the Massachusetts Civics Bill #MAcivicsforall

The Massachusetts legislature is considering S. 2306, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement. According to the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition‘s summary, the bill:

  • Requires that all public schools teach American history and civics education.
  • Promotes comprehensive, project-based civic education integrated into existing curricula and focused on local communities, reflecting best practices for high-quality civic learning.
  • Authorizes funding necessary to support implementation through the Civics Project Fund.
  • Encourages voting and other vital forms of participation alongside important political learning outcomes through the High School Voter Challenge and Edward Moore Kennedy and Edward William Brooke III Civics Challenge.
  • Maintains local control and classroom decision-making.

Here is an article in Commonwealth Magazine by Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and me, defending the bill. Information about a “lobby day” and how to write your representative is here.

the first “civic ed” bill: 1642

The Massachusetts legislature is considering S. 2306, a bill to enhance civic education. I’m for this legislation. Questions about whether the Commonwealth should require civics–or, indeed, any subject–led me to wonder when civics was first mandated in Massachusetts. I think the answer is 1642:

Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and whereas many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kind. It is therfore ordered that the Select men of every town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin.

There was a high-stakes test. All “children or apprentices” had to learn “some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kind.”

And there were accountability mechanisms. In addition to the “twentie shilling” fine for local leaders who failed to ensure successful educational outcomes for all their communities’ youth, there was also a plan to be followed when “children and servants bec[a]me rude, stubborn & unruly.” First, the responsible selectmen would be admonished. Next, “the said Select men with the help of two Magistrates, or the next County court for that Shire, shall take such children or apprentices from them & place them with some masters for years (boyes till they come to twenty one, and girls eighteen years of age compleat) which will more strictly look unto, and force them to submit unto government according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn into it.”

The 1642 act required religious as well as civil instruction, which we wouldn’t endorse under the US Constitution. It included a large dose of what we might call character education, career preparation, and/or social-emotional development, under the heading of preparation for “some honest lawful calling, labour or employment, either in husbandry, or some other trade profitable for themselves.”

I’m not saying that the Massachusetts School Law of 1642 is what we need today. It’s wise to innovate. But there is certainly precedent for requiring civics: 375 years of precedent, in fact.

new Civic Studies major at Tufts

Yesterday, the Tufts Faculty of Arts & Sciences approved our proposal for a new major in Civic Studies, the first in the world. It will begin next fall, and I’ll co-teach the new introductory course with my colleagues Erin Kelly (Philosophy) and Yannis Evrigenis (Political Science). Here are the relevant portions of the proposal that passed yesterday:

Curriculum Proposal: Civic Studies

“We see before us an emerging civic politics, along with an emerging intellectual community, a field, and a discipline. Its work is to understand and strengthen civic politics, civic initiatives, civic capacity, civic society and civic culture.…and to contribute to an emerging global movement of civic renewal.” — Harry Boyte, Stephen Elkin, Peter Levine, Jane Mansbridge, Elinor Ostrom, Karol So?tan, and Rogers Smith, “Framing Statement for Civic Studies,” 2007

Civic Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change, within and between societies. People who think and act together to improve society must address problems of collective action (how to get members to work together) and deliberation (how to reason together about contested values). They must understand how power is organized and how it operates within and between societies. They must grapple with social conflict, violence, and other obstacles to peaceful cooperation. They will consider questions of justice and fairness when social tensions arise, and they must confront questions about appropriate relationships to outsiders of all types. This includes examining alternative ethical, political, and theological frameworks to encourage comparative reflection about different ways in which people live together in society.

The focus on civil society contrasts with state-centric approaches. It includes the study of collective action in social spheres that, while organized, may not be institutionalized or otherwise sanctioned by the state, and it highlights the perspective of individual and group agents.  Thus civic studies considers phenomena that are central to other disciplines—governments, law, markets, societies, cultures, and networks—but from the distinctive perspective of civic agents, that is, individuals and groups who think together and act cooperatively. It includes principles and vantage points civic agents may use to evaluate existing social norms, institutions, governments, and ideologies. In these and other ways, Civic Studies brings critical scrutiny to status quo norms of social order.

Civic Studies is more than citizenship studies. Civic agents include citizens, disenfranchised or colonized groups, temporary residents, undocumented migrants, refugees, and members of other societies acting across borders. Civic Studies engages with the importance of a society’s criteria of membership, as well as the logic and dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, hierarchy and subordination, across social groups. It subjects social dynamics to empirical study and normative evaluation, with the aim of understanding how to challenge unjust inequalities and to enhance just forms of social inclusion.

Normative reflection, ethical analysis, empirical understanding, historical perspective, and the development of practical skills are all important to the study of social and political conflict, and for developing cooperative strategies to enable positive social change. Civic Studies brings those modes of learning together to deepen our understanding of social criticism and action for social change as well as the circumstances that give rise to a need for it. The major’s classroom and experiential learning requirements would enable students to explore the theory and practice of critical reflection and just social change.

A Peace and Justice Studies track within the Civic Studies major provides a special focus within Civic Studies for learning about the causes and effects of violence, and for developing nonviolent strategies for conflict resolution and just social transformation. A minor in Peace and Justice Studies is also available to students who are particularly interested in studying violence and alternatives to it.

In sum, a major in Civic Studies [will] continue from the Tufts Peace and Justice Studies major the following core commitments: a combination of classroom-based and experiential learning; normative analysis and critical scrutiny of claims about justice; an explicit focus on conflict and possibilities for resolving it, and the development of skills useful in nonprofits, governments, community groups, and social movements. We believe the intellectual content of Civic Studies is exciting and the curriculum distinctive, highlighting strengths of Tufts University.

The proposed requirements for the Civic Studies major are 11 courses distributed as follows:

  1. CVS 0010—Introduction to Civic Studies
  2. Thinking about Justice: two courses in political theory, philosophy, or social theory devoted to normative questions about the nature and content of justice. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Examples are listed in the proposal. E.g., PS 41: Western Political Thought I and II; REL 43: Asian Religions; HIST 129: Black Political Thought in the 20th century]
  3. Social Conflict and Violence: Two courses to enhance an empirical understanding of the historical, political, and social origins of conflict and violence. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Among others: SOC 94: Sociology of Violence; PS 138-01: Political Violence in State and Society; PSY 136: Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination]
  4. Civic Action and Social Movements: Two courses dealing with the historical, ethical, and social origins of organized movements for social change. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Among others: CH 109: Community Action and Social Movements in Public Health; ANTH 0146: Global Feminisms]
  5. Civic Skills: two courses that focus on civic skills or civic practices, e.g., dialogue and deliberation, ethical reasoning, emotional intelligence, conflict-mediation and peacemaking, community-based research, communication and media-making, public art, community organizing, evaluating nonprofits, or financing social enterprises. [Among others: UEP 194: Technology, Media, and the City; ELS 193: Social Entrepreneurship, Policy, and Systems Change; VISC 145/AMER 94, which is a course taught in state prison]
  6. CVS 099: A required internship. This includes a weekly 2.5 hour class with graded assignments and a final project. (3 SHUs)
  7. CVS 190: A capstone seminar taught by a CVS affiliated faculty member.(3 SHUs)

Total: 11 courses

my exchange with Beth Rubin about policy for civics

Paul G. Fitchett and Kevin W. Meuwissen have published Social Studies in the New Education Policy Era: Conversations on Purposes, Perspectives, and Practices. This edited volume is devoted to exchanges between pairs of scholars. My assigned debating partner is Prof. Beth Rubin from Rutgers, whose work I admire and who has influenced me a lot. There isn’t a whole lot of room between Beth and me, but we manage to disagree mildly in ways that might be illuminating.

I begin by arguing that the policies adopted so far by states and districts for civic education matter, but not as much as how such policies are implemented. Support for things like professional development makes policies either work or fail. I also note that the policy debate reflects disagreements about what should be taught. Given such disagreements, no one can expect to get the curriculum that she or he prefers enacted into law in all 50 states. I propose a division of labor: public schools should teach relatively uncontroversial, relatively basic civics, and community-based groups should add more politically charged content that reflects their diverse perspectives.

Beth understandably worries that the mainstream curriculum mandated by governments will, in fact, be biased. She argues that governments should make schools good places for learning, leaving civics curricula mostly unconstrained by policy. That would imply skepticism about policies like standards and tests, because they centralize decisions about the curriculum. I counter by offering a state policy agenda that includes standards, professional development, reforms of school discipline, and tests–if they are well done. This package is fairly minimalist, intended to create a baseline for all kids while leaving space for diversity. Beth ends the exchange with some concerns about whether the “baseline of knowledge” that I want to see in state standards can really be good for all of our kids.

The rest of the book is entirely devoted to similar debates, and it looks good throughout.

talking about teens and the 2018 election

While traveling to Orlando to talk about civic education, I’ll post two recent links.

First is today’s episode of “On Point” from NPR. The guests are three teenagers who are running for governor in Kansas (which imposes no age limit on candidates)–and me. I celebrate the young politicians but try to broaden the conversation to other forms of civic engagement that can involve a lot more kids.

And here is a piece by me on civic education in America and specifically in Connecticut “PERSPECTIVE: Republic Still at Risk; Connecticut Edges Forward.”

22 million new voters by 2020

With The LAMP, a New York City nonprofit that works on media and digital literacy skills, my colleagues at CIRCLE are launching the 22×20 Campaign, which has the tagline “22 million new voters by the year 2020.”

For the night of the State of the Union, 22×20 helped organize Action Parties in “New York City, Washington D.C., Austin, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco with partners such as Austin Public Library, Mikva Challenge,, KQED, OZY, Sony, and YVote.” Students were encouraged to discuss, analyze, and share their reactions. More information about how to organize such events is here.

The campaign also provides educational resources. For example, you can find lesson plans on media literacy and tutorials on how to create videos using news clips. I thought the guide entitled “Ten Easy Steps to Fact-Checking” was a perfect resource for viewers of the State of the Union.

More events are coming up. Follow the campaign on Twitter (@22millionVotes) or by using the hastag #22×20CIRCLE also has an explanatory blog post on “Teens and Elections” with valuable background data. 

differences in voting by major

My colleague Inger Bergom has a piece in The Conversation with  entitled “Why don’t STEM majors vote as much as others?” They are analyzing data from the two million college students who are included in our National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement at Tisch College.

The raw correlations between college majors and voting rates are pretty substantial. In 2016, more than half of all education majors voted (53.5%), which was more than 7 points ahead of the rate for business students.

But majors attract different demographic groups. For example, women vote at somewhat higher rates than men. If more education majors were men, the turnout rates in education programs would fall. By the same token, STEM turnout would rise if STEM majors recruited more women. However, education majors would still be ahead.

Once you zero in on major, race and gender together, you see some interesting patterns. African American women who major in education voted at a 58% rate in 2016, well over double the rate of Asian-American men who majored in business.

Self-selection must be part of the story: people who are more interested in the kinds of issues that arise in politics may also enroll in majors like education. Still, there is room to improve the civic education that STEM and business majors experience.

where to invest to RAYSE youth civic engagement

CIRCLE has developed RAYSE (Reaching All Youth Strengthens Engagement) to help nonprofits, philanthropists, agencies, political campaigns, activists, and others decide where to invest in youth engagement or understand the strengths and weaknesses of the places where they are committed to work. It organizes data on all the counties in the US.  This new video explains how to use it and also presents a broad strategy for renewing democracy by investing in youth. Get started by looking up your own county!

100Kin10 as a model of education reform

The Clinton Foundation recently hosted a small roundtable discussion led by Chelsea Clinton and made up of funders and civic education organizations. The purpose was to learn about the 100Kin10 model. Although 100Kin10 is concerned with STEM education, it is also a model for reform in other areas, such as the one that concerns me professionally: civic education.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

I’d be open to arguments against the target he set, but I’ll assume for the sake of this post that it was a good one. It wasn’t the President’s own idea but resulted from previous research and discussion. Thus the story really begins before the 2011 State of the Union, with the research and advocacy that influenced President Obama.

With the President ‘s term running out, a group of 28 organizations came together to form 100Kin10. They included unions and districts that bargain with unions, education schools and alternatives to ed. schools (like Teach for America), companies, and foundations. New groups could be added to the network by nomination after a vetting process. Membership does not require ascribing to any particular model of science education, any specific strategy for getting to 100k, or any philosophy of education–groups must simply share the goal of 100,000 new STEM educators and be committed to seriously assessing quality.

The network has a very lean central node. Lots of money circulates in the form of grants or contracts from one network member to another, but the 100Kin10 team doesn’t collect and redistribute that money. Members of the network make commitments to advance the cause, and they do their actual work in a decentralized way.

100Kin10 has promoted consistent measurement by helping to develop assessment tools. There’s an agreement not to share the data with funders. That encourages members to use the tools and reflect candidly on what their data tell them.

The network has made strong progress toward the numerical goal set by President Obama. However, members have become increasingly aware that meeting the 100,000 target will not solve the problem. More teachers will still be needed as the years go by. Besides, there is more to improving STEM than hiring more and better STEM teachers.

I am a critic of “root cause analysis” because I believe that complex problems never have one or a few determinative causes. Problems are almost always systems of interlocking causes and consequences. With a similar view in mind, 100Kin10 asked a large number of experts and stakeholders to identify reasons for the chronic shortage of strong STEM teachers. Respondents came up with around 100 causes, each of which could plausibly be seen as the “root.”

If the respondents had been asked to identify the single most important factor, they would have been biased by their own vantage points and organizational missions. Instead, they were asked whether changing one factor would affect another specific one–in other words, whether each given pair of factors was causally related. These data were collected to produce a network map of causation.

As with most networks that develop in nature, this one was skewed. The rule of thumb is that 20% of nodes will have 80% of the links. I don’t know whether the 100Kin10 map follows that 80/20 distribution precisely, but it looks roughly like that to the eye. This means that by changing 20% of the variables measured in this complex system, we can directly move 80% of the whole system. Therefore, 100Kin10 has recently focused on encouraging members to shift their attention and discretionary efforts to the most central nodes. That is a powerful form of social analysis and leadership.

We could do something similar for civics. The goal would not be 100,000 qualified civics teachers, but some other broad and compelling outcome. Many of the steps would be similar. However, we would have take some differences into account:

Incentives: STEM education pays off for the individual who gains skills and credentials, and for firms and communities that gain more qualified workers. Thus the case for STEM is economic. The case for civics has to be different–probably patriotic and democratic (with a little “d”).

Politics: STEM is not without political controversy. (Should evolution be taught? Should resources be distributed to the poorest students, or to schools that demonstrate success?) However, civics is more pervasively political. Political opponents disagree in principle about what should be taught. Civics can also have immediate partisan implications by affecting who votes. To be clear, turnout is not the central goal of civics, but it could be an ancillary effect, and that makes it “political” (in a bad sense). On the other hand, there is more consensus about the core purposes of school-based civics than we sometimes assume.

Outcomes: The debate about what counts as a good outcome for students is more controversial in civics than in STEM. Disagreements go beyond simple left/right debates. People who share other views about politics may still disagree about the importance of civic knowledge versus civic action, or appreciating the constitutional system versus critically assessing it, or local citizenship versus global citizenship. (For my own part, I believe that an absolutely central goal is to increase students’ sheer interest in politics, because without a sense of intrinsic motivation to stay involved and informed, they will forget what they learn in civics class or fail to update it as the world changes.)

The role of the classroom: In education generally, there’s a live debate about how much the school, the classroom, and the teacher matter compared to the economy and social context beyond the school walls. People who believe that we can educate our way to social mobility are rightly challenged by critics who argue that the economy must be reformed to generate real opportunity. That debate is even more fundamental in civics, because it’s fairly clear that the political context beyond the classroom is unsatisfactory. In civics, the context starts with the school as a community (is it a just and loving place or a pipeline to prison?) and extends to the democracy as a whole, because our formal institutions are clearly flawed. I’m one who believes that good civics teaching is beneficial even under conditions of injustice, but we need to consider the critique that civics just accommodates students to an imperfect system and that reform should focus elsewhere.

These are differences between civics and STEM. They are mostly differences of degree, not profound gaps, and they do not suggest that reforming civics is impossible. In fact, civics has a great deal of momentum right now because of a broadly shared sense of civic crisis. (See our recent White Paper, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk and Civics is Part of the Solution.) It’s exciting to contemplate something like 100Kin10 for civic education.

effects of school climate on civic engagement

Sarah K. Bruch (Iowa) and Joe Soss (Minnesota) are conducting important research on the relationships between school climate and young people’s civic engagement. They have more research in the pipeline, but their working paper entitled “Learning where we stand: How school experiences matter for civic marginalization and political inequality” is already available.

Bruch and Soss challenge the idea that schools prepare students for democracy by transmitting a set of skills and knowledge that make people better citizens. If that were the whole picture, then more–and more equal–civic education would yield a better and more equal democracy. But Bruch and Soss note that schools are also institutions and communities that can encourage–or discourage–participation by demonstrating how the larger society works. Bruch and Soss did not invent this framework–it has a scholarly heritage, which they summarize, and it is being forcefully advocated by young people today–but they contribute important empirical findings.

Bruch and Soss use nationally representative surveys of students and administrators to measure the strictness of the school’s disciplinary policies, the perceived negativity of the school’s culture, individual students’ reported personal experiences with punishments, perceptions of unfair treatment by the school, rates of membership in school groups, and reports of feeling included or marginal in the school community. Some of these factors are about perceptions of the whole school, and others about perceived personal experiences. Some are about treatment by adults, while others involve treatment by fellow students. Some come from student data; others, from administrators.

To a large extent, these factors are related to race, class, and gender. To illustrate with a strong example, African American boys whose parents have little education are more than ten times more likely to be punished by a school than White girls with well-educated parents.

In a multivariate model that includes many other factors, most of these school climate variables are related to civic engagement, with harsher and less inclusive climates depressing graduates’ community engagement, voter turnout, and trust in government. But there are important differences among these relationships.

Perceptions of unfair treatment are related directly to lower civic and political engagement and trust in government. Not being involved in school activities is a strong predictor of being disengaged from community after graduation, but half of that relationship is indirect: students who miss out on school activities go on to have adult experiences with criminal justice, welfare, etc., that are related to disengagement from civic life.

Authoritative disciplinary climates are related directly to more civic engagement, more voting, and higher trust in government, but such climates also predict adult roles that tend to depress these outcomes. The net impact is insignificant for voting and civic engagement and comes out as positive for trust in government. This finding begins to suggest that the problem is not school discipline per se: in fact, a well-ordered school may be a good place to learn to be a citizen. The main problem is unfairness. In political philosophers’ terms, a school can restrict freedom (defined as individual choice) by establishing and enforcing rules, but it should avoid “domination” in the sense of arbitrary power.

See also: school discipline in a democracyavoiding arbitrary command.