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Showing posts from 2017

Youth Media as a Means of Civic Development

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Last week, I had the privilege of attending a meeting convened by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement titled “Youth, Media, and Civic Engagement in Local Contexts.” The meeting was supported by the Democracy Fund and hosted in Chicago by the McCormick Foundation and Mikva Challenge.

Wide-ranging conference discussions touched on a number of subjects, but centered on media’s role in youth civic development. This occurs in the context of local media ecosystems, some healthier and more diverse than others. And involves youth as both consumers and producers of news.

As a college instructor that guides students in creating issue campaigns for policy change, I am increasingly struck by the divergence in our respective media diets. Like many of you, mine is decidedly “old school,” as I have newspapers delivered to my door and read them cover-to-cover every day. While I sample in new media offerings on soci…

The Icing on the Cake

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
Cake seems to be a reoccuring theme in my social studies classroom. Marie Antoinette allegedly said, “Let them eat cake!” when confronted with information that her subjects were starving from lack of bread. Benjamin Franklin noted, “A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.” Who can forget the marble vs. layer cake analogy when teaching students about federalism? This week the United States Supreme Court served up another “slice” for classroom use when they heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs.Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Masterpiece Cakeshop is the “icing on the cake” of a year full of compelling court cases that can be used by classrooms to address essential questions related to power, freedom, justice and equality. By employing the proven practices of current and controversial issues discussions as well as simulations of democratic processes, teachers can facilitate student inquiry a…

The Fifteen Days of Congress

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
A chaotic close to a political year like no other provides a yuletide feast of current events conversations in social studies classrooms. But an enterprising educator struggles with pairings and portions, and this post is intended to provide last-minute tips to help make sense of it all before we send students on their merry way.

Let’s begin with recent indictments against high-ranking Trump Administration and campaign officials. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is clearly working his way to the top, and congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election continue simultaneously. What the President knew and when/ if he knew it remain open questions likely to carry into the New Year and perhaps beyond. Yet echoes of Watergate and Iran Contra drum louder by the day, imperiling the Trump presidency and forcing us to revisit the succession plan for our nation’s highest office.

Other than the sometimes successfu…

Classroom Resources for this Election Season

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
This week, marked the beginning of both the holiday shopping season and the official start of the midterm election season. As Shawn stated in an earlier blog, less than a week remains for candidates representing established parties in Illinois to file their petitions for the March primaries.


While resources for presidential elections are plentiful, teachers are often left scrambling for midterm election materials to engage their students. There are a number of tools from civic organizations and educational partners that provide a foundation for involving students in the 2018 election season. Here is a list to start with.
The Center for Information and Research for Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has data and analysis relating to youth voting trends, suffrage laws and what works in getting out the youth vote.The Illinois State Board of Elections has a page where classrooms can follow who has filed petitions to run for office.OpenS…

'Tis the Season to Pass Petitions

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Attention holiday shoppers: Only one week remains for federal, state, and county candidates representing established political parties in Illinois to file petitions for the March 20, 2018 primary. The December 4th deadline (today is the first day candidates may file) requires legislative and congressional candidates from the Democratic and Republican Parties to furnish valid signatures equal or greater than half a percent of total votes cast for the office they are seeking in the previous election.

As detailed in this Illinois Issues article, third party candidates must clear a higher five percent threshold, making Illinois one of the most restrictive states challengers to the two-party system. This requirement survived a recent court challenge, but another is in the works taking on the standard that third parties must field a full slate of candidates for constitutional offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Att…

Civics in the Spotlight at #NCSS2017

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
This past weekend, thousands of educators from across the nation gathered in San Francisco for the annual National Council for the Social Studies conference. Civics took center stage at many workshops with recognition of innovative practitioners, new resources for classroom teachers and affirmation of the importance of empowering ALL students for college, career and civic life.


Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation led an exciting session about the Action Civics initiative. The highlight of the presentation was the participation of a panel of youth from around the country that shared the significance of informed action in developing the knowledge, skills and dispositions of effective civic engagement.

With support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) debuted a new resource called Civic Online Learning designed to help students acquire, “t…

Classroom Resources for News Literacy

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
A recent report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) highlights the importance of news literacy as a complementary stream to the proven practices of civic education embraced by the civic education requirement for graduation in the state of Illinois.

Kei Kawashima Ginsberg and Peter Levine, co-authors of the report titled, The Republic is (Still) at Risk- and Civics is Part of the Solution, explain that, “young people are increasingly empowered to influence the topics and stories that are widely shared. At the same time, they are deluged with unreliable information and actual propaganda, and research shows that most young people perform poorly at distinguishing fake news from reliable news. This skill can be taught effectively in schools, and students can learn to be effective producers of news.”

The proven practice of current and controversial issue discussions in the classroom has explic…

Media Literacy Week Highlights Importance of Healthy News Diets

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
A modern definition of informed and engaged citizenship includes media and news literacy. I write today in honor of Media Literacy Week, sponsored by our partners at the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). NAMLE hosted its conference in Chicago last summer, and the McCormick Foundation is proud to support and collaborate with a number of its members, including the News Literacy Project and the Center for News Literacy.

Like civic learning, media literacy must live across the curriculum. When I began my teaching career two decades ago, the daily newspaper served as my textbook. Media diets have since evolved, but the currency of news for democratic discourse and participation has only appreciated. While our students are indeed digital natives and often more adept than us with their devices, it is wrong to asssume that they possess the skills and dispositions to be media literate.

Media literacy is fostered by i…

Propagating Civic Education Practice in Illinois

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
I’m delighted to share some of the results from the first full year of our civics course implementation efforts. In 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed bi-partisan legislation requiring high school students to complete a semester-long civics course effective with the Class of 2020. The McCormick Foundation, in partnership with other local funders, committed more than $1 million annually to support statewide implementation efforts in the form of intensive teacher professional development opportunities paired with related curriculum and resources.

We have also partnered with the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), based at Tufts University, to evaluate our implementation efforts. By utilizing real-time evaluation data, we have made timely adjustments and adaptations to our programming, and also been able to communicate our progress to key stakeholders, policymakers included.

Through surv…

A Practical Guide to Service Learning

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by Jennifer Conlon, Regional Teacher Mentor, North Cook County
Jennifer Conlon teaches Government, ESL through AP, at Maine East High School. She serves as the Regional Mentor for North Cook County. A former attorney and Congressional staffer, she enjoys making democracy accessible to all her students and is delighted to help others do the same. Over the past several years, she has worked to include service learning in her classes and to make simulations increasingly authentic. Jennifer has created a booklet to guide her students through a service-learning project. Jennifer introduces this resource below.
Teachers repeatedly indicate that service learning is the requirement of the new state civics statute they find most difficult to implement. There is a lot of helpful literature about this, too, from a taxonomy of participants to suggestions for service. Teachers want to give students agency and an authentic, reflective experience without overwhelming them. Like everyone els…

In Search of Oases in Civic Deserts

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Last week, I had the honor in participating in the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington, D.C. For the past decade-plus, the congressionally-chartered organization has published annual reports on the nation’s civic health. The McCormick Foundation has been a proud local partner, producing state and local civic health reports of our own, and also providing funding for this year’s national publication, Civic Deserts: America’s Civic Health Challenge.

Civic deserts are defined as “communities without opportunities for civic engagement” and are increasingly common in rural and urban areas alike. More broadly, our nation’s civic health is in a continued state of decline, posing existential threats to “our prosperity, safety, and democracy.”
A little more than a quarter of us (28%) belong to a group led by individuals we consider accountable and inclusive. Large-scale civic institutions like political parties, labor unions, me…

Embracing Diversity

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
A few years ago, students in my class participated in Project Soapbox, a program sponsored by the Mikva Challenge in which students give a two to three minute speech in response to the prompt, “What is the biggest issue facing your community?” We heard heartfelt pleas to end bullying, respond to racial and religious discrimination, address the gender gap, and promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Each speech ended with a “call to action” that implored the audience to address the essential question, “How should we live together?”

The students and I invited administrators, police resource officers, school board members and county officials who worked with at-risk teens to listen and provide feedback to the speeches. The adults in the room valued the passionate, heartfelt pleas for change and encouraged the students to present their findings to the school board. The students did some further investigation and presented a six-point plan …

Political Polarization No Longer the Sole Province of Elites

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
A decade ago, political scientists were deep in the throes of a debate over the extent to which political polarization was elite driven, or also represented throughout the population. The former argument acknowledged that the two political parties in Congress moved more decisively to the left and right, respectively, leaving a largely centrist public to choose between two polar choices.

Indeed, a young Illinois Senate candidate named Barack Obama dismissed the artificial divisions of “red” and “blue America” in the 2004 keynote at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Elected president four years later, Obama soon came to grips with conservative Republican opposition committed to limiting him to a single term in office. And this opposition was backed by the grass roots activism of the Tea Party. The left had its own counterpunch in the form of Occupy Wall Street, and the elite-only political polarization hypothesis has sin…

Civic Participation is the Key to Understanding How Government Works

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Steven Stukenberg is the Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor for DeKalb County. In this guest blog post, Steven shares his reflections on his role as a civic educator and how to help students “do government.”
My interest in political science came at a young age in my small hometown of Leaf River, Illinois (population 600). As I observed the involvement and sometimes aggravation of my father during his tenure as a school board member, I remember being impressed by how much influence he had in the policy of the school I attended. Through my high school and college education, I learned that our country is based on this type of participation in local, state and national government. Civic engagement and community involvement in the governmental system is what has made the United States one of the best countries in the world. As I guide my students through the government curriculum at Harry D. Jacobs High School (where I am enjoying my 22nd year as a social studies teacher), the importance o…

Opportunities to Promote the "Civic Good"

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by Jason M. Artman, Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor
Jason M. Artman is a Social Studies teacher and Head Coach of Boys and Girls Soccer at Mendota High School. Jason serves as a civic mentor for LaSalle, Marshal and Putnam counties. In this guest blog post, Jason reflects on how his role as a civic educator shapes his larger identity and interactions in his community.
I guess if you believe in something enough and make it a part of everything you do, that becomes a part of your character, your identity. As the only civics teacher in a small school in a small community, what I do in the classroom is a large part of the identity I carry among my students and their parents, whether I am in the classroom, on the soccer field, or even in the local grocery store. Wearing many hats in a small community gives me the opportunity to see my students as many others may not. In addition to being a teacher and a coach, I am an active band parent, as my two daughters are proud members of our marchi…

Protest is Patriotic in Our Quest to Build a More Perfect Union

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Like many of you, I’ve struggled to make sense of the national backlash against professional football players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem prior to kickoff. As a former player and coach, I understand the reverence for the flag long associated with the “Boys of Fall,” but also hold a healthy respect for the freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

From a technical standpoint, it’s important to note that the protests are not protected speech as the players work for a private employer, the National Football League (NFL), and their contracts require them to stand for the National Anthem. However, NFL owners have stood in solidarity with their players in light of President Trump’s disparaging remarks.


It should also be noted that former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who originated the gesture a season ago to register his protest to the disparate treatment of people of c…

Do You Have Your Ticket?

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by Barb Laimins, Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor Liaison
In 2016, 1,300,627,644 people bought tickets to a movie theater according to the Motion Picture Association of America. POLITICO reports there are currently 200,081,377 registered voters in the United States. While this is a somewhat imperfect analogy, it is remarkable that more people paid for a ticket to see a 2-hour movie at the theater than obtained their “free ticket” that would allow them to vote in just a few minutes. National Voter Registration Day was established in hopes of encouraging everyone to obtain their “free ticket” to participate in the political theater of our Democracy.

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) established the first National Voter Registration Day on September 25, 2012. Currently, thousands of organizations join together on the fourth Thursday of September to register voters. NVRD is a day to set aside political differences and join in celebrating our Democracy by regi…

Democracy at a Crossroads Summit Spotlights Civic Learning as Long-Term Solution

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Last Thursday, the nation’s civic learning community gathered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., for the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit. Convened by iCivics in partnership with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida, the Summit sought to gather funders interested in education or political reform and convince them that civic learning is also a logical and urgent investment.

The event was high-profile in a picturesque setting high above Pennsylvania Avenue with both the Capitol and Washington Monument as a backdrop. Harvard’s Danielle Allen headlined the first panel, suggesting that our 230 year-old institutions designed for 3 million people are being tested like never before by more than 300 million residents today. The University of Wisconsin’s Diana Hess added the importance of teaching students t…

Happy Constitution Day!

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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.



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 ci…

September 11th Echoes Continue to Shape American Politics

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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 th…

Teaching With Controversy: Using Questions to Promote Dialogue

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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 su…