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 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.