Happy Constitution Day!

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

On September 17, 1789, thirty-nine delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the completed U.S. Constitution. This momentous occasion has been marked by various holidays throughout the years. While many previously celebrated this anniversary as “Citizenship Day”, an amendment to an omnibus bill in 2004 by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, officially designated September 17th as Constitution Day. As September 17th falls on a Sunday in 2017, according to the National Constitution Center, September 18th is the official day schools and federal institutions are to dedicate to learning more about this foundational document of the United States.

Washington Constitutional Convention 1787

One of the proven practices of civic education mandated by the Illinois Civics requirement is direct instruction on government institutions. Knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the framework it established to protect the rights and freedoms that “We the People” enjoy today is key to civic education. There are numerous resources that can help classroom teachers in this very important work on Constitution Day and throughout the year.
How do you celebrate Constitution Day? We would welcome your best practices in the comment section of the blog to help others with ideas to prepare students for civic life.

September 11th Echoes Continue to Shape American Politics

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States. Like many veteran teachers, I spent that fateful morning and the weeks that followed making sense of these tragic events with my students. For Millennials, Sept 11th was the defining event as the Challenger explosion had been for mine and the Kennedy assassination for my parents.

More recently, as I’ve written here on the blog, November 8, 2016, has a similar feel for today’s students, and its connection to the events of September 11, 2001, is closer than you might think.

The political debates of sixteen years ago were centered on what to do with federal budget surpluses that emerged during the technology boom and end of the Cold War. Democrats argued for further investment in the social safety net, while Republicans pushed for supply side tax cuts.

A Republican President, George W. Bush, facing his own legitimacy challenges given his loss of the popular vote and Electoral College victory secured by Supreme Court decision, positioned himself as a “compassionate conservative.” This entailed, for example, support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the ten million-plus undocumented individuals residing in the country at the time.

Twin Towers-NYC

The events of September 11th changed the course of the Bush presidency and history itself. It placed the country on a war footing, with entanglements in first Afghanistan, and later Iraq, which continue to this day. An outright defense of civil liberties took a backseat to homeland security, yielding a Cabinet-level agency in this name and the infamous U.S. PATRIOT Act. Entitlement and immigration reform took a back seat to prosecuting the War on Terror at home and abroad.

The 2004 and 2008 presidential elections were essentially fought on this terrain. In 2004, Bush, benefiting from residual support as a wartime leader, proved that he was tougher on terrorism (in the eyes of voters) than his Democratic opponent John Kerry. Four years later, then-Senator Obama based the premise of his campaign on ending the now unpopular Iraq War, and successfully tied his challenger, Senator John McCain, to the toxic incumbent president.

Many political biographies of the aftermath of September 11 end with Obama’s victory and pivot towards addressing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. His re-election in 2012 highlighted these Herculean rescue efforts, but also his order to have 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden assassinated by U.S. Navy Seals.

President Obama campaigned twice on the promise of comprehensive immigration reform, but never built sufficient support or found enough willing partners in Congress. Republicans moved decisively to the right on this and other issues, with 2012 nominee Mitt Romney calling for “self-deportation,” and Donald Trump’s signature promise in 2016 and beyond to “build a wall” along the entirety of the Mexico-U.S. border. Trump also called for, and attempted to institute a Muslim ban. Echoes of 9/11 reverberate.

Funds for the wall have yet to be appropriated, and the Muslim ban is tied up in our federal courts, but last week’s announcement that President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order would be rescinded after six months unless Congress fails to act in the interim sent chills down the spines of the vast majority of Americans. Optimistic signs of bi-partisan compromise have since emerged, and Trump’s potential signing of any form of progressive immigration reform would be the historical equivalent of Nixon going to China.

Regardless, the implications of the September 11th attacks remain with us today, and the Trump presidency is a natural culmination of the reaction and counter-reaction to this fateful day.

Teaching With Controversy: Using Questions to Promote Dialogue

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

This past summer, my colleague Barbara Laimins and I embarked on what we dubbed the LOL Tour- LOL deriving from Land of Lincoln. Our charge was to coordinate with 38 regional mentors throughout Illinois to provide free professional development to facilitate implementation of the new Illinois Social Studies standards and civics requirement. While we were impressed with many of the roadside attractions the state had to offer (think the Muffler Man on Route 66), what most impressed us was the deep commitment educators in every corner of the state have to preparing students for civic life despite challenges in the form of time, resources and support.


As Barb and I traveled the state, most teachers lamented that they were experiencing more difficulties than ever before in facilitating current and controversial issue discussions, one of the proven practices elevated in the new civics requirement in Illinois. Teachers were unsure how to begin such deliberations and once initiated, provide a safe environment for students to address compelling questions. In a previous blog, I cited a number of organizations that provide resources to support “courageous conversations.” Beyond these resources, there is also a need to elevate student voice in the selection of questions to consider when it comes to current and controversial issues.

According to the Civic Mission of Schools, “Giving students more opportunities to participate in the management of their classrooms and schools builds their civic skills and attitudes.” One indicator of critical thinking, defined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is the “ability to identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions.” The College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, from the National Council of the Social Studies asserts, “Central to a rich social studies experience is the capability for developing questions that can frame and advance an inquiry.”

The Illinois Social Studies standards took their inspiration from the C3 Framework and promote the explicit teaching of questioning skills (SS.IS.1-3. 9-12). Here are some resources to help students develop questions to guide teaching with controversy.
  • The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute is a simple protocol for helping students design good questions. Teachers can register for their Educator Network for free and have access to training in the QFT and classroom resources.
  • C3 Teachers has produced a short video overview introducing the importance of questioning.
  • The 5 Whys Technique attributed to Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda, has students probe deeper into compelling questions by asking “why” to seek out root causes and underlying issues.
  • Questionstorming is an iteration of brainstorming in which students generate questions and then zero in on “the best question we need to answer right now.”
  • The Q-Matrix developed by Kagan Cooperative Learning is a wonderful protocol I have used to differentiate and scaffold question formulation. Use your favorite search engine to generate different versions of this strategy.
  • Illinois’ own Dan Fouts has started a new blog called Socrates Questions: Teach Different with Big Questions. Check it out for inspiration for using “Big Questions” in your classroom.

Teaching with Controversy: From Charlottesville to Chicago

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Mary Ellen and I have posted twice on teaching the events of Charlottesville earlier this month and its aftermath. This piece attempts to localize several of the issues that surfaced there and throughout the country as we collectively make sense of both the past and present in our civics classrooms this fall.

The Illinois high school civics course requirement embeds discussion of current and controversial issues, a pedagogy we have also written about at great length. My initial post on the subject emphasized the importance of issue select when bringing controversy into the classroom. Issues include “…meaningful and timely questions about public problems that deserve both students’ and the public’s attention.”

Charlottesville clearly meets this test, and the issues emanating from these events have local dimensions.
Please contact us and share how you are localizing the events of Charlottesville in your own classrooms.

Courageous Conversations

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

In last week’s blog entry, Dr. Shawn Healy stressed “the importance of preparing young people for democracy in a racially and ethnically heterogeneous republic.” This task can be daunting for the classroom teacher at the start of the school year but current events demand that classroom teachers respond so that we can empower our youngest citizens to be, in the words of Healy, “upstanders for fellow citizens and residents of this country.”

The new IL Civics requirement & Social Studies standards compel students to engage in current and controversial issue discussions in which they communicate their conclusions concerning essential questions using multiple sources. It is important for teachers to create a safe environment for such deliberations that establish clear norms of interaction that promote active listening, understanding and respect.

One key to productive discourse is to provide depth. In an interview with NPR cited by Chalkbeat, Dr. Diana Hess, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) cautions teachers to not start conversations by simply asking student reaction to political events that are often unfolding, but rather, to prepare students for deeper conversations about political issues. Hess cautions, “There's a big difference in talking about, ‘What do you think happened?’ and talking about a policy issue like ‘Should police officers be required to wear video cameras?’”

Dr. Diana Hess (left) and Dr. Paula McAvoy (right)

Another way to scaffold productive deliberations is to provide context. In the same NPR interview, Hess’ colleague, Dr. Paula McAvoy from the UW Center for Ethics and Education, explains the need to build curriculum to promote understanding, “Young people need to see these as moments within their historical context – need to understand some of the history.”

A recent article in the Washington Post titled, “The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help” explained that to meet the demond for resources surrounding Charlottesville, educators have been sharing resources through various platforms under #CharlottesvilleCurriculum. Listed below are several I have found helpful.
  • A recent #sschat hosted by Teaching Tolerance is archived and provides rich conversation and materials including resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Facing History and Ourselves has numerous curriculum resources and strategies to help establish safe spaces for classroom conversations as well as curriculum that provides context & depth for deliberations.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago provides strategies to engage in civil conversations as well as resources that provide multiple perspectives on compelling political issues.
  • Deliberating in a Democracy also offers numerous Structured Academic Controversies to facilitate the use of multiple sources and evidence in student engagement.
  • A recent TedEd blog provides “10 Tips for Talking about the News and Current Events in Schools.”
  • National Public Radio shared a list of “Resources for Educators to Use in the Wake of Charlottesville.”
  • For those interested in a “deeper dive” into best practices surrounding the use of current and controversial Issues discussions in the classroom may want to read the award winning book, The Political Classroom by Hess and McAvoy
Do you have any resources to share to help facilitate current and controversial issue discussions in the civics classroom? Please send your suggestions to MDaneels@illinoiscivics.org. Together, we can prepare Illinois students for college, career and civic life.

Teach Our Children Well

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

If anyone ever questioned the value of civics and the importance of preparing young people for democracy in a racially and ethnically heterogeneous republic, these detractors learned a harsh lesson last weekend in our perpetual quest to build a more perfect union. Saturday’s tragic and deeply unsettling events in Charlottesville should challenge our collective conscience and force us to reflect on our failure to educate the (mostly) young men that invoked historic symbols of hatred to terrorize those confronting their deeply offensive rhetoric and actions through constitutionally-protected channels.


Civic education has many benefits, but at its core is a goal to develop the capacity, connections, and commitments necessary for informed, effective, and lifelong engagement in our democracy. This includes the obvious norms of voting, volunteering, contacting public officials, and paying attention to the news, but also a shared sense of community and commitment to a common destiny for an America that has forever promised the “golden door” to the “tired,” “poor,” and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The truth is that we have too often failed to deliver on this promise in a nation that marginalized and virtually exterminated Native Americans, enslaved millions of African-Americans, excluded and detained Asian-Americans, and abused and made second-class citizens of Latino-Americans. These narratives, and the legacies of our original sins, haunt us and our nonwhite brothers and sisters to this day.

But we must follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and bend the arc of history towards justice. This begins by confronting historic and contemporary racial and ethnic discrimination in our classrooms. Once this powerful evidence is burned deeply into the minds of our youth, we move next to not mere tolerance of difference, but an outright embrace of its social and democratic value. These are among the dispositions essential to the survival of the American experiment.

Citizenship in this country conventionally ends with norms of personal responsibility: paying the bills, taking out the garbage, and casting a ballot in presidential election years. Civic education frequently pushes further and injects participatory norms like volunteering on a campaign, contacting an elected official, and writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. These actions are valuable, but still minimalistic during times like these that test our democratic institutions and try the souls of our nation.

What’s missing is a commitment to social justice, particularly among Caucasian Americans that have long benefited from the privilege of their skin color. The events of the past weekend and the election of President Trump last November stand as existential threats to our black and brown family members, friends, students, co-workers, and fellow citizens. And the rise of the so-called alt-right also terrorizes Jewish-Americans as they wield symbols and salutes that society vowed to never surface again.

We must teach our children that there is no moral equivalence between those that intend to discriminate and invoke harm on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion and those that confront hatred, bigotry, and deeply-seeded racism. That tolerance of diversity is insufficient, as the entrenched impact of centuries of overt and implicit racism must be extracted by the root. That times like these compel us to be “upstanders” for fellow citizens and residents of this country.

Moments like the present are our reason for being as civic educators. Our ranks are disproportionately white in a state where a majority of our K-12 students are black and brown. All of our students are watching what’s transpiring in this country, and they will look to you to help them make sense of it all. Educate them on historic and contemporary racism, empower them to confront it through words and actions, and join them in our perpetual quest to make America live up to its founding creed, that “all men (and women) are created equal.”

In Search of a Symbiotic Relationship Between Parents and Teachers in Supporting Youth Civic Development

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

As a young boy, I developed an early interest in politics, thanks in part to the influence of my parents and grandparents. I recall my father bringing me along to the voting booth, my paternal grandmother taking two newspapers each day and faithfully watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the party conventions, and my maternal grandmother meeting with her alderman at the kitchen table.

Now, with two kids of my own, I’ve tried my very best to pass the torch, modeling these same behaviors and demonstrating my daily commitment to strengthening democracy in Illinois through my work at the McCormick Foundation, teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and service on a number of nonprofit boards.


Last week, as part of the 2017 Summer Convening of the Action Civics Initiative in Philadelphia, I was asked to participate in a Facebook Live session sponsored by Pearson to discuss how parents can support the diffusion of action civics principles (read the summary article here). They center upon student voice; deliberative discussion; real world interaction with local leaders, officials, and systems; and support for teachers and instructors through professional development opportunities, materials, and favorable policies.

The Guardian of Democracy report published by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of schools recommends that “parents…encourage their children to develop an interest in keeping themselves informed about current events; encourage their children to take an interest in and volunteer in their community; and help their children develop civic knowledge, skills, and habits.”

Guardian of Democracy also encourages parents to “…review civic learning opportunities in children’s schools,” a practice we’ve institutionalized at the McCormick Foundation through the Illinois Democracy Schools Initiative. Through a school-wide civic assessment process, students, teachers, administrators, community partners, and parents are asked to weigh in on their support for students’ civic learning opportunities and sense of the organizational culture at the school undergirding them.

Nationally, too many high school civics teachers (one in four according to the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) believe that parents or community members would object if political issues were discussed in their classrooms. When it comes to teaching about elections, only 28% of these educators feel that parents would provide strong support for this practice. This support is critical because teachers that have it are more likely to have open classroom environments and deploy deliberative practices.

According to researchers Michael McDevitt and Mary Caton-Rosser, “High school students…seem to thrive when teachers do feel they have enough community support to allow for (these types) of interaction.” Parents and teachers both clearly have a role to play in fostering students’ civic development and it should be seem as a “symbiotic,” not adversarial, relationship. The authors suggest that “…teachers…become more proactive in finding ways to enlist parents as partners in democratic education.”

To this end, McDevitt and Spiro Kiousis, in two separate articles, examine the interplay of students, parents, and schools in the political socialization process. In asking students to discuss elections-related news with parents, the authors find that "…Student-initiated conversation seems to awaken the civic parent in an adult, a role identity that might otherwise remain dormant…”

In sum, “The civic parenting phenomenon can be thought of as a mirror reflection of trickle up influence as the flow of influence moves in the opposite direction, from families to schools, with the child once again acting as a conduit for interpersonal political communication between the two parties."

More specifically, “Student-parent discussion appears to elevate the social utility or social value of paying attention to news media, and this increased motivation is not simply a fleeting effect.”

Thus, this symbiotic relationship between parents and school-based civic learning has mutual benefits for student and parent alike. It bears nurturing beyond teaching about elections and deliberative discussion, encompassing all of the action civics principles discussed above.

A Reflection on the NAMLE Conference

by Jay Mehta, English Teacher, Wheaton North High School

The power of a conference lies in the hands of an educator. Sharing information and connecting with professionals from around the world is an opportunity the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) Conference 2017 in Chicago provided everyone who attended the 3-day conference. As an English teacher and as guest of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, I was fortunate enough to attend all 3 days of the conference. I found educators in all realms of the professional world and collaborated with them on various ideas and projects.

At first, I did not know such a plentiful variety of educators would attend the conference, but once presentations began I quickly filled up my notebook with copious amounts of ideas I could use in the classroom. Each presentation centered around research and practical methods of energizing students to take an active voice in their society. No matter your opinion, use your voice in media through an ethical manner in order to express your opinion - that was the consistent theme in every presentation. The notes jotted down in my notebook will mold the curriculum I have began to devise for my English classes. I have never had more methods to involve students in the learning process outside of school than before the NAMLE conference.


The message of involving student voice did not begin and end within each presentation. The board of the NAMLE conference arranged guest speakers during breakfast and lunch, which included Patricia Carter (Head of Global Safety Outreach, Twitter), Newton Minow (former FCC chair and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Aine Kerr (Manager, Journalism Partnerships, Facebook), etc. Listed are only a few of many contributors to the educational aspect of the conference and I am glad I could take note of their ideas of how to support student involvement in the media within the ever-changing area of “media literacy”, in which each individual has a responsibility to source-check any information before simply reposting it or discussing it for others to believe without evidence. The guest speakers were able to converse amongst each other and give the audience an insight of the struggles that each organization faces with educating the public about “media literacy”.

Overall, NAMLE Conference 2017 provided me with a plethora of ideas to build upon during my educational career, connections with colleagues I will utilize to strengthen the ability of my students being able to take an activity voice in society through “media literacy”, and new perspectives on what “media literacy” means in today’s society. Thank you to the Robert R. McCormick foundation for the sponsorship and to the organizers and presenters at the NAMLE 2017 Conference - I hope to see you next year.

Illinois a State Divided; Its Residents the Solution for Unity

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Despite the recent thaw in the Springfield Stalemate, Illinois government still has significant challenges in earning the confidence of its constituents. That was my major take-away after attending a program last week sponsored by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) titled “Illinois: A State Divided?

ICPR assembled an impressive panel representing Illinois’ demographic diversity, academia, business interests, and the media. This included:



Dr. Jackson led off with a distillation of polling data underlining the program’s theme. Illinois voters’ assessment of whether the country is on the right or wrong track is tied to geography, with Chicagoans (22%) least likely to answer in the affirmative, and suburban (28%) and downstate voters slightly and significantly (43%) more positive, respectively.

By comparison, voters are universally negative about the state of the state, with only 9% claiming Illinois is on the right track and little regional variation. However, while only one-third of Chicagoans feel that the city is on the right track, a majority of suburbanites (58%) and downstate residents (56%) are pleased with the direction of local affairs.

More generally, Illinois voters feel that state government does not represent the values of their community well (53%). Seventy percent claim that state government does not consider their community’s opinions when making decisions. And 62% believe that state government resources are poorly distributed across the state.

Rebuilding shattered confidence in state government will take time, and perhaps begins with greater accessibility of elected officials beyond campaign season, according to Karen Ford.

Celina Villanueva lamented the assumption among residents that political corruption is universal, and Tom Bevan said the only state comparable to Illinois is New Jersey which has its own legacy of corruption and deeply unpopular governor.

Todd Maisch is struck by the lack of state pride in comparison to our neighboring states, and shared his disappointment that the budget impasse ended without structural reforms that would allow Illinois to exit a cycle of budget deficits, tax increases, and anemic economic growth.

Looking ahead, Ford sized up a gubernatorial field dominated by wealthy white men willing to open their pocket books and likely to break national campaign spending records over the next sixteen months. But Bevan cautioned that money is less consequential in an era of tribal politics where people get their news in partisan echo chambers.

If there is hope on the horizon, it lies in the hands of Illinois residents who must demand more of elected officials and re-enter a mostly-vacated public arena. Illinois is a deeply divided state, and our political leaders, parties, media, and interest groups are contributing factors. Unity, achieved through deliberation and compromise, falls to us, the fair residents of the Land of Lincoln.

Thaw in Springfield Stalemate Welcome, but Illinois Remains in State of Financial Crisis

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Illinois’ long-simmering budget impasse ended rather abruptly last week when both bodies of the Illinois General Assembly overrode Governor Rauner’s veto. The compromise agreement contained a mix of painful medicine in the form of budget cuts and tax increases.

These doses were delivered by a bi-partisan supermajority, where one Republican Senator and ten Representatives (originally fifteen) broke with the Governor and “voted their district.” It was no coincidence that many of these individuals hail from districts that house state universities, institutions that have suffered alongside social service agencies for too long.

The human carnage of the past two years is real, and last week’s mutiny triggered changes at the top of the Republican Party, beginning with the resignation of respected Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, followed by a request for House Republican Floor Leader Steve Andersson to step aside in light of his “yea” vote, and culminating with a major shake-up of Governor Rauner’s staff.

By Yinan Chen (www.goodfreephotos.com (gallery, image)) [Public domain or Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While state operations may soon resume some sense of normality, major issues remain unresolved, including whether public schools will be funded for the fall. The budget agreement authorized appropriations to K-12 schools contingent on companion legislation creating an evidence-based funding model. It exists in the form of Senate Bill 1, but the Governor has vowed to veto it upon arrival given what he deems as overly generous funding for Chicago Public Schools.

The Governor has the option of a line-item veto, but Speaker Madigan considers this tactic constitutionally dubious, leading to a likely dead end. Rauner may instead use this school funding bill as a final point of political leverage to exact business-friendly reforms from his Turnaround Agenda, including changes to the state’s worker’s compensation system and property tax relief.

Also looming is the state’s underfunded pension system that’s at least $130 billion in arrears. Previous changes were deemed unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court, but legislation that would produce “consideration,” where a retiree could choose whether or not to count future pay raises in exchange for lower or higher pensions, respectively, has gained bi-partisan traction and may withstand judicial scrutiny.

In the short-term, while the state has resumed its required contributions to the pension system after an inexcusable hiatus, the recent budget agreement altered assumptions and actually cut back contributions. This has real consequences for looming payments poised to consume an ever larger percentage of the state budget.

Taken together, last week’s progress is a Pyrrhic victory in the long-term battle to restore Illinois’ fiscal health. A balanced budget provides necessary life support, but our sick state remains in intensive care.

Freedom of the Press Imperiled by Repeated White House Restrictions and Denigrations

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last week, the White House prohibited video and audio coverage of daily press briefings, plus photographs of Press Secretary Sean Spicer. While press access has been a recurring issue across several administrations, the degree and frequency of these limits have accelerated significantly during the early months of the Trump presidency.

White House (south side)

On the campaign trail and since he was sworn in, Trump has consistently heaped harsh criticism on the press, and this vitriol is shared among many of his supporters. In a conversation with regional television reporters at the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Phoenix over the weekend, one revealed that she was told to return to Mexico (she’s Asian-American) as she walked along the rope line at a Trump rally.

Another said that she’s regularly greeted as a member of the “fake news media” while covering local political events. And I need not remind you that a congressional candidate assaulted a reporter on the eve of his election without consequence.

Feeling physically threatened and verbally abused is now par for the course for “democracy’s detectives.

The move to limit video and audio coverage of press briefings gets to the heart of how Americans consume news. We’re increasingly less likely to read a print newspaper, but still avid consumers of television, and to a lesser extent, radio news.

One of the McCormick Foundation's commitments is the civic development of the next generation of individuals, communities and institutions in Chicago and Illinois, the First Amendment freedom of the press is critical to this enterprise and central to our benefactor’s legacy. Our vision for a healthy democracy in Illinois leverages institutions that are accessible, transparent, responsive, and representative. A vibrant, free press, in its enduring watchdog role, helps make this possible, but it is threatened by events in Washington and closer to home.

Thankfully, a number of our grantees are active on this front, perhaps most prominently the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP). RCFP maintains a hotline for reporters and newsrooms under duress, providing direct support in acknowledgement of massive contractions in the industry. RCFP also files legal briefs in cases involving press freedoms, and engages in policy advocacy at the federal level in support of such reforms as a federal shield law.

We also support the Poynter Institute to provide regional and national trainings for reporters on a number of emerging issues. Poynter led a training last week at the IRE Conference on a new police arrest database, and have another planned this fall in Nashville on covering the Trump Administration.

Closer to home, the Better Government Association is an active user of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, perhaps most prominently in battle with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his use of private email for public business. According to President and CEO Andy Shaw, Illinois has a strong FOIA law, yet its compliance office has a 1-2 year backlog in responding to requests. Moreover, Shaw suggests that FOIA exceptions are often misapplied, and taxpayers wrongly foot the bill for FOIA lawsuits. Each of these problems demand policy solutions and the BGA is leading their development.

The battle between those in power and reporters tasked with holding them accountable is perennial, yet restricted access, physical and verbal threats to reporters, and general denigration of the press undermines this delicate balance and imperils democratic governance. Eternal vigilance is a must, and we’re lucky to have several national and local partners on the front lines. We implore you to join us in defending “democracy’s detectives.”

The #CivicsIsBack Summer Tour Off to a Strong Start in Its Second Year

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last week, 36 Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors gathered in Springfield for a second summer of intensive professional development in alignment with the new high school course requirement. Mentors are prepared to work with teachers, schools, and districts in their assigned educational region. Illinois has 38 outside of the City of Chicago, and we currently have mentors in 37 of them, with one remaining opening in Rock Island County.

Mentor Liaison Barb Laimins deserves strong accolades for supporting our initial cohort throughout the past school year, retaining the bulk of them, and filling vacancies with skilled, veteran educators.

This year’s training, and the two-day regional workshops throughout the state that follow, are responsive to data we collected from last year’s inaugural efforts. Specifically, teachers told us they needed additional support in implementing the emerging state social studies standards, the service-learning component of the civics course, and tools to foster students’ news literacy.

Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels skillfully planned and presided over this year’s mentor training and is working in tandem with them to co-facilitate workshops in their respective regions over the course of the next two months.

Mary Ellen is a skilled “mixer” of her own curriculum with those produced by our civic education partners. She and the mentors have skillfully woven the latter into this year’s trainings.


In the service-learning space, this includes our partners at the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and their Civic Action Project, the Center for Prevention Research and Development’s Engaging Youth in Positive Change program, and We, an internationally-focused organization that facilitates student service projects both locally and globally.

Turning to news literacy, our friends at the News Literacy Project have paired with the Center for News Literacy to support teachers in ensuring that students are not only wise consumers of news, but also responsible producers.

Mentors themselves are developing standards and course-aligned curriculum and units themed around engaging students in the public policy process. Look for them to appear on IllinoisCivics.org in time for the first day of classes this fall.

Mary Ellen, Barb, and the Mentors turned right around and began our regional trainings on Monday. They just concluded a successful two-day workshop in partnership with the Professional Development Alliance in Joliet, and kicked off another this morning with the DuPage Regional Office of Education in Lombard.

Next week’s stops included Carbondale and Kankakee, and after a one-week pause for the Fourth of July, the summer tour touches Macomb, Bloomington, Edwardsville, Charleston, Dixon, Loves Park, and Grayslake. Registration remains open for each of these trainings, and we encourage you to follow our progress on Twitter through the hash tag #CivicsIsBack.

Defining Issues for Public Policy Research and Deliberation

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors have gathered in Springfield this week for three days of training centered on news literacy, service-learning, and the emerging state social studies standards. This year’s summer workshops theme centers on engaging students in the public policy process, and my task was to first make the case for this, and then help define issues for further exploration and deliberation. Today’s post will center on the latter.

I’ve had great success in beginning this process within the hearts and minds of students. If there is a law they could change, what would it be? Further, what’s the status quo with respect to this issue, and how do policies differ in other jurisdictions? Finally, what does research show works best?

We can also pursue an outward-facing strategy, beginning with national polling data. According to Gallup, health care is the “top U.S. problem,” followed by dissatisfaction with government, immigration, economic performance, unemployment, and racism. Issues ebb and flow in response to public events. Health care concerns peaked during the initial debate over the Affordable Care Act, the public rollout that followed, and most recently the “repeal and replace” efforts of the Republican House.

The Pew Research Center offers deeper analysis of public opinion with respect to a plethora of issues. For example, when it comes to renewable energy sources, the public believes that government regulations are necessary to increase their use. On the other hand, a narrow plurality believes that it’s possible to cut back on environmental regulations and still achieve cleaner air and water in the U.S.

Closer to home, our friends at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute conduct annual opinion polls of registered voters in Illinois. The Springfield budget stalemate lingers as the summer wind blows in. A resolution from our elected representatives has been elusive, perhaps because their constituents are deeply divided themselves. A plurality believes that the budget should be balanced through spending cuts alone, although a growing share of the public calls for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Only a small share of the electorate believes that balance should be achieved solely through revenue increases.
Source: Paul Simon Public Policy Institute

Specific to young people, the Black Youth Project conducts regular public opinion surveys of 18-30 year-olds, with oversamples of nonwhite populations. Young people trend progressive, yet there is significant variation across race. For example, a majority of white youth support deporting immigrants currently living in the country illegally, but support peaks at 32% for African-Americans (25% for Asian-Americans and 18% for Latinos). There is broad support for raising the minimum wage across race, along with free tuition at public colleges, although it’s more tepid among white youth for the latter.

  1. Which level of government will solutions be explored: local, state, national, or global?
  2. What empirical evidence proves a problem’s existence?
  3. What specific government institutions are involved in addressing this issue (executive departments, independent agencies, legislative committees, etc.)?
  4. Which leaders are active on this issue both inside and outside of government?
  5. How does political ideology shape public views of the issue? In order to achieve policy success, solutions must be framed with bipartisan coalitions in mind.

Raise a Glass to Freedom and Rise Up to Hamilton's Civic Lessons

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Since its smashing Broadway debut, I’ve longed to see the Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton. But I balked at the price point for tickets on the secondary market, and being the armchair historian that I am, insisted on reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography first. Last week, I cleared both hurdles, and write today not wanting to “waste my shot” to translate these experiences for civics teachers and classrooms.

Having read many of the contemporary biographies of the American Founding Era, Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton ranks among the best. It’s much too lengthy for classroom use, but should be on every civics teacher’s summer reading list. Hamilton emerges as an unsung hero who never benefited from the privileges of the presidency or the opportunity to “tell his story” in retirement. Yet his contributions in the Revolutionary War, writing and ratifying the Constitution, and establishing the modern American economy cement his place alongside Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.

Hamilton small

The musical itself is reintroducing a nation to its history, while grappling with the original sin of slavery. A racially diverse cast reflects our own students, as a majority of Illinois youth are now nonwhite, with the country as a whole close behind. And Hamilton’s immigrant heritage plays to both the American Dream of upward mobility and the barriers that remain in the forms of both explicit and implicit bias.

In this deeply divisive political era, the lessons of Hamilton resonate on two levels. First, the debates that he engaged in were every bit as vicious as todays and the press even more hyper-partisan. Under the cloak of anonymity Hamilton and his peers penned deeply personal op-ed pieces in newspapers that served primarily as party organs. True, they also touched on the issues of the day, but the insults make “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary” seem small.

However, these personal jousts often assumed physical dimensions in the form of duels. This, of course, is where Hamilton met his maker prematurely and thankfully duels were soon outlawed. But a sense of accountability for political discourse should carry forward, and verbal combatants must do their best to make amends for pushing the envelope too far.

Second, Hamilton left behind an infrastructure in the Constitution that establishes the formal boundaries of these debates. This includes his fierce advocacy for an independent judiciary in the Federalist Papers, and his work as a lawyer to establish that defamatory speech does not necessarily constitute libel. John Marshall was a Federalist in the Hamiltonian tradition and established the U.S. Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of government. And the “actual malice” standard for libel followed almost two centuries later.

Our government institutions are very much under attack in the contemporary era, but the divided and shared powers delineated by Madison and Hamilton will ultimately prevail assuming that we teach our students their importance and adaptability. And public discourse must be both rich and respectful. We honor our students by teaching them to deliberate across difference and simultaneously avoid the tragic fate of Hamilton and existential threats to the continuation of this ongoing experiment in democracy that he tirelessly birthed.

How NOT to Avoid "Talking Politics"

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last Tuesday, I had the honored of speaking at a community forum in Chicago’s 47th Ward sponsored by partner and grantee Facing History and Ourselves. It was titled “How NOT to Avoid ‘Talking Politics’,” and my remarks are excerpted below.


According to Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms, a guide to writing and etiquette from 1879, we should “…not discuss politics or religion in general company. You probably would not convert your opponent, and he will not convert you. To discuss those topics is to arouse feeling without any good result.”

Today’s program will test the wisdom of this time-honored adage.

The truth is that most of us don’t discuss politics at all, and when we do it’s with people that share similar ideological views. These like-minded conversations can lead to ideological amplification, where there is even less diversity in political opinions on the issues of the day post-deliberation.

Consider an experiment conducted in Colorado where liberal residents of Boulder and conservative residents of Colorado Springs were assembled to discuss global warming, affirmative action, and civil unions for same-sex couples. Not only was there more consensus on these issues within groups, anonymous statements by individual members reflected more extreme views.

And these scenarios are liked replicated every day in the 47th Ward, City of Chicago, selected suburbs, and most certainly downstate. Bill Bishop first made the case that we’re sorting ourselves ideologically by where we choose to live in a widely cited 2008 book, The Big Sort. There he documented the growth in landslide counties that favored one presidential candidate over the other by more than 20 percentage points. While they were scant in the fiercely fought 1976 election between Carter and Ford, they multiplied seven cycles later in the narrow 2004 Bush victory over Kerry.

Landslide counties have proliferated over the last quarter century; and it won’t surprise you that these trends only continued in 2016, where a full 60% of all counties now fall in this category.

Republicans won 9 times as many of these counties as Democrats, but the latter have an iron grip on big cities like Chicago. And Illinois is not immune from these trends in ideological polarization. Previously you count on diehard Democrats in Chicago and rock-ribbed Republicans in the surrounding suburbs, with statewide elections swinging on the up-for-grabs downstate vote. Chicago remains a constant and downstate is now bright red with the exception of university towns and East St. Louis. The suburbs are the one place where there’s a politically heterogeneous population.

Read the entire speech.

The McCormick Foundation Salutes Civic Learning Legend Sharon Smogor

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Today marks the end of a teaching career that has spanned 43 years and sparked the civic development of generations of students. Carmel Catholic High School Social Studies Teacher Sharon Smogor is set to retire, and it’s with mixed emotions that I write this tribute to her legacy in Illinois’ civic learning lore.


Sharon’s involvement with the McCormick Foundation preceded my own. She was a member of the teacher advisory council convened by the Bill of Rights Institute to help develop the Freedom Museum and design a curriculum that complimented student visits. The Museum opened in 2006 and served thousands of students in its three years of operation. The exhibit was later adapted to a mobile museum, Freedom Express, that traveled to schools throughout Chicagoland, Carmel Catholic included.

Since 2006, the McCormick Foundation has provided professional development opportunities for Illinois teachers, and Sharon was a staple in demonstrating “Monday morning lesson plans” for teachers to emulate shortly thereafter.

Sharon later led Carmel Catholic’s successful Illinois Democracy Schools recognition process during the 2010-2011 school year. In seven years of overseeing the program, I have yet to see a more comprehensive analysis of students’ civic learning opportunities and the organizational culture of a school that undergirds them. Yet Sharon was never an army of one, building administrative support for her school’s civic mission and mentoring younger colleagues in its continuous pursuit.

Sharon wrote a vignette on her school’s Democracy Schools journey for the Illinois Civic Blueprint, no doubt inspiring the 43 schools throughout the state that have since completed the recognition process and joined the Democracy Schools Network.

More than anything, Sharon Smogor is a remarkable civic educator. Her students move beyond the hymnals of democracy to consistently practice its instruments. They played critical roles in passage of “Suffrage at 17,” establishment of the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education, and later legislation requiring a high school civics course in all Illinois public schools.

What a civic learning legacy she leaves. The state’s civic learning community, and the generations of students and teachers she so positively influenced, are forever indebted.

I’ll close with a quote from Sharon that summarizes her calling as a civics teacher, words that speak to the urgency of the work that we will continue to carry forward, no doubt with Sharon among our ranks. Sharon is a woman of action more so than of words, but she speaks with candor and earnestness. Sharon is sincerely respected and simply adored.

All of us, regardless of our professions, are citizens and members of our communities and the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of effective citizenship are skills for life. The success of our representative democracy is dependent upon informed, engaged, and responsible citizens.

Review: You're More Powerful Than You Think

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Thanks to our friends at the Chicago Community Trust, fellow supporters of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign, we were invited to a program featuring Eric Liu and his new book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think, at the Chicago Cultural Center last month.


I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Eric for the past several years through his leadership of the Civic Collaboratory, self-described as a national “trans-partisan” group broadly committed to civic empowerment. Civic education has long had a seat at the table, and Eric has lent his hand specifically to promoting “action civics,” best embodied locally by the Mikva Challenge.

You’re More Powerful Than You Think contains a number of important lessons transferrable to the civics classroom.

Power lies at its center, and is defined as “...the capacity to ensure that others do as you would want them to do.” Liu then pivots to three power axioms:
  • “Power concentrates”
  • “Power justifies itself”
  • “Power is infinite”
As we engage students in a process of civic inquiry, an assessment of the status of power in our communities, states, country, and world is a critical place to begin. Who has power? And how do they justify wielding it to the detriment of others?

As they examine government institutions and other entrenched sources of power, students understand what they are up against in their quest to effect positive change. But as educators we cannot allow their journeys to end here, because power is indeed infinite and contrary to conventional wisdom, our students hold latent political power in spades.

Student voice should be honored in our classrooms, hallways, and auditoriums. These venues must serve as platforms for students to flip the script of concentrated power that justifies itself. Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool as students paint a picture for a better world, use stories as an organizing principle, and construct fables illustrating the fight for what’s right.

Liu’s book is inspirational in stringing together inclusive stories of civic engagement that span age, race, ethnicity, class, geography, and ideology. Yet young people emerge as frequent heroes, including #BlackLivesMatter, the DREAMers, and even a conservative campus coalition supportive of concealed carry.

While most of the book is devoted to the what and how of power, Liu concludes with the why, an important lesson in civic virtues. As we engage our students in the process of examining and ultimately contesting the existing power structure, we must also emphasize the importance of acting with integrity. Their advocacy should also be inclusive and serve a cause greater than self-interest.

Building and Executing an Implementation Plan for New Illinois Social Science Standards

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Since the inception of our #CivicsIsBack Campaign to support implementation of the new high school civics course requirement, the emerging Illinois Social Science Standards have served as a backdrop to this work. Specifically, the grades 9-12 civics strand frames the content and pedagogy to be used in the stand-alone, semester-long course.

Yet the standards are K-12 in scope and span the social sciences, including economics, financial literacy, geography, and history. With official implementation set for this coming fall, we have our work cut out for us in leveraging an opportunity to return the social sciences to their rightful seat at the core content table. The standards also promise to transform teaching from didactic instruction to student-directed inquiries, ultimately resulting in students communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

Thankfully, the McCormick Foundation is not alone in this work, as the standards were written by a teacher-led task force that is already in the field training teachers on their use both in their own schools and districts and regionally. Moreover, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has created the Classrooms in Action portal to support implementation, offering a series of guiding documents, video tutorials, and a catalogue of organizations poised to further support teaching and learning. ISBE also offers a mix of in-person and online professional development on the new standards and related inquiry arc.

Districts and regional offices themselves have organized around standards implementation. In the case of the former, teachers and curriculum leaders from suburban Chicago school districts convene regularly to compare notes and learn from invited experts. They are set to meet again next Thursday, May 18, in Algonquin.


ISBE has trained professional development providers within the state’s regional offices of education, and we’ve partnered with two (West Cook and DuPage) to offer day-long trainings for K-8 teachers. The DuPage training is scheduled for June 8 and seats remain open for this free workshop led by two teachers that served on our standards task force.

While there is no shortage of activity around standards implementation, the need among teachers, schools, and districts is acute. The aforementioned stakeholders, plus nonprofit organizations that provide professional development to social studies teachers, met in Normal last month to catalogue existing activities, identify remaining needs, and lay the seeds for a more comprehensive plan to address them.

Future posts will flesh this plan out further, but three primary professional development needs were identified:
  • Unpacking the standards. Awareness of the new standards, the embedded inquiry arc, and the process by which they were created varies, and this is a necessary first step for implementation.
  • Aligning current curriculum and practice with the new standards. For many teachers, the new standards represent a paradigm shift. For others, the pivot will be more subtle.
  • Presenting standards-aligned resources and demonstrate how to use them in full scope and sequence. Our nonprofit professional development partners will prove particularly helpful here.

With Challenges Come Opportunities to Advance Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Earlier this week, I had the honor of attending and presenting at the Civics Education Leadership Team Meeting convened by the Council on State Governments (CSG) in Lexington, KY. In partnership with the National Center for Learning and Civics Engagement, CSG brought together representatives of all three branches of government from states throughout the country, including Illinois Representative Elgie Sims (D-Chicago); state civic education advocacy leaders; and experts on youth civic development (see the agenda and list of attendees).

Rep. Elgie Sims speaks at the Civics Education Leadership Team Meeting


A panel presentation by Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) Director of Impact Abby Kiesa struck a chord with me and is the basis of today’s post.

Abby identified four challenges and parallel opportunities in the civic education space.
  1. Last week, CIRCLE released a new national index of county-level youth civic engagement opportunities. It is searchable by state and provides information on local educational attainment, the frequency of competitive elections, potential youth influence on elections, overall quality of life measures, and finally, a rating of community civic culture. Even among Illinois’ 102 counties there is significant variation and this speaks to Abby’s first identified challenge. In turn, through state policy we can achieve scale and help reduce the “civic empowerment gap” evident in these ratings.
  2. Civic education is broadly defined and there is not a one-size-fits-all model for youth civic development. In this fog lies opportunity as we can tie civic learning outcomes with college and career readiness metrics. Moreover, important civic skills like news literacy fall under this umbrella. And finally, civics can latch on to the microcredentialing movement to recognize students’ acquisition of the knowledge and skills necessary for informed, effective engagement in our democracy.
  3. The field of civic education has a tendency to focus obsessively with the knowledge side of the equation, neglecting civic skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Thankfully, we have an extensive body of research that paints a broader picture of civic competencies. Additionally, because civics is infrequently tested at the state level, our field has an opportunity to design and implement more authentic forms of assessment that allow students to demonstrate the whole of their civic personas.
  4. Finally, policy implementation is an underappreciated and poorly funded endeavor. Yet I can speak to our own experiences in Illinois in outlining the art of the possible, and future frontiers include more comprehensive exposure among pre-service teachers to civic content and best practices in civic education, along with the prospect of microcredentialing in-service teachers as they achieve mastery in facilitating controversial issues discussions or students’ service-learning projects.

Guest Blog: What Should We Expect From Public Education?

by Sue Khalaieff, Democracy Schools Network Manager

Over the past school year, the Illinois Humanities Council has sponsored a statewide series of free public programs called Continuing Ed, which have focused on the future of Illinois public schools. Events have been held in Chicago, Elgin, Decatur and Southern Illinois throughout the year. On Thursday, April 20th, I attended their discussion in Elgin which focused on what we should expect from public education. The roundtable discussion featured Tony Sanders (CEO of U-46), Rev. Nathaniel Edmond (Second Baptist Church), Julia McClendon (YWCA of Elgin), Karen Merchant (Bartlett HS parent), Tish Calhamer (Gail Borden Library), Madeline Villalobos (Parent Leadership Institute alumna), Tracy Occomy (Community Organization and Family Issues), and Mike Demovsky (Bartlett HS principal). The roundtable discussion was led by Denise Ahlquist of The Great Books Foundation.

I left that session feeling invigorated, inspired and better equipped to do battle with the forces that challenge the schools in our state. The diverse panel, the engaged audience, and a roomful of stakeholders who are so deeply committed to public education provided compelling evidence that bringing people together for this kind of conversation is a powerful civics lesson. There was great Democracy School representation in this round table as U-46 includes both Bartlett High School (a 2006 Democracy School) and Streamwood High School (a 2016 Democracy School).

“What should we expect from public education?” almost could have been entitled "Why every school should be a Democracy School?” as our themes were consistent throughout the discussion. Voice, equity, participation, civil discourse, developing citizens in a democratic society, getting feedback from stakeholders, empowerment, and community partnerships were all mentioned as key factors in what we should expect from our schools.

The format allowed the audience to interact with the panel; in fact, the actual “presentation” part of the evening took up only about one-third of the time. The majority of the ninety-minute program encouraged community members to comment on the remarks of the panel, as well as voice their own concerns and recommendations. What became very evident is that this combination of dedication, innovation and communication is allowing Elgin schools to positively address their issues and create a more positive future for their students.

Chicago is sponsoring their last session of the series, titled, Our School II- What the City’s Done, What it Can Do, on May 17 at the Union League Club. If you are looking for an upbeat and constructive ending to your school year, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Philanthropy's Role in Strengthening America's Democracy

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

I was invited to take part in a panel discussion yesterday at the Council on Foundations preconference titled “Philanthropy’s Role in Strengthening America’s Democracy.” Hosted in Dallas, it featured a bi-partisan conversation led by the George W. Bush Institute and PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement), the latter of which the McCormick Foundation is a member.


I was specifically asked to weigh in on the question that reads as follows: “A dominant narrative right now is that we are a divided country—do you find this to be true in your work and in the communities you support? How do you see the work you focus on bridging divides, whether they be red/blue, urban/rural, or other divides?”

Our statewide work in Illinois within the field of civic education offers guidance on bridging ideological and geographic divides. Context matters a great deal in the field of civic education. A controversial issue in one region is settled in another. Service-learning assumes a different dimension in an urban area than a rural one. Research suggests that most of us follow the guidance of our grandparents to not discuss politics or religion. For the junkies among us, we're more likely to discuss politics among those with whom we agree, leading to the ideological amplification that increasingly cripples our democracy.

It is in America's classrooms where we have a chance to alter course, as students enter with surprisingly heterogeneous views, even in deep red or blue places. Moreover, their views are not as entrenched as their adult peers, and they are in the hands of educators with the training (or at least the potential) to facilitate difficult political conversations across difference.

Another important avenue for youth civic development is engaging them beyond elections. True, they have consequences, but the winners represent us all and we are obliged to work with them through the public policy process that follows.

Many issues have local resonance and are often less ideological than those that play out at the state or national levels. Moreover, politics is a game of addition, and policy making often requires the building of bipartisan majorities across legislative bodies and branches of government.

Our successful legislative push two years ago for a civics course requirement offers abundant examples as we built strong bipartisan majorities in the Illinois General Assembly controlled by a Democratic supermajority, and later pivoted to earn a Republican governor's signature.

A couple of my favorite stories from the campaign stem from the advocacy of civics teachers and their students. One House Education Committee member voted against our bill in committee, but was responsive to the outreach of a local teacher as the bill made its way to the floor. She spoke at length with him by phone and later rose during the debate to confess that she "was schooled by a social studies teacher" and had changed her vote to "yea."

While doing reconnaissance on the Senate side prior to their own floor vote, we reached a Senator that was leaning against the bill, but was struggling as he stared at a stack of letters written by students in his district encouraging him to do the opposite. He later was among the 46 senators voting yes (out of 55) and sending the bill to the governor.

Civic education is bigger than red-blue, urban-suburban-rural divides. It's about the future of our democracy. Local context considered, best practices remain central to youth civic development and must be offered universally. Illinois' civic health may be on life support, but the prognosis for its long-term recovery and flourishing is strong thanks to the fruits of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign.