2019 Was a Very Good Year for Civic Learning in Illinois

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

With Winter Break in sight and the books on 2019 about to close, this year-end retrospective recaps what was a very good year for civic learning in Illinois.

2019 began with the promise of a renewed push for middle school civics, culminating in the #CivicsInTheMiddle Campaign. Representative Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) sponsored legislation to require a semester of civics in middle school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, embedding proven civic learning practices (direct instruction, discussion, service learning, and simulations).

The legislation sailed through the House by Spring Break, gaining a bi-partisan supermajority, and moved to the Senate under Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago). The formula repeated itself in the upper chamber, although the Senate committee hearing was more contentious, but by May 23, middle school civics cleared the Illinois General Assembly, once more with a filibuster-proof, bi-partisan vote. Teachers and students provided critical outreach to undecided legislators down the stretch.

Governor Pritzker signed Public Act 101-0254 on August 9th, and the Illinois State Board of Education followed with guidance for teachers, schools, and districts, permitting desired flexibility in implementation.

Simultaneously, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), convened by the McCormick Foundation, launched a three-year implementation plan informed by both its previous experiences with the high school course requirement and survey data gathered from middle school teachers and administrators. Highlights include in-person and online teacher professional development, complementary unit and lesson plans, instructional coaching by region, and support from civic learning partners. Online professional development will take the form of content-specific webinars and a three-course microcredential course series centered on proven civic learning practices, titled “Guardians of Democracy.”

It should also be noted that high school course implementation concluded in 2019. Since October 2015, nearly 9,000 teachers attended ICMC workshops, and McCormick staff and teacher mentors provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development. The aforementioned middle school interventions are not exclusive, but rather intended to support middle and high school civics teachers, providing supports to sustain the latter implementation effort.

Beyond the middle school breakthrough, the Democracy Schools Initiative successfully piloted new assessment instruments, still measuring civic learning opportunities and school culture, but through a racial equity framework. Eleven Network schools reupped their commitment to the equitable pursuit of their civic mission, with a larger group set to do the same in 2020, including prospective new members. The Democracy Schools Network currently numbers 74 high schools reflective of the state’s geographic and demographic diversity.

Finally, the McCormick Foundation hosted a convening this fall on the state of student discipline and restorative justice in Illinois schools. In 2015, Illinois passed a law (Senate Bill 100) limiting exclusionary discipline practices in schools; requiring districts to track suspensions, expulsions, and alternative placements by race, gender, and grade; and recommending use of restorative practices in their stead.

While exclusionary discipline declined modestly, stark racial disparities remain, and restorative practices are rarely employed. Our convening identified both barriers to implementation, but also opportunities, and we intend to leverage them through a series of 2020 grants and continued convening of the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, among other partnerships.

To our trusted teachers and administive colleagues in the trenches, please take a bow at the end of a banner year for civic learning in Illinois. While much work remains, we have emerged as a national leader and have much to be proud of. It is the honor of my lifetime to work by your side to transform the civic trajectory of the Land of Lincoln. Our long-term salvation rests in the hearts and minds of the students you touch every day.

#NCSS2019 Recap Blog

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Last month, thousands of educators throughout the United States convened in Austin, Texas, for the 99th Annual National Council for the Social Studies conference. We asked a few of our colleagues in the Land of Lincoln to share their top takeaways for those who were not able to attend. Here are some ideas and resources for your consideration.

Dan Fouts from Maine West High School in Niles recommends the Drafting Table from the National Constitution Center for, "resources on how the language of the Constitution—within articles and amendments—was adapted before being put in final form. Great teaching moments await!"

Jason Janczak from Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake recommends two civics resources.
  • My Part of the Story by Facing History and Ourselves can be used to "Learn how you can help guide students to find their place in the identity of the United States and how each person’s story contributes to the larger story of the United States."
  • A Seat at the Table from the Edward M. Kennedy Institute helps students "Answer Shirley Chisholm’s call for a seat at the table: 'If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.' Students create chairs that reflect social change, identity, or collective power."
Heather Monson, an Illinois Civics Instructional Coach, from United Township High School in East Moline has a few recommendations.
  • FriEDTECHnology has, "Excellent and refreshing ways to use Google, Google Classroom, and Google Earth in social studies classrooms. Many online pieces of training are available. Also, if your school is buying Chromebooks, they will come to your school and train the staff FOR FREE!"
  • "We have a strong Latino community and are adding a history course focusing on Latin American history." Heather recommends the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) because "this included information from Stanford University and Vanderbilt University."
  • Heather also discovered Civics 101 from New Hampshire Public Radio and 60-Second Civics from the Center for Civic Education. "I was seeking out various podcasts for my students to listen to on government/constitutional issues. This is a booth I visited that has some great resources in small bits for kids to listen to."
Did you attend the NCSS conference in Austin? What ideas and resources did you discover? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career, and civic life.

Students Address Daylight Savings Through Service Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels and Logan Ridenour

This past July, the Civics Is Back newsletter featured Logan Ridenour from Carlinville High School, an Illinois Democracy School, for their service learning project to end Daylight Savings in Illinois. Logan credited he Civics Is Back professional development workshops he has attended over the years, incorporating tools such as Root Cause Tree Analysis to “tweak” his Civic Action Project. Logan explained, “All of my students, including this group, have said they enjoy the project because it is very student-centered, and it allows them to explore their connections to the community and the processes necessary for enacting change. My students learned that they can put things into action by furthering their own understanding of the systems that govern their lives.” At the time, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) took the students’ service-learning project and introduced Senate Bill 533. The students testified at the Capitol and their bill received a unanimous vote out of committee.

Logan has since joined the #CivicsInTheMiddle team as a Civics Instructional Coach to “pay forward” and share what he has learned over the years with teachers in Alexander, Clinton, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Union, Washington & Williamson Counties.

Logan describes his service-learning experience below and gives us an exciting update!
Last Spring my students at Carlinville High School embarked on their service learning project for the Senior Civics class. A group of students decided that they wanted to deal with the topic of Daylight Savings Time. These students put together a well-researched presentation and decided that they wanted to reach out to their state senator. Senator Andy Manar made a visit to CHS and sat down with the students. After their presentation, Sen. Manar asked the students if they wanted him to introduce their topic as a bill to be heard by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 533 went through the typical legislative process and the students were invited to Springfield to testify in front of the State Executive committee. The bill was tabled until this fall session and Tuesday, November 12, 2019, it passed the Senate floor with a 44-2 vote. I am proud of the efforts of my students. This is what service-learning looks like at its finest.
The Carlinville Service-Learning project has been featured in both local and Chicagoland news outlets. As the bill heads toward the Illinois House of Representatives, #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms can join this service learning project by doing their own research and contacting their state legislator to share their thoughts on the bill.

What does service-learning look like in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Count Me In: Schools as Critical Partners in #Census2020

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The stakes could not be higher for Illinois in the upcoming census. As Shawn Healy shared in a blog post almost a year ago, “According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, $800 billion of federal funding supporting 300 programs is appropriated annually to states based on census counts. Due to Illinois’ undercount in 2010, the state lost $952 per person of federal funding. In 2015 alone, Illinois lost $122 million for every 1% of the population we failed to count.”

Shawn continues to explain, “It’s widely known that Illinois is losing population in recent years, with losses most pronounced outside of metropolitan Chicago. In fact, 89 of Illinois’ 102 counties experienced population loss from 2010 through 2017. Rockford, Kankakee, Decatur, and Metro East (suburban St. Louis) have been particularly hard hit, while Lake County is the only Chicago area county with a shrinking population. Given the stakes of Census 2020, it’s imperative that we identify and mobilize HTC (hard to count) communities in Illinois.”

IllinoisCivics.org is hosting a free webinar this Tuesday, November 12th from 3:45-4:30 p.m. to explore how your school can play a critical role in helping all stakeholders in your community to understand the importance of an accurate count and how to navigate difficult questions your students, staff, and parents may have concerning participation.

In this webinar, we will explore how the 2020 census will play an important role in addressing essential questions related to representation, power, resource allocation, and equity that will directly impact your school community for the next decade. Learn about how this census has additional challenges related to adequate funding, reduced staffing, limited testing, and delayed communication plans.

You will also be connected to an inquiry-based lesson plan and other resources that you can use to empower your students to take informed action to support your community to register an accurate count. If you cannot join us live, a recording will be shared via social media with the #CivicsInTheMiddle hashtag.

The 2020 Census provides K-12 civics classrooms an opportunity to engage in inquiry leading to informed action around issues of power and representation. Here are some other resources you can use to engage your community.

Classroom Resources

  • IllinoisCivics.org has created a 6-12 Inquiry Lesson Plan “How Does Your Community Count on You?” explore the questions:
    • What is the purpose of the census and how does it “count” or impact my community?
    • How do numbers + lines = power for my community?
    • What are the challenges to an accurate count in my community?
    • What actions can I take to make sure my community "counts"?
  • Statistics in Schools - U.S. Census has free K-12 lessons and activities?
  • Share My Lesson: Census Lessons has compiled lessons around the 2020 census from organizations like C-SPAN, Citizens Not Spectators, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Tenement Museum.
  • Census Brain POP Debate has grades 4-12 explore BrainPOP resources to learn about the U.S. Census
  • The Los Angeles County Office of Education has created resources for grades 5-8 called "Count Me In!"
  • Rock the Vote has an information video and a pledge for students to be counted.

Understanding Census 2020 in Illinois

Community Outreach Materials

What are you doing to support an accurate count for #Census2020? Please reply below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Media Literacy Learning Opportunities Widespread at Democracy Schools, but Inequities in Access and Outcomes for Students of Color Concerning

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On the heels of media literacy week, my analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) turns next to media literacy learning opportunities and outcomes disaggregated by race/ethnicity (read the full analysis of questions related to media literacy).

  • Learned how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of news and information;
  • Learned how to find different perspectives and multiple sources of information about a current event or community issue;
  • And discussed how to tell if the information you find online is trustworthy.
However, on each of these measures white and Asian students are overrepresented at the highest frequency and Black and Latinx students at lower frequencies as illustrated in the graph below.

Most students across race and ethnicity (54%) reported discussing how to effectively share their opinion on social or political issues online twice or more in classes, yet more than a quarter of students (27%) don’t recall or have never experienced such discussions.

When it comes to responding to an issue through digital means, a majority of students (62%) don’t recall or have never done so. However, Black students (41%) lead the way in answering in the affirmative, while 71% of Latinx students answered “no” or “don’t recall.”

There is also room for improvement at selected Democracy Schools in improving students’ efficacy examining research related to problems in their school or community. While a plurality of students (39%) expressed confidence in their research skills, white and Asian students are overrepresented in their efficacy, while a plurality of Black (41%) and Latinx students (46%) rate their capacities as “neutral.”

News consumption and civic engagement is trending online, and it’s imperative that students develop the skills and dispositions to make sense of daily deluge of digital information at their fingertips. A sample of students at Illinois Democracy Schools suggests relatively strong exposure to media literacy learning opportunities, but equitable access across race and ethnicity is an issue. This may translate into lower media literacy efficacy for Black and especially Latinx students. The relatively high use of digital issue advocacy by Black students is an asset to be leveraged, and lower usage by Latinx students cause for immediate intervention.

Illinois Democracy Schools Largely Embracing Lived Civics Principles, but Civic Empowerment Gap Persists

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Since 2006, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, convened by the McCormick Foundation, has recognized 74 Illinois high schools as Democracy Schools. The recognition process has evolved significantly, broadening civics to a cross-curricular priority, measuring the organizational culture undergirding students’ civic learning experiences, and most recently, centering racial equity through a lived civics framework and disaggregating student survey data by race/ethnicity.

This spring, eleven members of our Democracy Schools Network piloted a revised student survey and schoolwide assessment process. What follows is a summary of trends in the student survey data, disaggregated by race (read the full analysis of questions related to lived civics).

The sample of 3,904 students was broadly representative of Illinois’ demographic and geographic diversity. White and Latinx students were slightly overrepresented, and Black students underrepresented. Students of two or more races, Asian students, Pacific Islanders, and American Indian students were significantly overrepresented. Because students were allowed to select more than one racial/ethnic identification, all racial subgroups may be modestly overrepresented.

Students were asked a battery of questions about the design of their classes and teaching strategies used within. For the most part, students rated their courses highly through the lens of lived civics, but there remains significant room for growth. For example, the vast majority of students (76%) report learning about the culture and history of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds “sometimes” to “often,” yet white students are most likely to select “often.”

Fewer students reported learning about “people like me that are making or have made a difference in (their) community,” nearly two-thirds (65%) suggesting “rarely” to “sometimes,” but Black and Latinx students are the highest among those who selected “often.”

Similarly, most students are neutral to in agreement (69% combined) that teachers make time in class to discuss important issues in their community, with Black and Latinx students more likely to be neutral than their white and Asian peers.

On measures of school climate, students provided more mixed reviews across a battery of questions, exemplified by their neutral-to-agreeable (65% of students) response to, “Adults in my school treat all students fairly regardless of background or identity.” Mirroring concerns about disproportionality in exclusionary discipline by race/ethnicity, Black and Latinx students were most likely to offer a neutral response to this question and least likely to agree strongly.

Turning to student voice, a plurality of students (35%), led by Black and Latinx students and students of two or more races, are neutral when it comes to their ability to express views and highlight important issues through the school newspaper or student media. However, white and Asian students are significantly more likely to agree and agree strongly in response to this question.

When it comes to political action and expression, most students are on the proverbial sidelines, the exception being an even split between students saying that they have participated in a decision-making process at school. Black and white students were disproportionately more likely to answer this question in the affirmative and Latinx students in the negative.

Half of students reported volunteering in the community, but Asian (57%) and White students (59%) are significantly more likely to say “yes,” and Black (40%) and Latinx students (45%) “no.”

Upon turning 18, the vast majority of students (72%) plan to vote regularly, but white students (77%) are significantly more likely to answer in the affirmative. By comparison, students of two or more races (28%) have dramatically higher numbers answering in the negative, with students of color across the board more likely to report uncertainty.

Finally, across multiple measures of cognitive engagement with politics, Black and Latinx students shared less agreement, and more neutrality, than their Asian, and especially white peers. For example, when asked if “…by participating in politics I can make a difference,” Black, Latinx, and students of two of more races were more likely than white and Asian students to answer neutrally, while the latter two groups led among students in agreement.

In summary, our sample of Democracy Schools have strong evidence that a lived civics curriculum is taking root, yet there is significant room for growth, and a need to ensure that civic learning opportunities are offered equitably to all students. Schools should pay attention to inequitable opportunities and experiences with respect to student voice and school climate for students of color, Black and Latinx students in particular. Schools’ overall middling performance in these two categories make them priorities for the larger Democracy Schools Network to address.

The most alarming findings in this survey are evidence a stubborn civic empowerment gap across a range of measures of students’ current and prospective civic engagement. Equal inputs don’t necessarily translate into equal outcomes, highlighting the important distinction between equality and equity.

What can be done to make the quantity and quality of civic learning opportunities more equitable across race and ethnicity? And to what extent might school climates failing on measures of inclusivity and nondiscrimination undermine the benefits of relatively equal civic learning opportunities?

Future data analysis and posts will attempt to begin answering these questions, as will teachers and administrators within our Democracy Schools Network as we collectively work to eliminate the civic empowerment gap.

Resources for Media Literacy

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

October 21-25th marks the 5th Annual U.S. Media Literacy Week. The mission of Media Literacy Week is to raise awareness about the need for media literacy education and its essential role in education today. Organizations, schools, and educators from all over the country will be sharing resources via #MediaLitWk. In the 2017 report, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution”, cites media literacy as a complementary stream of civic education. The report explains:
...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. Given these recent developments, the need for news media literacy education is acute.
Media literacy is central to #CivicsInTheMiddle work. Students must learn how to be wise consumers of information; as well as practice how to engage with and produce information. Here are some resources to support #MedLitWk and media literacy throughout the year.
  • National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), organizes #MediaLitWk and supports information literacy year-round.
  • The News Literacy Project has lesson plans, archived webinars and a digital platform called Checkology that can be used in one-to-many or one-to-one. classrooms. Don’t forget to subscribe to their weekly newsletter called The Sift for weekly updates on “teachable moments” related to news literacy.
  • iCivics has curriculum units for middle and high school classrooms on news literacy, as well as media and influence. The NewsFeed Defenders game engages students to learn how to spot a variety of methods behind the viral deception we all face today.
  • The Stanford History Education Group has created assessments of civic online reasoning—the ability to judge the credibility of digital information about social and political issues.
  • Crash Course has a 12-part video series on Media Literacy.
  • Newseum ED has wonderful infographics for classroom use as well as lesson plans.
  • Facing History and Ourselves partnered with the News Literacy Project to create a timely unit on media literacy called “Facing Ferguson” that is appropriate for high school students.
  • The American Press Institute has activities and lesson plans for all ages.
  • This link from Edutopia has vetted a 5-minute film festival with nine videos on news literacy.
  • LAMP, or Learning about Multimedia Project, has materials that shine a light to “challenge stereotypes, fake news and more.”
  • The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University has a Digital Resource Center that teachers can sign up for to curate resources for classroom use.
What resources do you use to support the complementary practice of media literacy? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Resources to Understand the U.S. Supreme Court

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay
Monday marks the start of a new term for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The 2019-20 term is sure to provide many teachable moments as SCOTUS takes up issues related to immigration, abortion, gun rights, and LGBTQ workplace discrimination. For #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms, there are plenty of opportunities to use the courts to engage in the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics mandates. Here are some resources to start with.

Direct Instruction on the Supreme Court
  • The official website for the United States Supreme Court allows access to a variety of information on the Court, including a calendar and schedule for the current term, and the audio from oral arguments, posted each Friday after arguments take place. There is also an overview of the Supreme Court where you can research the Court’s procedures and biographies of justices.
  • iCivics has a curriculum packet on the judicial branch that explores the courts’ role in settling disputes and administering justice, and the unique role of the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
  • The National Constitution Center has a Judge Chats lesson plan in which students explore the requisite skills necessary to become a judge that can lead to an informed conversation with a visiting judge.
  • Annenberg Foundation has a lesson plan on judicial independence in which students consider the importance of an independent judiciary to the preservation of constitutional democracy and the quality of life for all Americans.
  • The American Bar Association Division for Public Education has differentiated lessons for both middle and high school students on justice and the rule of law.
  • PBS Learning Media Illinois has lesson plans related to the importance of precedents, civil rights & civil liberties, federalism, and landmark cases.
  • For more resources around landmark SCOTUS cases in history, peruse the offerings from the Annenberg Foundation, the Bill of Rights Institute, and Street Law with the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Simulations of Democratic Processes
  • Street Law has ready to go resources to support students engaging in moot courts, mini-moot courts, the issuance of the writ of certiorari, and other judicial processes.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation has several powerpoint presentations on free expression cases to prepare students to participate in a moot court.
  • iCivics has online games to simulate the workings of the court including Supreme Decision, Argument Wars, and Court Quest.
Current and Societal Issue Discussions
  • ABA Division for Public Education publishes a Supreme Court Preview plain-language analysis of all cases given a plenary review by the Supreme Court in advance of oral argument using a combination of charts, statistics, case summaries, and essays.
  • The New York Times Supreme Court site contains news articles about recent SCOTUS decisions. The site also contains links to articles relating to each of the Justices, interactive multimedia features, and a summary of the notable cases from the present term.
  • More Perfect Podcast, from WNYC and Radiolab, tells the stories underlying important Supreme Court decisions, how those decisions affect the lives of the American people.
  • Street Law has resources for students to explore two pending cases before the court, Bostock v. Clayton County, GA & Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Aimee Stephens.
  • The Oyez website has a succinct summary of all cases to be argued this term.
  • Dan Fouts in his Socrates Questions blog has created some sample prompts for the Supreme Court comparison FRQ that leads to a larger discussion around the question, “How does the Supreme Court make sure that the law stays stable but doesn’t stand still?”
What resources do you use to support instruction on SCOTUS? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Classroom Resources to Understand Impeachment

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Last night, my Twitter feed was abuzz with colleagues seeking out grade-level appropriate materials to help students understand the process of impeachment. The information around this current and controversial issue is changing daily with competing narratives from the left and the right. This teachable moment IS political, but it does not have to be partisan. Here are a few resources that you can start with.
  • “A look at past impeachment proceedings” and how they’ve ended from PBS News Hour gives a historical perspective on impeachment.
  • The lesson, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” from the Constitutional Rights Foundation has both background information and a simulation of a House Judiciary Committee determining if an act rises to the level of impeachable.
  • Khan Academy has an explainer video on Impeachment as does TedEd.
  • Annenberg Classroom has a historical timeline of past impeachments starting with Judge Samuel Chase.
  • Episode 10 of the Civics 101 Podcast tackles some of the common questions surrounding impeachment.
  • The American Bar Association Division for Public Education has an FAQ on Impeachment.
  • AllSides has curated news items from all sides of the spectrum to understand current events surrounding impeachment.
What resources do you find useful to help students understand impeachment? Please comment below.Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

A Shining City Teeming with People of All Kinds

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of serving as the keynote speaker at a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony hosted at our sister site, Cantigny Park. My remarks follow.

232 years today, September 17, 1787, the United States Constitution was officially adopted at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Framers set forth a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

But the question of who constituted “the people” has been a matter of perpetual national debate, as originally only white, male property owners over the age of 21 enjoyed the entirety of rights embedded in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights adopted four years later as its first ten amendments.

Decades, even centuries, of fierce and sometimes bloody struggles have expanded the notion of citizenship, first to former slaves, then extending suffrage to women, and ultimately opening the doors of immigration from northern and western Europe to its south and east, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

By design, this is a nation of immigrants. Indeed, the Article I, Section 8 of Constitution specifies that Congress is empowered “to establish an uniform rule of naturalization” or a process through which immigrants can become citizens.

But the doors to the “Land of Liberty” have swung open and shut based on the political season. Poet Emma Lazarus echoed spring sentiments in 1883, writing, in words forever etched upon the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor,

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Some currently suggest that golden door be bolted shut. But this would mean turning our backs on history, the diversity that is our strength, the freedom and hunger and ingenuity that is America.

In these times of fierce political contempt and nativist debates over immigration policy, I take solace in looking back to a boyhood memory, that of President Ronald Reagan delivering his farewell address thirty years ago this past January.

In a live televised speech from the Oval Office, Reagan said, “I've been reflecting on what the past eight years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one — a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant.”

“The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, ‘Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.’''

“A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom.”

I’m hopeful in this winter of national debates about immigration and what it means to be an American, we can rediscover the true meaning of our creed and stand, again, for freedom.

Reagan often cited Massachusetts Bay colonial leader John Winthrop’s shining city on a hill when articulating his vision for America. “…In (his) mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

“After (243) years, (nearly) two (and a half) centuries, (the shining city) still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

On behalf of my colleagues at the McCormick Foundation and our fellow Americans, welcome home! We salute you for the steps you have taken to become a citizen of this great country, and urge you to join us in reverence for, and forever vigilance of the Constitution and extending liberty’s light through open doors. Congratulations, and Happy Constitution Day!

Constitution Day 2019

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

It seems fitting that less than a week after commemorating the events and legacy of 9/11, “we the people” pause and recognize our commitment to form a “more perfect union” on Constitution Day.

In the Land of Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution is the foundational document grounding the IL Social Science standards in civics as well as the proven practices of civics embedded in both the 6-8 and 9-12 civics mandates. While we hope that every day is “Constitution Day” in the #CivicsInTheMiddle classroom, here are some curated resources to mark September 17th.

  • iCivics and Discovery Education are hosting a virtual viewing party for free in which students will explore how they have a voice, how it is protected, and how they can make their voice heard.
  • The Civic Renewal Network has created a Teacher Toolkit complete with activities and a press release template that can be used to engage the community in recognizing Constitution Day.
  • The National Constitution Center has a cornucopia of activities for students to mark the day.
  • Check out the archived Social Studies Chat in which teachers around the nation shared their best practices to celebrate.
  • The Library of Congress has gathered a number of primary sources and lesson plans to support teachers
  • Docs Teach from the National Archives has a special page with resources designed to “bring the Constitution to life.”
  • Our friends at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship have gathered a number of activities for K-12 classrooms.
  • The National Education Association has collected a series of resources and activities, including a poster contest for students to mark the occasion.
What are your plans for Constitution Day? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

Remembering 9/11

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was preparing to chaperone a field trip of 120 freshmen to Chicago when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. In the hallway, my friend Jim exclaimed, “There has been a terrible plane accident in New York!” We proceeded to walk the students over to the local train station to make the trip into the city.

As the train stopped at our station and students were lined up to board, my department chair screeched into the parking lot and flew open the door to her car. “Get off the train! America is under attack. Get off the train!” There was no field trip that day. Everything changed.

One of my former students is now an administrator in our building. He recalls the confusion and unease in the days that followed and my attempt to create a safe space for students in those troubling times. He mused to me, “I remember that you were calm, but we could tell that you were kind of freaked out too. You answered all our questions and were honest. I felt better.”

Two years ago, Dr. Shawn Healy, the Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, reflected on how the echoes of the attacks of September 11, 2001 continue to shape American politics. Shawn concluded, “...the implications of the September 11th attacks remain with us today, and the Trump presidency is a natural culmination of the reaction and counter-reaction to this fateful day.”

The events of 9/11 are history to students in today’s civics classroom. The tension between civil liberties and homeland security, the War on Terror at home and abroad are their “normal.” As we reflect on both the past and present to mourn all our nation lost on that fateful day, here are some classroom resources to support this work.
  • Marking the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, C-SPAN Classroom has aggregated a number of resources, including oral history and testimonial videos, to help your students learn more about the day and the aftermath of the attacks.
  • The 9/11 Museum and Memorial have commemorative lessons for K-12 classrooms.
  • KQED has a lesson concerning the impacts of 9/11.
  • Teach Hub has several hyperlinks to resources from Scholastic and PBS Education to support instruction.
  • The 9/2 Social Studies Chat tackled the topic of Teaching Rememberance and Significance of 9/11 in which teachers shared their go-to resources to commemorate the day.
How do you mark 9/11 in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.

Asset Mapping for #CivicsInTheMiddle

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, civics will be required “in the middle.” Public Law 101-0254 requires at least one-semester civics within grades 6,7 and 8. This mandate not only prescribes what is taught in the classroom per the Illinois Social Science standards and school code requirements but also how it is taught, using four proven practices of civic education.

Anytime a new initiative is added to the required curriculum, it can be daunting. To begin this process, schools would be wise to identify the assets already in place and build on these foundations to meet the middle school civics requirement with fidelity. To this end, we have developed a simple Asset Mapping Tool for Middle School Civics to start the conversation. Educators can make a copy of this document to discern areas of strength and opportunities for growth.

In the upcoming months, the IllinoisCivics.org web site, blog, and newsletter will feature free resources to support each area of this audit. We will provide professional development opportunities throughout the state to meet regional needs. Please subscribe to our monthly newsletter for timely updates to support #CivicsInTheMiddle.

Illinois and the Social Sciences: What Are Our Middle School Students Learning?

by Scott McGallagher, Research Intern

When outstanding advancements in education occur, it is a shame to be stingy and not spread the news far and wide. As previous blogs have mentioned, #CivicsintheMiddle is now officially Public Act 101-0254, signed into law by Governor Pritzker in early August.

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, all public middle school students will be required to complete a semester of civics in either 6th, 7th, or 8th grade. New civics instruction will also reflect the proven practices of civic education, engaging students in direct instruction, simulations, discussions of current and controversial issues, and service-learning experiences. This summer, after many moving conversations with educators across the state, I was able to establish a baseline on the course sequence for Social Studies in middle-grade schools. In conjunction, several educators shared with me unique units and extracurricular projects which engage students in deeper learning beyond the standard curriculum.

The goal of the research design was to reach a representative sample of the 1,344 public middle and junior high schools across the state, and I was able to get feedback from 8 percent, or 102 individual schools. As a fellow civic learning advocate, I hope that Social Studies educators across the state may find this research insightful as we all collaborate to inculcate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for our young people to be civically engaged in our communities.

The above table shows the general units covered and/or offered in the 6th grade. The vast majority (85%) of schools are covering ancient world history and its governance structure as well as Medieval Europe. Many schools establish a foundation of civic knowledge beginning with their 6th grade students by introducing the U.S. government, the U.S. Constitution and Illinois Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. One school in the central region of Illinois takes this approach a step further by also discussing macroeconomics, microeconomics, and how federal and state taxes work.

Below are exemplars of civic learning practices that some schools are already engaging their students in:
  • A Chicagoland school draws current and controversial issue discussion topics through curriculum guides from Facing History and Ourselves and Junior Scholastic.
  • Social Studies teachers at another Chicagoland school take a hyperlocal approach to current events with their middle school students. This past school year, teachers structured discussions and debates around the Chicago Mayoral Election, how the Chicago municipal government functions, and voting rights across the world.
  • 6th and 8th graders at this Chicagoland school complete a “Democracy Project”, where students couple informed action research with solving school and community-at-large issues.

Of the 86 schools where I gathered feedback from 7th grade Social Studies teachers, a small majority (62%) are covering U.S. history from colonization up until the Civil War. As well, nearly one-third (31%) of teachers specifically outline in their curriculum or syllabus that students will complete a U.S. and/or Illinois Constitution assessment created by the said teacher.

Many schools are setting strong examples for how teachers can engage their 7th and 8th graders civically:
  • Two Chicagoland school incorporate economics into their civics unit which engages 7th and 8th graders in a deeper understanding of the movement of goods, people, and services as well as trade amongst nations.
  • Another pair of Chicagoland schools simulate democratic processes and role-playing activities with their 7th- and 8th-grade students. Students simulate mock Supreme Court cases, mock sessions of Congress, and debates where students consider multiple points of view.
  • One school in Central Illinois and another in Chicagoland stress the importance of media literacy in a digitally connected age with their students. How to find credible information, how to research scholarly databases, the importance of press freedom, and the threat of disinformation campaigns are all imperative topics discussed in this unit of study.

A large majority (79%) of 8th grade students are covering U.S. History from the late 19th and early 20th century to modern times in their Social Studies classes. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of 8th grade Social Studies teachers structure a self-made assessment of the U.S. and/or Illinois Constitution in their curriculum.

Many middle and junior high schools across our great state have taken steps to engage with our young people in what it means to have healthy civic dispositions. Since the rollout of the High School Civics Law in 2015, McCormick Foundation civic education partners have committed their resources and time to high school civics and may now turn their supports to our middle-grade students.

Potential supports identified through this research project include promoting more simulations of democratic processes and role-playing, informed action/service-learning projects, and discussions of current and controversial issues through class and/or small group discussions. It is a very exciting moment in time for civic educators and advocates across the state, and the Democracy Program staff of the McCormick Foundation are resilient in our pursuit of high-quality civic learning experiences for all of Illinois’s young people.

#CivicsInTheMiddle Is Law in the Land of Lincoln - What Now?

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

As Shawn shared in last week’s blog, a required semester of civics within grades 6-8 is now Illinois law. Starting in the 2020-21 school year, middle school students are mandated to receive at least a semester of civics instruction that focuses not only on the disciplinary content outlined in the Illinois Social Science Standards, but also employs the proven practices of civic education. These methods include direct instruction on democratic institutions, simulations of democratic processes, current and societal issue discussions, and service-learning.

Schools that have embraced the pedagogical shifts reflected in the new standards are well-positioned to fulfill the requirements of this mandate. Many middle schools have redesigned their civics curriculum to go beyond teaching to the perceived “Constitution Test” requirement, but used the new standards to create essential questions that serve as a catalyst to student-led inquiries that result in more authentic performance assessments of civic learning.

Last school year, I had the privilege to collaborate with middle school teachers in a workshop titled, Inquiry to Informed Action: Engaging Students with Current & Societal Issues hosted by Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69. The workshop focused on how teachers can create a supportive classroom climate to engage in inquiry around current and societal issues that result in service-learning. Matthew Arends from Gemini Junior High in Niles attended the workshop and took a sample lesson from IllinoisCivics.org on arming teachers back to his classroom. This lesson was designed to help students practice citizenship skills in a problem-based case scenario that served as a simulation of democratic processes. After making a few “tweaks” to meet the needs of his students, the class engaged in a Structured Academic Controversy, a highly organized deliberation format to support current and societal issue discussions. Students took informed action through service learning, polling their peers and other stakeholders. Students shared the results with a school board member to inform his vote on a pending resolution at the Illinois Association of School Board Conference regarding arming teachers. The success of this lesson was grounded in the foundation Matthew created in direct instruction on democratic institutions the provided foundational knowledge to his students on the constitutional concepts of federalism and limited government.

This peek into a middle school classroom illustrates what implementation of the civics mandate might look like. Over the next several weeks, I will unpack the middle school civics requirement and illustrate how the proven practices of civic education embedded in the law reflect and enhance the standards work so many districts have embarked upon — with more examples of how teachers can put this new policy into practice.

#CivicsInTheMiddle Is Law in the Land of Lincoln

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On Friday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill (HB) 2265 into law. Now officially Public Act 101-0254, the law requires a semester of civics in grades 6, 7, or 8, employing direct instruction, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes. It takes effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

We are deeply appreciative of Representative Camille Lilly’s sponsorship in consecutive General Assemblies of a middle school civics requirement. While she believed deeply and supported the high school requirement passed in 2015, Rep. Lilly felt that high school was too late to begin cultivating students’ civic development. Beginning next fall, middle school students for generations to come will benefit from Public Act 101-0254, entering high school, and later adulthood with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors necessary for informed, effective, and lifelong engagement in the civic life of Illinois.

Senate sponsor Jacqueline Collins proved a fierce advocate in the upper chamber, shepherding the bill through a contentious committee hearing and ultimate passage on the floor with a bi-partisan supermajority.

A coalition of civic organizations mobilized behind HB 2265, but two deserve special recognition. CHANGE Illinois, led by Madeleine Doubek and recently-departed Jeff Raines, placed #CivicsInTheMiddle at the center of their policy agenda and actively worked the legislative roll call, helping to build a healthy list of House and Senate co-sponsors.

Our American Voice, led by Sheila Smith and John Fontanetta of the Barat Foundation, showcased their statewide middle school civics service learning program in both Chicago and Springfield. The latter event coincided with the final weeks of the legislative session and included legislative visits by student participants and a meeting with Governor Pritzker on the Capitol steps.

As was true of our high school push four years prior, students and teachers in the trenches were the heart and soul of the #CivicsInTheMiddle Campaign. This includes our statewide network of Illinois Democracy Schools, 74 strong, and Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors, a group of veteran civics teachers that led the charge for high school course implementation in their respective regions, 38 in all.

As with the high school course, we propose a three-year plan to help middle school teachers, schools, and districts incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8. Highlights include:
  • Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
  • A new partnership with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida to build online learning modules for teachers centered on the proven civic learning practices: discussion, service learning, and simulations, respectively. Participating teachers will earn microcredentials in each practice. We anticipate the first module, focused on discussion of current and controversial issues, to launch this winter.
  • Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches representing ten Illinois regions. Civics Instructional Coaches will receive in-depth training both in-person and via webinars. Civics Coaches, in turn, will facilitate professional development for middle and high school civics/social studies teachers in their respective regions. Civics Coaches will also be responsible for ongoing engagement with Regional Offices of Education, teachers, schools, districts, and pre-service programs in their area via newsletters, social media engagement, workshops, and conference presentations throughout the school year.
  • As was true of our high school efforts, we will partner with Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to evaluate the impact of our implementation efforts, beginning with the online microcredentialing system. This spring, CIRCLE administered a survey to middle school teachers and administrators to further assessment implementation needs. Preliminary results are summarized here and will further shape these preliminary plans.

#CivicsInTheMiddle is the latest of several policy wins for Illinois’ civic learning community and reason to celebrate. But now the hard work of implementation begins in earnest. We are grateful for the longstanding and deep commitment to youth civic development among our civic learning and institutional partners and most importantly, teachers in the trenches. We look forward to continued collaboration in the months and years ahead. The long-term prognosis for Illinois’ civic health is promising because we have collectively chosen to invest in high-quality, school-based civic learning.

Broad Public Support for Civics Transcends Ideological Divides; Parents Must See Value Proposition

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

PDK’s 51st annual Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools (N=2,389) produced a promising finding of near universal support for the teaching of civics (97%), with 70% agreeing that the subject should be required. This is a timely data point in Illinois with Governor Pritzker signing House Bill (HB) 2265 on Friday, legislation to require a semester of civics in Illinois middle schools. Now Public Act 101-0254, it takes effect next July prior to the 2020-2021 school year.

Until recently, civics has been increasingly marginalized as schools focus narrowly on literacy and numeracy, tested subjects that arguably correlate with success in college and careers. According to the PDK Poll, a plurality of teachers rates the civic mission of schools as the primary goal of public education, while most parents prioritize academics.

Parents are also less supportive of required civics courses than the adult population at large (60% versus 70%) and public school teachers (81%). One issue may be some parents’ (29%) concern that courses include political content they personally disagree with. Clearly, the civic learning community must do more to build support among this critical stakeholder group, including making the case for structured engagement with current and controversial issues.

Moreover, despite the ideological rift among civics practitioners centering on teaching patriotism and building attachment to government institutions versus empowering students to build a more perfect union, the survey data suggests that this is a false choice. The vast majority of parents (78%), adults (79%), and teachers (855) believe that civics embodies both facts and values, including honesty, civility, respect for authority, and acceptance of people of different religions. Large majorities also back an emphasis on patriotism (81%) and acceptance of people of different sexual orientations (74%).

Illinois is increasingly becoming a model for state and district policies supportive of students’ K-12 civic development. Civics has flourished from Chicago to Carbondale and across student demographic groups. Our collective work is by no means finished. With Governor Pritzker’s assent to HB 2265, we have the implementation challenge of a career. Along the way, we’ll continue to cultivate public support for civics, acknowledging that the civic mission of schools can only be fulfilled when all stakeholders, parents included, rally to the cause.

Guest Blog: Student Voice = Essential Questions + Memorable Conversations

Dan Fouts has taught AP government, philosophy and US history in the Chicagoland area and is a member of the Social Studies Department at Maine West High School, an Illinois Democracy School. Dan has served as a member of the committee on pre-collegiate instruction in philosophy through the American Philosophical Association from 2012-2016. Additionally, he has presented at several National Council for the Social Studies conferences and has instructed online courses since 2004 through Aurora, Quincy, and Adams State University. To fuel his passion for teaching teachers how to create and use essential questions in their classrooms, Dan manages a blog with Teach Different and a personal blog SocratesQuestions, both of which celebrate the power of inquiry-based classrooms.
Having a good classroom conversation is hard these days.

Consider what we’re up against.

Outside school, amidst the polarization of political views and clutter of social media, our students have few places to go to see what good conversations look like, not to mention the fact that they are already distracted by technology. And then in the classroom, we compound the problem inadvertently by racing through our curriculum and never setting aside enough time to digest big ideas.

The greatest benefit to conversations is the long term — they give our students the feeling that their voices matter and that they have something meaningful to add to the community. When student voice is validated through classroom conversations, a road is paved for future participation in the political process. Political efficacy grows and our national discourse improves. There’s a ton at stake here.

Teach Different, a teacher professional development organization in Chicago, has developed a process that teachers can employ to do two things:
  1. Set up great conversations
  2. Formulate provocative essential questions
The process comes in three steps and draws its inspiration from philosophy, borrowing most from the wisdom of the greatest questioner and conversation artist of them all, Socrates. He knew way before all of us that asking profound questions and engaging people in dialogue was the best way to establish and nurture student voice.

Here’s a quick 2-minute cartoon summarizing the process, beginning with a provocative quote from the Chinese philosopher Confucius: “If you want to embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”


 In steps one and two teachers and students think deeply about a provocative quotation and consider claims and counterclaims surrounding it. The essential question, designed in step three, then becomes the hitching post for a memorable conversation connected to the curriculum. The key to the essential question is accessibility — it must coax students to draw out their own lived experiences, which in turn invests them emotionally in the ensuing conversation. In this way, the essential question promotes student voice by tending to the social-emotional needs of all learners. ( Beyond accessibility, there are other important criteria of essential questions that are outlined nicely in Mary Ellen Daneels' post a few weeks ago).

Good conversations are difficult to have, but not impossible. Like anything else, their success is dependent on careful planning and adherence to a consistent routine over time.

What strategies and routines have you found successful in creating better conversations and promoting student voice? Please comment below and share your ideas!

Additional Conversation Resources
  1. More examples of the 3-step process taken from Teach Different blog
  2. A sign-up form to request a Teach Different teacher training video which explores the 3-step process more in depth. In a follow up email, there is information on an online course through Adams State University for teachers who want to customize the process to their own curriculum.
  3. A great resource from Facing History and Ourselves which shows how to create a respectful classroom community before having conversations. It’s called Classroom Contracting.
  4. A strategy from Edutopia called “Talk Moves”, which promotes academic thinking and social connectedness.