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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Civics: Should Children Be Prepared To Be Adult Citizens? (Part II)

Could native-born Americans pass this test? (

In the previous post, I raised the issue of the state of civics in education. I examined the situation in some states including Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In this post, I wish to return to Connecticut before turning to New York.

The Connecticut High School History Council

At the beginning of this school year in September, the Connecticut High School History Council (CTHSHC) issued a call to high school students. CTHSHC, a program of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN), is a statewide student group conceived by Glastonbury High School seniors. It is made up of students from all around the state who share a passion for history and civics and want to create constructive change using their interest. Student participants are required to work together on an annual project related to an issue that has affected the state and its communities both historically and in the present. Students are asked to research the history of the issue at their local historical societies, meet with elected officials and others to learn how to take civic action, and then work together to take that action. CTHSHC decided to focus this school year’s research on: “What aspects of the women’s right movement have affected women’s stance in the political and social sectors of Connecticut?” The kickoff meeting for this school year was held at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford. The due date for the submission of the projects is March 1, 2019 so I presume we will hear more about the results of this initiative in the spring, 2019.

On a slightly more historical note, I think it would be interesting to learn where the individual communities stood on the issue of women’s suffrage, soon to be a centennial event.

In the Age of Trump, Civics Courses Make a Comeback By Alina Tugend, New York Times, June 5, 2018

This project bears some similarities to the Connecticut one (above) except it is at a single school system and not as a statewide program. It also is a multiyear project that starts with students in the 9th grade and continues for all four school years which makes it different from most projects. The new initiative is called Original Civic Research and Action. The participants are required “to immerse themselves in the workings of their town of Mamaroneck — just north of New York City — and find a useful solution to an ongoing problem. The project — for which students get no school credit in the first year — is the brainchild of Joseph Liberti, a longtime government and history teacher at the high school.”

And it is emblematic of a renewed nationwide effort to address, at both the high school and college level, issues that have been laid bare over the last few years — a lack of understanding of and trust in most civic institutions, a disconnection from government at all levels and intolerance for those who think and act differently….[Liberti] expected 12 students to sign up. He ended up with 32.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia require a full year of civics education, according to the Center for American Progress; 30 states mandate a half-year and 11 states have no mandates. Only one state, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, require community service and civics courses before a student graduates….

A survey last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that 37 percent of those surveyed couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and about 75 percent don’t know all three branches of government.

In the Mamaroneck initiative, the educators envision the high school civic programs as part of a preparation for adult life. The goal of introducing students to civics as part of the school experience is the hope that they will continue to be involved after they graduate and become voters and taxpayers. Liberti said. “The goal is not just to produce informed citizens. but citizens who know how to make change.”

New York States Regents to the Rescue

On a more formal basis, the New York State Regents have decided to become involved in promoting civics in the schools.

The state Board of Regents dedicated much of their July [2018] meeting to a series of free-form “public retreat” discussions in which they sought to better define some ambitious priorities that have emerged from their work over the last three years – improving “equity” and ensuring students receive education leading to “civic readiness.”…

The concept of “civic readiness” also is on the Regents’ agenda for a better definition [along with equity]. As part of the state plan to comply with ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act], the Regents pledged to create a civic readiness index to measure schools’ success in preparing students to become well-informed participants in a democratic society.

The Regents discussed what school-level actions and programs they wanted to encourage. In the areas of curriculum, certification and assessment related to civic engagement, options include: capstone projects, a state “seal of civic engagement,” active citizenship portfolios, service learning and voter registration awareness.

They talked about preparing students for behaviors such as community service, voter registration and voting, and jury service, as well as helping them understand concepts and issues involving criminal justice, racial bias, bigotry, rule of law and freedom of the press.

The next step in the civic readiness initiative will be to establish an advisory committee of practitioners, including teachers, parents, school librarians, curriculum specialists, administrators and college professors to define civic readiness and to recommend mechanisms for teaching and measuring civic engagement skills. Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia said the committee will not convene before autumn.

As part of this initiative a Civic Readiness Index will be developed. It will permit the measuring of compliance by students and schools in meeting these goals. Naturally there will be instructions, guidelines, and reports in conjunction with the initiative. During the summer, Generation Citizen New York City (GCNYC) commented on the proposals by the New York State Regents.

Generation Citizen NYC submits public comment on forthcoming Civic Readiness Index

On August 13, 2018 Generation Citizen New York City submitted public comment to the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department regarding the civic readiness aspect of the Career, College and Civic Readiness Index being developed as part of New York’s implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act….Generation Citizen is a nine-year-old national organization that partners with teachers and schools to help them implement a comprehensive, high-quality Action Civics education program. Our goal is to ensure that every student in the United States gains the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in our democracy as active, lifelong citizens.

Civic Engagement Gap

After detailing New York’s poor civic performance, GCNYC states is goals: Students learn about democratic structures and processes by examining their community, building consensus around an issue, conducting research, engaging local policy makers, and reflecting on the experience. GCNYC is particularly concerned with under-performing and under-resourced schools. Again one notices the emphasis on the local, on the community, on the world of the student. Municipal historians and historical societies should be part of this conversation. In New York, with the 2019 centennial of the law requiring municipalities to have historians, the need to embrace this effort should be obvious. With the New York City having only five municipal historians, one per borough, for approximately half the population of the state, the need to update this 100 year law is critical.

Defining the Civic Readiness Index

GCNYC applauds the Board of Regents …for establishing the CCCRI in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan and recognizing civics education as a critical component of ensuring students receive a well-rounded education. While the CCCRI establishes a baseline for holding schools accountable for ensuring
students’ civic readiness, the proposed regulations do not establish a civic readiness standard. We recommend that the State Education Department adopt regulations to define civic readiness.

One item in particular attracted the attention of GCNYC: the civics seal.

We believe that the civics seal prerequisites should, at minimum, include two capstone projects to be sequenced in eighth grade social studies and the existing Participation in Government course, which includes these Action Civics elements: community examination, issue identification, research, strategizing, taking action, and reflection.

To that end, we believe that, in tandem with the civics seal, the state must allocate funding to districts to provide teachers with the necessary professional development that aligns to implementing these changes…. This professional development should include providing teachers with resources, supports for coaches and administrators, and examples of how and where to find resources independently.

GCNYC is well aware of the dangers in teachers not being prepared to implement the Civics Readiness Index program and of the funding issues related to the poorer school districts. Its call for buy-in to the project from teachers and other education stakeholders should also include the municipal historians and history organizations.

I should add that in New York, Shelley Mayer, the new chair of Senate Education Committee, has expressed her interest in civics, most recently at the annual conference of social studies teachers for the Lower Hudson, in a session I put together on local history. I am looking forward to the new legislative session to begin in January and to the promotion of state and local history and civics.

2 thoughts on “Civics: Should Children Be Prepared To Be Adult Citizens? (Part II)

  1. I know we’re talking “ancient history” here, but when I was a high school junior (17 years old in 1970) I attended Boys State, and part of the program included taking the citizenship exam.


    Glenn F. Williams, Ph.D.
    Author of DUNMORE’S WAR: The Last Conflict of America’s Colonial Era and YEAR OF THE HANGMAN:George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois
    Westholme, Dist. by University of Chicago Press 800-621-2736

  2. Civics is important, yes, but as an educator, have you ever met a grade school teacher that likes teaching “common core” math ? No one I know likes it, professionally.

    Happy New Year. If you can shed any light on that Jefferson / West Point issue, I’d love to see it. I think the Vassar library is open today and I’ll intend to drive over and get those two books out.


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