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Showing posts from April, 2018

A False Choice: Informed Action is Vital to Educating for Democracy

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Last week, Fordham Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow Chester E. Finn, Jr. penned a sharp critique of the National Council for the Social Studies’ (NCSS) opposition to states requiring students to pass the Citizenship Test as a condition of high school graduation. His piece went on to assail the teaching of civics and social studies more generally, and warrants a response from this lifelong civic educator and advocate.

I have already taken a public stance against the required Citizenship Test in an article published by Congressional Quarterly, but I agree with Finn in that “…the world (and nation) in which we live has greater need than ever before for its young adults to possess a solid grounding in the country’s history, values, and civic institutions.”

And we also find common ground in our support for direct instruction on the basics like the three branches of government and the five freedoms of the First Amendment. However, t…

Reagan Institute Summit on Education Revisits A Nation at Risk

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Thirty-five years ago this April, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform. It was therefore fitting that the Reagan Institute convened a two-day summit in Washington, D.C., last week for a retrospective look at the report and discussion of the current and future challenges facing our P-20 educational system.

The McCormick Foundation was proud to be among the sponsors as the Reagan Foundation and D.C.-based Institute have long been national partners in advocating for stronger school-based civic learning. While A Nation at Risk is often blamed for the back-to-the-basics movement that led to a singular focus on math, reading, and science to the detriment of social studies and other subjects core to a well-rounded education, the report itself tied the challenges of the 1980’s with threats to democracy:

The educational foundations of our society are presently bein…

Guest Blog: The Proven Practice of Simulations

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by Christine Jaegle, Civics Mentor for DuPage County
Christine Jaegle has taught social studies at Lisle Senior High School for a total of seven years, returning this past school year after taking time off to raise her children.

Christine helped implement the Legislative Semester there, a Government curriculum where seniors participate in a semester long congressional simulation. She has also helped design a new Civics course directed at sophomores with many of the same principles. In her comments below, Christine shares how the use of the proven practice of simulations of democratic processes benefits her diverse student body. Utilizing simulations in the classroom is something I have always been extremely passionate about. At Lisle High School our American Government class for seniors is taught as a semester-long legislative simulation where students work to identify themselves on the political spectrum, elect leadership, and create legislation. The semester culminates at Commit…

Minnesota Nice No More: Legislation to Neuter Controversy in the Classroom May Exasperate Political Polarization

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
We have written at length about the power and prevalence of controversial issues discussions in civics classrooms. An “academic balance” bill making its way through the Minnesota Senate challenges these presuppositions.


Senate Bill 2487 (SB-2487) would require public and charter schools to pass an “academic balance” policy prohibiting school employees from compelling students to “express specified social or political viewpoints” as part of an academic course or extracurricular activity.

Fair enough, but there’s more.

In declaring, “Public education courses are not for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination,” the legislation seemingly implies that this is currently common practice. In my experience, teachers often shy from politics, exclusively emphasizing government institutions, and thus exhibiting a bias towards the status quo. SB 2487 would double down on this tendency.

According to…