NAEd Report on Educating for Civic Reasoning and Discourse

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) is releasing its report on Educating for Civic Reasoning and Discourse. I was on the Steering Committee along with eight wonderful colleagues, and many more scholars contributed to writing the document. You can attend a public forum to hear more about it on May 3, 2021, 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm Eastern Time. Register here.

I’d describe this report as a response to problems of polarization, incivility, motivated reasoning, propaganda, and strained democratic institutions, along with racial injustice and other social crises. It is a response from the learning sciences, with papers by specialists on learning, schooling, and human development. In contrast to the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, this report is more about how to teach (rather than what to teach); and it addresses education broadly, not just the disciplines of history and civics, which are the focus of the Roadmap. I worked on both projects simultaneously and benefited from the two perspectives.

Aficionados of Civic Studies will recognize this definition from the NAEd report:

DEFINING CIVIC REASONING AND DISCOURSE

Early in its work, the National Academy of Education (NAEd) Committee on Civic Reasoning and Discourse agreed on a shared definition of civic reasoning and discourse to guide the development of this report. The central question guiding the formulation of this definition concerns “What should we do?” and the “we” includes anyone in a group or community, regardless of their citizenship status. To engage in civic reasoning, one needs to think through a public issue using rigorous inquiry skills and methods to weigh different points of view and examine available evidence. Civic discourse concerns how to communicate with one another around the challenges of public issues in order to enhance both individual and group understanding. It also involves enabling effective decision making aimed at finding consensus, compromise, or in some cases, confronting social injustices through dissent. Finally, engaging in civic discourse should be guided by respect for fundamental human rights

an overview of civic education in the USA and Germany

In this video, I offer a very broad introduction to civic education in the USA–framing my remarks historically. Essentially, I trace a tradition of experiential, community-based civic learning that runs from de Tocqueville through Jane Addams to Dorothy Cotton and onward; and a tradition of studying civics in school that really takes off with Horace Mann. These two traditions intertwine, and John Dewey is an important bridge between them. I argue that neither is in very good condition today.

Then Bettina Heinrich, from the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg, gives an overview of “politische Bildung” (political education or development) in the Federal Republic of Germany, focusing on the post-War period. We both note significant mutual influence between these two countries.

Another event will follow this one:

“Growing Up Across the Pond” (May 3, noon US Eastern Time) will be more about the general context for youth in Germany and the USA today. (You can register here.)

These are both open events, meant for anyone who is interested. They are also introductory events for people who might want to join The Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE), which “will bring together German and U.S.-American extracurricular civic learning professionals to unlock opportunities for mutual learning and reintroduce a transatlantic dimension to the field.”

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.

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.