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.

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