Veteran Reporter David Yepsen on Covering and Teaching Political Campaigns

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Following a conversation with Dr. John Jackson at SIU-Carbondale, I sat down with David Yepsen, Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and long-time political columnist for the Des Moines Register. David was long viewed as the dean of Iowa journalists and a critical gate keeper for any presidential candidate testing his mettle in the Iowa Caucuses.

David began by providing his own reflections on the 2016 presidential contest, pointing to high unfavorable ratings among the two major party presidential nominees. He also weighs in on the remaining work for each of them in the final sprint to the finish line in order to secure victory. I also asked David to comment on Donald Trump’s competitiveness in Iowa and Illinois’ likely preference for home state candidate Hillary Clinton.




David later pivoted to down ballot races, including the competitive Illinois U.S. Senate race and the proxy war among state legislative candidates in Southern Illinois between Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.




David concluded by evaluating media’s role as a gate-keeper in the context of elections and politics more generally. He suggested that teachers have a definitive role in developing students’ appetite for news, and through a diverse news diet, overcoming the echo chambers of this highly polarized, partisan era.




David is retiring from his role at the Institute later this month, and we are deeply indebted to him for his support of civic education throughout his tenure in Carbondale. Thanks to his leadership, together we have built bridges towards students’ civic development in Southern Illinois, embracing a cause close to the heart of the Institute’s namesake.

SIU Professor John Jackson Provides a Historical Perspective on the 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. John Jackson, Professor of Political Science, during a visit to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale late last month. Dr. Jackson is affiliated with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, a long-time partner of ours in bringing civic education opportunities to Southern Illinois teachers and students. He directs the Institute’s internship program, edits the Simon Review, and assists with its annual statewide poll.

Dr. Jackson has researched and written extensively about the presidential nominating process and party conventions, with a specific focus on delegates. He weighs in on the process across time in the following segment, and also provides an extensive retrospective on the 2016 cycle.




As Election Day fast approaches, Dr. Jackson comments on the road ahead for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in her attempt to persuade millennial voters that supported Sanders. He also draws historical parallels to 2016 cycle, invoking the names of Wendell Willkie and Hubert Humphrey.




In this final piece, Dr. Jackson shares how teachers can use Simon Statewide Polls. He also addresses the extent to which Illinois a blue state, and weighs in on a number of down ballot contests on November 8. He concludes with general advice to teachers about bringing elections and public policy into our classrooms.

Read the Fine Print for Road Funding Amendment

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

While legislative redistricting reform will not be on the Illinois ballot on November 8, a late-breaking, under-the-radar amendment to protect the road building revenue stream from encroachment by the General Assembly and Governor made the grade.

The language of the amendment, reads, in part:
“No moneys, including bond proceeds, derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles, or related to the use of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or to fuels used for propelling vehicles, or derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to any other transportation infrastructure or transportation operation, shall be expended for purposes other than…” transportation infrastructure or mass transit.
Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution permits the General Assembly to pass constitutional amendments by a 3/5 vote of both houses. The amendment is then placed before voters at least six months after this action, and either a majority of voters, or 60% of those weighing in on the amendment, must vote in the affirmative in order to ratify it.

Media coverage to date has been scant, but the Chicago Tribune did publish a front page story on the subject this week, and its editorial board came out against it earlier.

Illinois Public Radio also weighed in on some of the caveats related to the amendment.

As we’ve written previously, it’s important to follow the money in an election cycle awash in it, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has done us a great service specific to this transportation funding amendment. It’s fair to say that those standing to benefit from it most, namely road builders and labor unions, are underwriting the public relations campaign making a positive case for ratification.

In all fairness, the amendment polls incredibly well. According to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 80% of likely Illinois voters are supportive of the amendment and only 13% opposed, with 7% undecided.

More than 20 other states have similar constitutional mechanisms in place. However, assuming ratification in Illinois, this arguably further handcuffs the General Assembly and Governor as they return to Springfield for the fall veto session and attempt to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year while also grappling with pension reform.

Here’s hoping that we all do our due diligence with respect to this amendment, and it provides yet another teachable moment in this, the 2016 general election.

ICSS Fall Conference a Landslide Winner

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

The Illinois Council for the Social Studies (ICSS) held its fall conference last Friday at Harper College in Palatine. 144 in- and pre-service teachers attended, collectively casting their votes for this year’s election-oriented theme. They accessed a combined 32 breakout sessions, four of them featuring members of our #CivicsIsBack Campaign, including two led by our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors.

Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels paired with Boone-Winnebago Mentor Teresa Kruger for a session on current and controversial issues. Daneels later worked with West Cook Mentor Justin Jacobek (pictured below) on a legislative simulation surrounding automatic voter registration. Wayde Grinstead of Facing History and Ourselves, one of our core civic education organizational partners, presented a session on their Choices in Little Rock curriculum.


My own session was on engaging students with the public policy process that follows elections as a means of addressing the new civics course requirement and emerging social studies standards. Stay tuned for future posts on this topic, along with related professional development opportunities.

Cook County Clerk David Orr (pictured below) served as the luncheon keynote and proclaimed that “democracy is still an experiment.” His 25-year tenure, preceded by 11 years as alderman and seven-day mayoral term, has embodied this basic truth, attempting to expand access to citizens through common sense reforms like the student election judge program, same-day registration (SDR), and AVR.


For example, lost in the recent debate over the constitutionality of our SDR law in Illinois is the fact that many voters show up to the polls on Election Day fully believing that they are legitimately registered. However, many of us move between election cycles and fail to update our registration records. SDR provides a failsafe backup for those that forget.

AVR was vetoed this August by Governor Rauner, and Orr has since led vocal opposition to this action. He holds out hope for a veto override this November, and if not, to begin the effort anew come January.

The #CivicsIsBack fall tour winds its way to back to Charleston this week for the 37th annual History and Social Studies Teacher Conference at Eastern Illinois University. I’m slated to keynote, mentors Jim Hammer and Aubrey Hale will present sessions, and organizational partner Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago is leading a series of workshops.

While Election 2016 has been a time to try teachers’ souls, we are clearly rallying behind our profession and the critical importance of our collective work.

A Call to Educators' Consciences in a Campaign that Challenges Them and Us

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

When crafting the roll out of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign, we made a conscious decision to pair our course implementation efforts with the teachable moment that is the 2016 Election. There’s nothing like the prominence of and participation in a presidential election, and on this level, the current campaign hasn’t disappointed.

However, the campaign has defied convention at every juncture and tested pedagogical commitments to objectivity and non-closure of teachers’ political views. While we have written previously on these subjects, it would constitute professional malpractice to rest our case in light of recent developments.

At the presidential level, the 2016 campaign has been historic for both parties. A crowded Republican field of 17 contenders, paired with grossly disproportionate media coverage, paved the way for political novice Donald Trump to capture the party’s nomination over fierce establishment opposition. Trump has proceeded to realign the Republican Party with its white, working class base, using nativist and nationalist appeals that resonate deeply with a sizable minority of the electorate.

While the establishment prevailed on the Democratic side, longshot candidate Bernie Sanders had deep appeal among young voters and forced a photo finish. Hillary Clinton made history in her own right in claiming the nomination and is on the cusp of shattering the ultimate glass ceiling.

The two major party nominees are historically unpopular and the general election campaign has been deeply disappointing. Rather than focusing on the daunting challenges facing this country, the campaign has devolved into below-the-belt personal attacks.

From his campaign announcement forward, Trump has proceeded to offend, even threaten, virtually every fabric of the American mosaic. Therefore, instead of exploring competing plans for deficit reduction of entitlement reform, teachers are left to use the campaign, and Trump in particular, as a foil for the society we seek to create with our students.

We don’t abandon our non-partisan credentials when we speak out against bullying, gender, racial, and ethnic discrimination, or demeaning veterans or individuals with disabilities. Trump’s tactics are an existential threat to our national motto, e pluribus unum, much less our historically diverse student body. They must therefore be summarily rejected.

Moreover, empirical facts matter in the political debates that define our democracy. As educators, we must always bring our students back here, as ad hominem attacks are mere distractions.

Come the morning of November 8, we will allow the chips to fall as they may, and voters, eligible students included, should be encouraged to follow their consciences. But we must not forget that helping students shape these consciences is among our most critical responsibilities as educators.

Draft Illinois ESSA Implementation Plan Provides Opening for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of providing public comments at the final Illinois Statewide Listening Tour stop in Sycamore for the draft implementation plan crafted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as part of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I spoke in my role as chair of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), Illinois Task Force on Civic Education, and Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force. An excerpt of my remarks follow.
"...We are heartened by (ISBE’s ESSA implementation plan’s) emphasis on educating the whole child, opportunities for extensive teacher professional development, and specific acknowledgement of the value of mentoring programs like the one we created (to support teachers, schools, and districts with implementation of the new civics course requirement).

Ongoing needs with respect to course and standards implementation are as follows, and we invite further collaboration with ISBE in achieving them as part of the ESSA provisions:
The standards represent a paradigm shift for the social studies, moving from an emphasis on low-level content knowledge to higher-level skills. They center on an inquiry arc, where students develop their own questions, draw upon disciplinary knowledge to answer them, evaluate sources along the way, and ultimately communicate conclusions and take informed action.

This inquiry arc and the emerging standards as a whole align explicitly with English Language Arts Common Core State Standards, with the hope of reversing the ongoing marginalization of the social studies while contributing to student literacy as measured by school accountability instruments.

As recommended by the standards task force, teachers must have ongoing professional development opportunities to familiarize themselves with these standards and adapt their instructional practices and curriculum to them. They also need access to lesson plans and classroom resources aligned to the new standards, and opportunities to practice using them among peers.

The ICMC and its partner organizations are poised to assist ISBE with implementation of the new standards as we complete our commitment to civics course implementation. Collectively, we offer expertise in teacher professional development, extensive relationships with teachers, schools, and districts, standards-aligned curriculum and resources, and supplementary programming for students.

We look forward to further collaboration with ISBE as we work to educate the whole child, ensuring that Illinois students graduate ready for college, careers, and civic life.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part III

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

We conclude this three-part series on youth participation in elections by revisiting the second part of a quote from former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

“They don’t vote because very often they’re lazy, and they’re too busy playing with their little machines… They’re just too in tune with texting and not in tune with what’s going on around them.”

Having refuted the laziness claim, we turn next to “their little machines.”

It’s true, young people are almost universally using social media sites, but so are growing numbers of older generational cohorts.

Among all American adults, Percentage who use social networking sites, by age

And much of what transpires on social media is “friendship-driven” engagement, with few direct implications for democracy. Yet friendship-driven engagement has the potential of building “bridging” social capital, a foundation for civic engagement.

Moreover, a majority of social media users also engage in “interest-driven” participation, from posting online commentary to creating one’s own media, participating in an online game community or forum to using the internet to organize for a cause.

Each of these actions is not overtly political, but they all have the potential to be, and a small, yet significant minority of young social media users engage in what Cathy Cohen and Joe Kahne call “participatory politics.” Many of the aforementioned activities are directed towards political candidates, campaigns, or causes, and also assume an in-person dimension such as consumer activism, public protests, and poetry slams.

Cohen and Kahne find that youth engaging in participatory political activities are more likely to express interest in political issues and also feel capable of participating in the political process. Perhaps most importantly, there is striking racial equity on these measures as opposed to traditional forms of civic engagement.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we meet young people where they are; yes, Judy, on “their little machines.”

More broadly, in order to foster youth participation in elections, they must be afforded high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities like those prescribed in the new Illinois civics course requirement.

Youth should also have opportunities to participate in the election process itself beyond voting, including serving as election judges, passing petitions, and being deputized as voter registrars (Illinois law now permits each of these activities for 17 year-olds).

Finally, we must make the institutions of democracy friendlier for youth participation. We remain hopeful that Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly will revisit automatic voter registration, which will disproportionately benefit youth. We also encourage concerned citizens to rally one more time in 2018 to reform the legislative redistricting process in an effort to make our elections more competitive. Competition drives voter interest and turnout, especially among the youth population.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part II

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last week, we laid the groundwork for youth participation in elections. Today, we take a historic view of the subject, and then apply it to the 2016 Election.

Let’s begin with the notion that voting is unique when compared to other forms of civic participation like volunteering, contacting public officials, or keeping up with political news. It’s the one thing that most of us do (at least every four years) and it’s the most equitable form of civic participation. Moreover, it doesn’t serve as a gateway drug in that the act of voting leads to other forms of participation.

Since 18 year olds were granted the right to vote in 1972, youth turnout has always lagged that of their elders. Voting tends to follow a life-cycle effect, starting slow and peaking in the plus-65 population before leveling off late in life. Youth turnout does ebb and flow over time, as it does across the electorate, largely responsive to the competitiveness of a given election.

According to the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the high water mark in recent election cycles was 2008 when 51% of youth 18-29 voted. This fell to 45% in 2012, whereas it dropped off only slightly among 30-44 year olds (62% to 60%) and 45-64 year olds (69% to 68%). Turnout actually increased 2% among senior citizens (70% to 72%).

There are significant demographic cleavages among youth voters, with young women voting at a greater clip than men (48.6% versus 41.5% in 2012), and youth with some college doubling up those with none (55.9% versus 28.6%). Race is more complicated in that black youth eclipsed their white counterparts the past two cycles, but Asian and Latino youth lag significantly behind.

Source: CIRCLE's tabulations from the CPS Nov. Voting and Registration Supplements, 1972-2012

Specific to Illinois, youth turnout has fallen in tandem with the adult population as a whole as Illinois has morphed from a purple to blue state in presidential cycles. 43.8% of Illinois youth voted in 2012, trailing the 45% national average and ranking 30th among the 50 state and District of Columbia. Nationally, youth turnout in battleground states was 49.7%, but only 42.8% in non-competitive states. Thus, Illinois suffers from its deep hue of blue.

The good news is that youth turnout in Illinois was up 24% in the 2016 presidential primaries compared to 2008. 508,200 young people participated compared to 378,000 eight years earlier. Two-thirds of youth voters selected Democratic ballots, constituting 17% of Democratic primary voters, and a whopping 86% of them voted for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

It’s no secret that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has struggled to consolidate the youth component of the Obama/ Sanders Coalition. While Clinton is considered a lock in Illinois, youth are expected to be decisive in deciding traditional battleground states, including neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin, along with New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado.

Moreover, the outcomes of U.S. Senate contests in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire hinge on the youth vote, ultimately determining party control of the upper chamber.

Finally, while the Republican majority in the House appears safely insulated, youth are expected to turn the tide in several competitive races, including the 13th district in Illinois which encompasses college students from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois State University, and the University of Illinois-Springfield.