Governor Charlie Baker signs Massachusetts civic education law

A press release from the the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (of which I’m a member):

The Coalition applauds Governor Charlie Baker for signing into law bill S.2631, giving Massachusetts one of the nation’s most innovative statewide civic education programs. The new law, which Gov. Baker signed today, provides for funding for the professional development of teachers to teach civics effectively, the opportunity for students to participate in civics-based projects, and establishes civic education as a priority for school districts across the state.

The Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (MCLC) thanks the State Senate, the House of Representatives and the Governor for their leadership in this legislation. This will help ensure that students across the Commonwealth will have access to a civic education curriculum that teaches them the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, fundamental knowledge about government, such as the functions of each branch and the electoral process, as well as key 21st century skills such as media literacy.

We commend the Legislature and the Governor for giving teachers the support they need to implement and teach the curriculum and facilitate civics projects to prepare students for thoughtful and informed participation in civic life. Specifically, MCLC appreciates the commitment to securing robust funding to implement the bill, including the provision of funds for teacher professional development through the Mass Civics Trust Fund.

“With the enactment of this law, Massachusetts has leapt to the forefront of civics education, joining states such as Florida and Illinois to take an innovative — and necessary — step to ensure that every young person in the state is prepared and engaged in civic life,” iCivics Executive Director Louise Dubé said. “This is a critically important law, passed at a critically  important moment for our state and our country.”

Arielle Jennings, Generation Citizen’s Massachusetts Executive Director said, “Young people often have a hard time seeing the political process as relevant to them and are disengaged from it as a result. This law will help strengthen our democracy by educating a new generation of active citizens.”

The Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition is a roundtable of twenty civics education organizations, research institutions, school districts, and stakeholders committed to improving the quality and implementation of K-12 civic education for students across the state. Members of the coalition include: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, Generation Citizen Massachusetts, iCivics, and other organizations committed to civic education reform.

For further information on MCLC, please visit www.macivicsforall.org

Justice O’Connor and civics

I’m sorry to read that Justice O’Connor has dementia. She has devoted her retirement years to improving civics, and she has taken that objective fully seriously.

Her greatest contribution is the nonprofit organization she founded to teach civics through video games—a remarkable idea for someone her age to invent. iCivics is now the biggest provider of civic education and contributes immeasurably to the field.

Justice O’Connor has also been a tireless advocate of policies for civics. The landmark civic education legislation in Florida is named after her, for a reason. She co-chaired the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which colleagues and I launched in 2003. She can be found on panels and ceremonies related to civics from coast to coast. That’s her, for example, to the right of David Skaggs in the picture above. (I’m doing my best to listen to the question from the audience.)

We have crossed paths in those contexts several times. She has often taken me by the hand, bored her steely blue eyes into me, and ordered me to do something—such as evaluate the impact of a national program.  I didn’t always comply but always took the obligation very seriously.

I won’t comment on her jurisprudence, if for no other reason than I haven’t studied it carefully. I have a working theory that she was especially deferential to autonomous institutions, such as universities. Whether that was wise or not is a matter of debate. Today, I’d rather celebrate her as one of the great retirees and citizens of our time.

civics in the very early grades

I’m far from an expert on civics for young children, but I bump into the subject in various capacities–as an author of the College Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies, which covers grades k-12; as an evaluator of a pilot civics program in Ukraine, which includes a first-grade curriculum; as a proud board member of Discovering Justice, which focuses more than other nonprofits do on the early grades; and as the director of CIRCLE when we commissioned “Indicators and Measures of Civic Outcomes for Elementary School Students” by Bernadette Chi, JoAnn Jastrzab, and Alan Melchior.

If I’m asked what little kids should learn about civics, this is my working answer. Mostly, they should learn how to relate appropriately to other people: sharing resources fairly, taking turns, resolving conflicts peacefully, and addressing common problems. They should also begin to see that the same issues arise at larger scales and for adults in formal roles. Just as they should they help a classmate who’s crying on the playground, so “neighborhood helpers” like firefighters should help citizens in need. Just as they should resolve disputes with words, so should national leaders. Just as their classroom has rules, so does the society. At some point in the early grades, they should begin to realize that just as kids may fail to treat each other right, so may adults who hold official roles; and when that happens, it requires remedies. These analogies should be represented in the materials, such as historical narratives, that children read and otherwise study academically.

I don’t think we know whether experiencing high-quality civics at age 7 matters at age 17 (or 70). You might expect that it only matters if the experience is reinforced in between, but that’s an empirical question. In 1999, Sir Bernard Crick observed that, “there is no political Piaget,” and longitudinal research on civic development before adolescence is sorely lacking. Thus I base my advice on accumulated classroom experience and theory, not on statistical data.

suing for better civics

(DCA) Robert Pondiscio for the Fordham Institute:

Many of us who view ourselves as civic-education advocates spend lots of time writing earnest op-eds and columns, attending conferences, and speaking on panels … Collectively, we have spilled gallons of ink urging states, school districts, and teachers to return public education to its roots.

Well, to hell with all that jawboning, says Michael Rebell, in effect. He’s going to force the issue by making a federal case out of it. Literally.

An attorney and Columbia professor, Rebell has been quietly working with a group of law school students to prepare a federal lawsuit to be filed next month, arguing that our public schools are not adequately preparing children for citizenship. ….

Before you write this off as a quixotic quest or mere law school exercise, know that Rebell isn’t just some lawyer, or even some professor. In 1993, he led the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against the State of New York and won …

I would add that Rebell’s new book, Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is a thoughtful, well-informed, and judicious overview of civics–valuable even if you aren’t interested in the lawsuit. The book also helpfully explains what would happen if the plaintiffs won. They wouldn’t ask courts to set education policy but to require a deliberative process (involving elected officials and others) that would make progress on civics.

take a survey to help develop a strategy for improving civic education in the USA

A coalition called CivXNow is working to expand and improve civic education in the USA. I am on this coalition’s steering committee.

We recently fielded a survey to collect ideas for improving civic education. More than 6,500 people took that survey. A major component was a “Five Whys” exercise, asking why civics is not as good as it should be. If you took the “Five Whys” survey, please complete a second survey now to help refine and organize the results. The format of this second survey is innovative and should be fun.

If you did not take that first survey, we would still welcome your input as we hone the ideas that emerged from it. We have designed a survey for people who didn’t take the first one but still wish to have input. It is online and will take less than 15 minutes to complete. It can be taken on a computer or a smartphone. You can take it by clicking here.

coming soon: Democracy’s Discontent and Civic Learning

Now available for pre-ordering is Charles S. White (ed.), Democracy’s Discontent and Civic Learning: Multiple Perspectives. Chapters include:

  • “The Populist Moment,” by William A. Galston.
  • “Populism, Democracy, and the Education of Citizens,” by Thomas S. Vontz and J. Spencer Clark, (with Stephen L. Schechter).
  • “Are Europe’s Democracies in Danger? A View of the Populist Challenge,” by Karlheinz Duerr.
  • “Confronting a Global Democracy Recession: The Role of United States International Democracy Support Programs,” by Liza Prendergast
  • “Democracy’s Pharmakon: Technology as Remedy and Poison,” by Charles S. White.
  • “Judicial Legitimacy in the Age of Populism,” by Alison Staudinger.
  • “Fulfilling the Promise of Democracy: How Black Lives Matter Can Foster Empowered Civic Engagement,” by Amy J. Samuels and Gregory L. Samuels.
  • “Does P–12 Educational Research Ameliorate or Perpetuate Inequity?” by Jacob S. Bennett.
  • “Democracy’s Discontent and Teacher Education: Countering Populism and Cultivating Democracy,” by Stephanie Schroeder.
  • “A Primer on Trump Economics: Populist or Something Else?” by James E. Davis.
  • “Going for Depth in Civic Education: A Design Experiment,” by Walter C. Parker. With responses:
    • “What Public Philosophy Should We Teach? A Reply to Parker,” by Peter Levine
    • “Fidelity of Implementation: A Reply to Parker,” by James E. Davis
    • “Contrasting Landscapes: A Reply to Parker,” by Karlheinz Duerr

new survey on Americans’ views of democracy

(Salt Lake City, Utah) Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement have released a new national survey on Americans’ attitudes toward democracy.

The headline finding is that Americans value democratic norms–regardless of party–and they worry that those norms are weakening. Almost exactly the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans (63% and 65%) say that it is “absolutely important” to live in a democracy.

But only one in three young adults think it’s “very important” to live in a democracy. The perceived importance of living in a democracy rises steadily and steeply by age. This trend could be generational, in which case democracy is in trouble as we face a century dominated by people who aren’t committed to democracy. Or it could be a life-cycle effect: perhaps people gradually develop more commitment as they grow older.

This graph is an argument for better civics. Almost 90 percent of poll respondents want to “ensure that schools make civic education a bigger part of the curriculum.”

Respondents were asked what is wrong with our democracy today. Youth are much more likely that other groups to point to racism and discrimination. They are somewhat less likely to condemn unreliable media and partisan news. Hardly any youth are concerned about a “breakdown in traditional American values.” But partisan news and a breakdown of traditional values are the two most serious problems according to Republicans.

civic education that is less about the state

We are completing the tenth (!) annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies, which revolves around the three schools of civic theory outlined below. (Each “school” encompasses diverse views and criticisms.) Today we talked about what these theories would mean for civic education at various levels and in several nations.

I certainly don’t advocate assigning The Theory of Communicative Action vols. 1-2Governing the Commons, or Hind Swaraj in an 8th grade civics class. But we might involve 8th graders in managing common resources, incorporate them in the public sphere by inviting them to join public deliberations, and ask them to develop strategies for addressing power disparities at the human level. Indeed, we do all these things, but they tend to be somewhat marginal in civics curricula around the world, which focus much more on the state, the law, and the citizen in relation to those.

The Bloomington School of Political Economy (Elinor Ostrom et al) The Frankfurt School in its second generation (Jurgen Habermas et al) Nonviolent social movements (Gandhi/King)
Fundamental problem People fail to achieve what would be good for them collectively People manipulate other people by influencing their opinions and goals People fail to view others (or themselves) as fully human
Characteristic starting point People know what they want but can’t get it People don’t know what they want or want the wrong things Some people won’t recognize other people as fellow citizens
Prominent example of failure We destroy an environmental asset by failing to work together Government or corporate propaganda distorts our authentic values One national or ethnic group exploits another
Essential behavior of a citizen Working together to make or preserve something. Talking and listening about controversial values. Using nonviolent sacrifice to compel change
Keyword Collaboration Deliberation Relationships
Instead of homo economicus (the individual who maximizes material self-interest) we need … Homo faber (the person as a maker) Homo sapiens (the person as a reasoner) or homo politicus (the participant in public assemblies) A satyagrahi (the person as a bearer of soul force)
Role of the state A set of nested and overlapping associations, not fundamentally different from other associations (firms, nonprofits, etc.) Citizens form public opinion, which should guide the state, which makes law. The state should be radically distinct from other sectors A target of demands
Modernity is … A threat to local and traditional ways of cooperating, but we can use science to assist people in solving their own problems A process of enlightenment that liberates people, but it goes wrong when states and markets “colonize” the private domain For Gandhi: An imperialist imposition, undermining swaraj
How facts and values are combined Not explicitly. Implicitly by using research on collective action to liberate people for reflective self-government By proposing counterfactual ideals such as “the ideal speech situation” and diagnosing the reasons these are not met Through “experiments in living”

In a prophetic mode

Main interdisciplinary combination Game theory plus observations of indigenous problem-solving Normative philosophy (mainly achieved through critical readings of past philosophers) plus system-level sociology Critical theology plus military strategy

support civics in Massachusetts #CivicsforMA #MAcivicsforall

Right now is a “virtual advocacy day” for Massachusetts S.2375, “an act to promote and enhance civic engagement. I’m doing my bit by blogging in support of the law–which will also need an adequate appropriation. The bill would:

  • Require that all public schools teach American history and civics education in accordance with the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.
  •  Establish a “Civics Project Fund,” which shall be used by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to implement the various requirements of the bill (including offering professional development and developing model curriculum). The fund will consist of appropriations and donated funds.
  • Mandate that every student in the Massachusetts public school system have the
    opportunity to participate in at least 2 student-led civics projects, at least one of which
    would be completed after 8th grade and would be a graduation requirement. Projects may be individual, small group, class-wide, or as part of required coursework.
  • Allow DESE, subject to resources, to establish regional civics councils to monitor and
    provide resources for civics education implementation throughout the commonwealth.
    DESE may also hold annual conventions for such regional councils to meet and assess
    the state of civics education, share best practices, and make recommendations to the
    Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).
  • Require DESE, subject to resources, to create tools aligned with the History and Social
    Sciences Curriculum Framework to support districts in implementation .
  • Require DESE, subject to resources, to establish the “Edward Moore Kennedy and Edward William Brooke III Civics Challenge,” which shall be available to all eighth-grade public school students. Student participants will present civics projects for evaluation and recognition.
  • Direct the Secretary of the Commonwealth to establish a “High School Voter Challenge” in which every public high school may nominate one or more students to serve as voter outreach coordinators. Designated “high school voter challenge weeks” will be used to hold voter registration drives for students who are eligible to register or pre-register to vote. The Secretary will also be responsible for disseminating information to cities and towns to promote youth membership on municipal boards, committees and commissions.
  • Require BESE to provide opportunities for educators to receive professional development.
  • Require DESE to convene a commission to develop a proposal for the establishment of a civic education and public service program for Massachusetts youth.
  • Require DESE to conduct a study on the implementation of the act.

See also: the first “civic ed” bill: 1642my exchange with Beth Rubin about policy for civics; and new overview of civic education

take a survey on civic education in the US

Would you be willing to take a survey that will help a new coalition expand and improve civic education in the USA? This coalition is led by iCivics, and many leaders in the field have already joined. I am part of this coalition.

The online survey will take less than 15 minutes to complete. It will ask you a few questions about who you are, how you personally relate to civic education, and what you think about the state of civic education today.

The survey will also lead you through an exercise called the “Five Whys.” You’ll be asked whether you think that we provide good enough civic education in the USA today. If you don’t think so, you’ll be asked “What is one reason that civic education is not good enough today?” You’ll suggest a reason, and then you’ll be asked why you think that reason exists. Next, you’ll be asked for a reason for that reason. This activity will continue until you have had a chance to offer a chain of five reasons.

This brainstorming exercise will allow a broad range of people to suggest underlying causes of unsatisfactory civic education. (Or you may argue that civic education is fine as it is.) Some people who take this survey will also be invited to take a second survey later on. The second survey will help us to organize and prioritize the causes.

If you wish to take the survey, this is the link:

https://tufts.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Cbxqjvq3Cgm1KJ

It can be taken on a computer or a smartphone.

The survey begins with more information about the research and requests your consent to proceed. If you are under 18 years old, you must ask a parent or guardian also to give permission by typing his or her name in the form.