murray: Fighter for Women