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Showing posts from June, 2020

Understanding How the Government Works: Federalism

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The IllinoisCivics.org Summer Webinar series shifted this week from the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics course requirements to focus on disciplinary content for direct instruction on democratic institutions, and specifically the concept of federalism.

There have been a plethora of current and societal issues related to federalism recently. Essential questions about the division of power between the state and federal governments have taken center stage in deliberations surrounding the government response to COVID-19, access to the ballot and election security, immigration policy, criminal justice and police reform. As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared, Federalism, like separation of powers, is an ongoing debate, a perpetual balancing act.

Debates over federalism can be traced back to before “the room where it happen…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Service Learning through Informed Action

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Our colleagues in math teach mathematical formulas and principles to students and students practice by doing math. Our peers in science have students do science through labs that apply the scientific method to understand phenomena. No language arts classroom would be effective without students (doing) reading, writing, speaking and listening. Yet, in many civics classrooms, students engage in curriculum focused on essential questions related to justice, equity, power, and other rich concepts and then…take a multiple choice Constitution Test?

Just as passing the Rules of the Road exam does not sufficiently demonstrate a person is ready to operate a motor vehicle; the ability to pass a 200 question Constitution Test does not illustrate adequate preparation for civic life. The Illinois Social Science standards and new civics course requirements prompt new thinking about how students do civics.

Both the high school and middle scho…

Challenging the Narrative

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Fanny Diego-Alvarez, Program Officer, Grand Victoria Foundation
Sonia Mathew, Program Officer, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Brandon Thorne, Senior Program Officer, W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
Forefront Education and Equity Committee Co-Chairs
The Forefront Education and Equity Committee plans programming for both philanthropic and education nonprofit partners to educate ourselves and others on policies and practices that create and perpetuate disparities in educational outcomes so we can promote equitable policies that build an education system that serves all, with an emphasis on racial, ethnic and class equity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold across the country, we were faced with the reminder of the deep racial inequities that exist in our society. These inequities have been further emphasized by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless number of Black men and women that have been victims of violence since th…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Simulations of Democratic Processes

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This week, IllinoisCivics.org continued our support of the implementation of the new middle school civics requirement with our third #CivicsInTheMiddle webinar on the proven practice of simulations of democratic processes. Both the high school and middle school civics mandates go beyond “what” to teach per the Illinois Social Science Civic content standards and school code requirements, but also “how” to teach using the proven practices of civic education.

As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared in the webinar, there is a great opportunity for educators to use simulations to teach students about the 2020 elections. According to the 2012 Illinois Civic Health Index, Illinois’ youngest voters are among the least likely to report voting regularly in local elections, ranking 47th among 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, according to our friends at the Center…

Political Expression is Our Tool for Survival

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by Byron Terry, Research Intern, Democracy Program
Not to minimize the severity of the COVID-19 global pandemic, but in this moment, it feels like a distraction from the ever-looming nightmare that many would call the “American Dream.” During a time where I thought for once there was a large consensus across America, I allowed myself to fall into a false reality that I was a part of a world that put the lives of its people above anything else, but then the other shoe dropped. Even in isolation due to stay-at-home orders, I felt connected to people because we were all going through the same struggles. But as I watched the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and talked with college friends from my once home in Louisville, Kentucky about the death of Breonna Taylor, I began to feel even more isolated as it felt like the walls of this false reality began to close in with each of these deaths to the point where I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe.

Social distancing and othe…

Understanding the Proven Practice of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
This fall, middle schools will join their colleagues in high school in requiring at least a semester of civics for students in the curriculum. The mandate goes beyond “what” to teach, but also “how” to teach using the proven practices of civic education. This week’s topic was Understanding the Proven Practice of Current and Controversial Issue Discussions, which is especially fitting in light of recent events. If you missed it, we shared classroom room resources to address issues of racial injustice earlier in the week in our blog, Be Present, Listen, and Refuse to Be Silent.

IllinoisCivics.org joined with our partners at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to survey middle school educators in the Land of Lincoln about their needs and concerns regarding the new civic mandates. As Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation shared in the we…

Be Present, Listen and Refuse to be Silent

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The events of this past week surrounding the murder of George Floyd in police custody and the public outcry that followed has many of us grappling with what we can do to be part of the solution and be an upstander for justice, equity, tolerance, and progress. This is a lot for students to process, especially in isolation during a pandemic fraught with its own uncertainty and fears. Whether your school is still in session or has dismissed for the year, students may reach out to you with questions, concerns, anger, frustration, and grief.


As I struggle to process these unfolding events in our nation and how to best serve our youngest community members, I wrestle with a feeling of inadequacy. In this, I find a glimmer of hope in what I can do as an educator reflecting on a conversation I had with one of my administrators, who is a former student. We were chatting a bit after his post-evaluation conference of my teaching when he rem…