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.

Guest Blog: Space to be Heard

by Brad Hubbard, Ed.D, Principal, Antioch Community High School

Foreword by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Over 200 attendees participated in the Democracy Schools Network Convening which took place last month on March 9-10 with the theme “Students as Agents of Change”. This year, we recognized and celebrated 13 new Democracy Schools that joined the network. The Network now encompasses 54 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois. Dr. Amber Kim from the University of Colorado gave a keynote address which emphasized the importance of breaking down barriers that limit student voice in schools. Special thanks to Brad Hubbard, Principal of Antioch Community High School (2015 Democracy School), in Antioch, Illinois for sharing his powerful reflection on Dr.Kim’s keynote address.


"We must be able to sit in the pain and pride of a student's narrative."

- Dr. Amber Kim


Dr. Kim teaches and talks about "equity literacy." She sees her work as anti-oppression work. Meaning, we have to create systems and spaces in schools that do not oppress or silence individuals or groups of students. Her message was powerful, poignant, timely, thought-provoking, and emotional. She told a number of stories, used great videos, and shared some important realizations that she has discovered. Two of the messages I feel compelled to share, are as follows:

1. There is no such thing as the voiceless. Everyone has a voice. With that said, there are certainly situations in which voices are not expressed, heard, or permitted to matter. Dr. Kim argues that we need to create the space in which voices are afforded real opportunities to be heard and matter. She says that true voice must include expression and power. We need to create systems and environments in which everyone feels their voice is valued, critical, welcomed, and influential. Voice is so critical in the creation of the circumstances in which people can learn and flourish. We talk so much about relationships, but those relationships are not deep, genuine, or impactful if the voices within those relationships are not real, respected, and taken into account. We talk about student voice and work to provide opportunities for it to be heard. As I step back and look at the systems we have in place, if I am being honest, there are explicit and implicit barriers within our structure that deter, impede, and/or dismiss the voice of some of our stakeholders. I...we...can do better. One way is make sure the voices we solicit have power...that leads me to my next takeaway.

2. We need to foster within our learning community, the idea that everyone's voice has power. We cannot solicit it, pretend to hear it, and then move on as previously planned. We need to create multiple opportunities for all of our stakeholders, especially our students, to be able to articulate their needs and see action as a result. We need to share and, in some cases, hand over the decision-making power and demonstrate trust in our students throughout a process of sharing leadership. Our students' voices are the most critical in the equation of education. But, it is hard to want to engage and exercise voice when there are no results. So, I know I need to be, and I suspect we all could be, more cognizant of the explicit and implicit ways I am silencing or not hearing the voices of our students...all of them.

Dr. Kim told a story about voice and power that made me tear up. She said her husband was tickling their young daughter one night and while she was laughing and have a fun time, she was saying, "stop." Now, I do this with my girls all the time...in fact, Bryn thinks I am "the world's best tickler." They say, "stop" regularly and it never phases me, so long as it is said in the playful way. On that night, however, Dr. Kim later said to her husband, "When she says stop, I'm going to need you to stop." Her husband at first questioned it, but Dr. Kim went on to articulate that their daughter needs to know her voice has power. When she says, "stop," she ought expect that whoever she is speaking to, even if it is dad, stops. I could not agree more and this weekend, I was intentional about stopping and starting to ensure that Calla and Bryn know their voices have power.

While this story hit me as a father, it also resonates as an educator. Our students have voices and they are using them all the time. We need to find ways of not just allowing, encouraging, and permitting them. Rather, we need to truly hear, offer some power to, and continue creating the spaces for students to share, speak up, ask, disagree, and/or use their voice.

I want to thank Dr. Kim for such an inspiring and moving keynote on Friday. It has had me thinking...

Guest Blog: Democracy is a Verb

by John Pellikan, McHenry County Teacher Mentor

“Democracy is a verb”. I must have said that phrase over 100 times in the past couple of years. Each time I said it, I was usually engaged in some type of endeavor to mobilize others to take action. I told myself that my action was to get others to take action. Not necessarily an unimportant role, but, in many ways, I ultimately felt like a hypocrite. What was I really taking action to do? Holding an elected office was something I never really thought I would ever do. After all, who am I to be elected? Did I really want to go through the process of begging people for support?


When I found out that our local elementary school district (Dist. #47) had 2 open positions, I realized that this was my opportunity. Hence, I followed the lead of my friend and colleague Curt Wadlington (who actually ran for the same board 2 years ago) and joined with another friend and colleague Jonathan Powell to become certified write-in candidates. We have both been very fortunate to have won spots on the board and eagerly look forward to serving the community and our children.

We have passionate teachers and administrators in District #47 who work very hard to assure our students are receiving the best education possible. As a school board member, I will work to support teacher’s efforts and empower them to inspire their students to be curious, to take actions with those curiosities and to achieve significant growth in their knowledge and skills. I do feel, though, that there are enough people on school boards who are worried about test scores and other metrics of so-called academic achievement.


What we need are more people worried about the development of literate citizens. Ultimately, therefore, my biggest agenda item is to help our district grow in fulfilling the civic mission of schools. Our students need to become literate citizens who take action to answer the question ‘how should we live together?’ Schools across America need to work hard to achieve this mission and my hope is to work with the amazing teachers in D47 to develop justice oriented citizens emboldened by a rich civic education.

I have been very blessed in my professional career in that I get to work as a teacher, an administrator, and a civic education mentor for the McHenry County ROE. My hope is to extend these efforts to our local elementary school board and, therefore, have a wide-reaching impact on the field of education in order to help our schools best achieve the civic mission of schools. After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education” and our schools would do well to take note.

Practicing What We Preach

by Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison

Several weeks ago, I was asked to be part of a steering committee that would work for the passage of a referendum that would renovate, replace aging infrastructure in my local high school. My initial thought was I don’t have time for that but then a little voice in my head spoke up. You should practice what you preach so I joined the committee.

Armed with my Fitbit, pamphlets and signs, I hit the streets of my local community. Knocking on doors with the belief, who could possibly be against children, education and good schools? I posted incessantly on social media while monitoring my phone, like a teenager, waiting for the outpouring of support. I cajoled my neighbors, approached strangers as they shopped wearing my Yes sticker and ventured beyond my bubble of friends who were liked minded.


There were surprises along the way. Some were fearful to put a sign in their yard because they didn’t want to sufferer repercussions from neighbors. A National Anti-Tax group made robocalls and sent mailers to vote NO despite the fact they had no information, no solutions or cared about the facts. Others, were pleased to be asked for their support. Former students joined in, placed signs and rallied their friends. Senior citizens on fixed incomes were effusive in the support to make sure students had opportunities in the future.

The committee gathered on election night anxiously awaiting the outcome. As the results trickled in, we bantered back and forth about what we did, what we should have done and what we could have done. Each of us hoping that our message had been received by those who went to the polls. When the final tally was posted, there was an audible sigh of relief quickly followed by expressions of pure joy. The referendum passed.

Reflecting on the experience, I realize I’ve become more resilient after being told no way multiple times in a row. But more importantly, I feel a stronger connection to my community, have reconnected with neighbors and made new friends. I can’t wait for the next election cycle to volunteer and be part of what we preach.


Guest Blog: Service Learning that Promotes Student Agency

by Sharon Smogor, Social Studies Teacher, Carmel Catholic High School, DSN Advisory Council Member

Service learning can have many different faces, as aptly demonstrated by a presentation team of teachers and students, in a session entitled “Service Learning that Promotes Student Agency” at this year’s Democracy Schools Annual Convening on Friday, March 10th. Grisel Granados, AP Spanish teacher at Carmel Catholic High School; Jamie Nash-Mayberry, Social Studies teacher at Shawnee High School; and Drew McLane and Abbey Livesay, Seniors at Shawnee High School related details of projects that they have been involved in that promote student voice and students acting as agents of change.


The Shawnee project on “Saving the Levees” has been in place for about 7 years and draws attention to the failing levees in the area. It has become a centerpiece of service leaning and student voice to the extent that the middle school students look forward to continuing the work. The Carmel Catholic project, which is in its pilot stage, involved AP Spanish Language and Culture students exploring global issues of poverty and education. Students took action through creating public service announcements and writing letters to government officials.

In both cases, teachers helped the students choose an authentic cause in the community that students were passionate about and were willing to commit to developing short and long term goals and strategies. The importance of preparation for the project was emphasized; towards this goal, students participated in team building exercises and question framing before beginning their research. Collaboration was also an essential ingredient in both projects. Students did the research, contacted community members, created their action plans and—very importantly--took ownership of their project. Students engaged in reflection at every step of the project, thus cementing the learning. In addition, students learned some very practical skills: how to use the media, how to contact and interact with members of the community, how to work with a team, and how to resolve conflict.

Their projects also offered great potential for cross curricular learning. For example, the Shawnee students worked with the Science department on research as well as other groups at school for marketing and publicity. The Carmel students worked with a few government/civics classes and conducted a model senate simulation using "bills" they created that were related to the topic of poverty and education and supported the outreach to government officials.

As shown by these two schools, service learning is an excellent vehicle for effective civic education and engagement across the curriculum, especially when supported by the school mission and culture.

Repeal, Replace, and Retreat? The Death and Life of the Affordable Care Act

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

A mere 65 days into his presidency, Donald Trump was forced to retreat from one of the few singular promises of his campaign: to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The anatomy of this capitulation is worthy of further exploration in a civics classroom and is framed here in the paragraphs at follow.

Seven years ago, President Barack Obama signed the ACA, arguably his singular legislative achievement. Twenty million Americans have since gained coverage through the combination of expanded eligibility for Medicaid and private health care exchanges with subsidized premiums based on one’s ability to pay them. In exchange for a requirement to purchase health insurance, Americans benefited from guaranteed access regardless of pre-existing conditions and the ability for young adults to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26.

The roll out of the ACA left much to be desired and it proved unpopular at the polls, with Democrats sustaining historic losses in 2010, 2014, and 2016, all correlated with the Republican campaign mantra that the ACA was and is a disastrous policy. Moreover, despite the aforementioned coverage gains, health insurance premiums continued to rise in private markets as fewer younger, healthier Americans signed up than projected. They opted instead to pay annual fines. This undermined the cross-subsidization principle embedded in the ACA and health insurance more generally, where younger, healthier enrollees pay premiums, but draw less from the system than their older, sicker peers.

Obamacare replacement brainstorming session

Republicans recaptured the House of Representatives in 2010 and have since voted dozens of times to repeal the ACA. These measures were always symbolic given that President Obama wielded a veto pen and Democrats maintained control of the Senate until 2014. As of this January, Republicans became the dog that finally caught the car, and the onus fell on them to not only repeal the ACA, but also to construct an acceptable replacement.

Their plan, the American Health Care Act, arrived four weeks ago today. It proposed to eliminate the individual mandate and also the penalty paid by large employers that failed to provide private coverage. Medicaid eligibility would also be scaled back, and in exchange for premium supports would be tax credits based on age instead of income.

The Republican plan was met with immediate scorn from both conservatives and moderates within the party’s own ranks. Conservatives claimed that it was only a watered-down version of the ACA, and moderates worried about Congressional Budget Office projections that 14 million Americans would lose coverage in the first year alone. Older Americans would face exponentially higher premiums, a core constituency for Trump’s GOP.

While Republicans in the House have a comfortable majority, these two factions, combined with stiff opposition from Democrats, meant that the American Health Care Act lacked the 218 votes necessary to pass. It was subsequently pulled 17 days after introduction, a stinging defeat for the new President and unified Republican control in Washington (By comparison, the ACA was signed into law 14 months into the Obama presidency).

President Trump and Speaker Ryan have since claimed they will allow the ACA to crumble on its own, vowing to move onto tax reform and infrastructure spending. Assuming the absence of Democratic dance partners, Republicans will need to find a way to bridge the fiscally conservative and populist wings of the party to achieve substantive change.

Moreover, President Trump will need to immerse himself more deeply in the nuances of public policy. “Repeal and replace” made for a useful campaign slogan, but the devil truly is in the details as presidents that have grappled with health reform throughout history learned the hard way.

Guest Blog: Genius Hour at Antioch High School

by Jim Vera, Social Studies Department Chair, Oswego East High School
What do you wonder about? What have you always wanted to do? What would you do if you could change the world?

These are questions the students at Antioch High School deal with on Fridays in Global Studies. This year-long service project, started by Lauren Krickl is something that she has her freshmen deal with every Friday as part of a program called “Genius Hour.” Students get a chance to spend a year making their plan to change the world! It started with Krickl, but now Grant Murray, Social Studies Department Chair, has been able to expand this process to include all Global Studies classes, and it is now part of the curriculum. Genius Hour was the focus of their presentation at the 2017 Democracy School Annual Convening.


Getting students to think outside the box is a challenge for all teachers. Krickl, Murray and Antioch student Monica Wilhem talked about their successes and failures with this program. Creating projects that are completely student-driven helps to create a culture of good civic learning. Antioch students are able to engage in service learning through the year, while they explore their passions. Monica’s story proved especially moving as she shared her noble ambition of curing cancer. To some, this may seem too lofty, but she was able to move her school to raise money, and impact her community through her Walk On the Move fundraiser. Her passion was clear, as was the effect of Genius Hour on her and her peers. It’s a program that changes the way students look at their world.

It is difficult for teacher to “step away” sometimes, and let the students find what moves them, but as we learned, it’s an effort that pays off for everyone. It’s a class that has obviously had a positive impact at Antioch, and is a great way to instill the importance of student action.

Carolyn Pereira, 2016 Illinois Democracy Schools Recognized for Commitments to Students' Civic Development

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last Thursday, our annual convening of the Democracy Schools Network kicked off with a reception at Cantigny Park where 13 Illinois high schools were recognized in the largest class of Democracy Schools to date. The Network now encompasses 54 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

The Democracy Schools Initiative stems from humble beginnings a decade ago when the first cohort of four high schools earned recognition. It was the brainchild of founding Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC) Chair Carolyn Pereira, who received seed money from the Carnegie Corporation to implement the recommendations of the Civic Mission of Schools report. Carolyn and the ICMC first considered developing a prototype civics course for replication throughout the state, but quickly pivoted to more of a school-wide focus, understanding that a singular civic learning experience for students was insufficient.

Students from multiple Democracy Schools working together in groups.

Instead, civic learning should be woven throughout the curriculum of students’ high school experience. Moreover, students should have opportunities to develop civic skills and dispositions through a wide array of extracurricular activities. Finally, student voice should be embedded in all aspects of a school’s functioning, as these vital institutions serve as incubators for democracy.

While the Democracy Schools recognition process has evolved significantly over the years, these central tenets remain constant. The model itself has drawn significant national interest and been replicated in number of states, Arizona and California specifically.

Each of our newest Democracy Schools took turns demonstrating their own unique commitments to students’ civic development, but the highlight of the evening was Carolyn Pereira receiving the inaugural Civic Leadership Award for her enormous contributions over the course of half a century to the civic mission of Illinois Schools. Beyond launching the ICMC and its Democracy Schools Initiative, Carolyn also founded the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago more than four decades ago. CRFC remains a pillar of the civic learning movement in Illinois and a core partner in our civics course and standards implementation process. The body of her work set the stage for these policy achievements.


Moreover, Carolyn was a key contributor to the creation of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework of the National Council for the Social Studies, enduring that deliberation was central to the civics strand and the broader inquiry arc than spans grades K-12. Carolyn later served on the task force that used the C3 Framework to write new social studies standards for Illinois.

It is therefore no coincidence that Illinois is the national epicenter for innovation in civic learning. Carolyn Pereira is a true trailblazer and her legacy looms large. We are lucky to follow in her footsteps, and Illinois has and will continue to benefit from her lifelong work. In fact, the country is increasingly turning to our state, and its civic learning programming and policies in particular, in building democratic communities and institutions for the 21st Century.

Please join me in congratulating Carolyn for this lifetime achievement recognition and our 2016 Illinois Democracy Schools for their deep commitment to students’ civic development.

Madison's First Amendment a Bulwark of Our Democracy

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Sixteen years ago a large envelope arrived in the mail that forever changed the trajectory of my career. Inside, I was delighted to learn of my selection as the 2001 James Madison Fellow from my home state of Wisconsin. It entailed a scholarship for graduate school and a once-in-a-lifetime summer institute at Georgetown University, all of it centered on improving my understanding of and ability to teach the U.S. Constitution.


Thanks to the Madison Fellowship, I graduated with the masters degree in political science and pivoted immediately towards pursuit of my PhD. This journey included leaving the high school classroom eleven years ago, but my deep commitment to students’ civic development has been a constant ever since and inspired much of the work I’ve pursued at the McCormick Foundation and through the auspices of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition.

This build-up is meant to introduce you to the Madison Fellowship and encourage you and your colleagues to explore it further. Thanks to support from the McCormick Foundation, Illinois teachers are awarded two fellowships each calendar year, and the McCormick Fellow spends a summer in our offices deeply engaged in our work to strengthen the state’s civic education system. I also encourage you to check out the “Constitutional Conversations” videos archived on the Fellowship website where leading scholars speak in short segments about constitutional history.

Recently, I was asked to don my scholarly hat and write an article on the Constitution for the Fellowship’s monthly newsletter to more than 1,000 recipients that span the continent and globe. My constitutional expertise is largely centered on the First Amendment, and recent events, including the progressive protest movement in solidarity against President Trump and his controversial policies and positions, along with the President branding the press as “enemies of the people,” have elevated its importance once more.

What follows is an excerpt from the article, but I encourage you to read it here at full length and perhaps to even integrate it into classroom instruction. Madison’s wisdom in writing it was prescient then as it is for his posterity.

The First Amendment is declarative in saying the “Congress shall make no law” respecting the five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. There is a presumption against prior restraint on speech by government bodies unless it represents a grave danger to national security (see Near v. Minnesota, 1931, and New York Times v. U.S., 1971).

However, some speech can be punished after the fact if it falls within one of five categories. This includes “fighting words,” or spoken words that instigate violent reactions (see Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942), and defamation, which in the case of a public figure, must rise to “actual malice.” It constitutes leveling knowingly false charges, or demonstrating a reckless disregard for the truth (see New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964).

Speech that incites danger, where there is imminence between a call to action and the act itself is also categorically unprotected (see Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969), as is speech that represents a true threat (as distinguished from political hyperbole; see Watts v. U.S., 1969).

Finally, obscenity is unprotected, which is material that “appears to a prurient interest,” portrays sexual conduct in an offensive fashion according to state law, and has no artistic, literary, political or scientific value. In order to be considered obscene, it must meet all three parts of this test (see Miller v. California, 1971).

Teachers Still Processing 2016 Election Results with Students; Answers Remain Elusive

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I spoke on Friday to a packed house at the 31st annual DuPage County Social Studies Conference held at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School. It’s the largest gathering of social studies teachers in the state (more than 800 registered this year) and an event I always look forward to attending.

As a teacher, I saw the DCSSC as one day a year when I got to be a student again. And as a presenter, it’s the one venue where all teachers are required to attend. It’s therefore an amazing opportunity to stand before a true cross-section of the local teaching profession.


Over the years, my best-attended sessions have been on elections and their aftermath, and last Friday’s was no exception. My guidance was broad, but I planned to unpack the 2016 Election results, lay out the current conditions for governance at the national and state level, and then pivot to engaging students in the policy making process. But I soon realized that some of these plans should be scrapped as I got a better sense of the reality that attendees are currently grappling with.

To me, November 9, 2016, felt similar to the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks in that many of our students were traumatized by the election results and we were collectively making sense of what transpired. This process took weeks, not days, and nearly four months removed, we’re still dealing with its aftershocks.

A couple of colleagues on Friday pushed back on my analogy, suggesting that while we had free license to call an audible and spend weeks on 9-11, the reverse was true for the 2016 Election. School principals asked that teachers return to the standard curriculum for fear of further stoking political tensions among students and their parents.

These unfortunate directives aside, I would suggest that social studies teachers are made for this moment. Our students are still processing what happened and many are in fear of the early policies that have emerged from the Trump White House. We are more qualified than anyone in their lives to help them navigate these choppy waters and hopefully assuage their concerns.

Beyond the question of how we objectively teach about President Trump, questions proliferated in my session about the 2016 election results and what they mean for the future. I answered them to the best of my ability, but many were elusive or warrant further empirical study. I’ll conclude by listing them here, and will proceed to answer them in subsequent posts.
  • What role did the media play in Trump’s rise in both the Republican primary and the general election? And was critical coverage more damaging to him or Hillary Clinton?
  • Young voters are more progressive yet less Democratic. And both parties are clearly in a state of ideological transformation. Is the time ripe for a third party to emerge that is more closely aligned with the ideology and policy agenda of youth?
  • How important was religiosity in the 2016 election? In the recent past, church attendance proved a strong predictor of party affiliation.
  • Are public opinion polls reliable in the age of smart phones and Trump?
  • How will a Congress led by free market Republicans work with an economically populist President of their own party? And will Republicans jump ship when/ if his approval ratings fall to Nixonian levels?
  • Will early signs of solidarity among progressives lead to electoral gains for Democrats akin to the Tea Party among Republicans in 2010 and beyond?
  • How should Democrats position themselves against unified Republican control in Washington? And how strongly should they contest the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch?