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Showing posts from October, 2017

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…