Civics360: A New Resource for Civic Education

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Good morning, friends in Civics. Over the past few years, teachers here in Florida and elsewhere in the United States have made heavy use of the Escambia Civics Review Site. We do believe that the partnership with Escambia County and the willingness of that district to host and share resources for teaching and learning has been beneficial for everyone. Over time, however, requests have been made and ideas contemplated about improvements that could be made to make that site even better. These requests and ideas include more student friendly videos, more helpful assessment tools, and resources for ESOL students and struggling readers. With that in mind, the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, in partnership with Escambia County Schools,  is excited to announce the launching of a new Civics review site that will, later this summer, replace the currect Escambia Civics Review Site: Civics360. Civics360 is free to all registered users, much like our current Florida Citizen website. This site is now live and available for your use.

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So what are the new features you will find in Civics360? Take a look at the orientation video below, which walks you through the registration process, and read the rest of the post to learn about what we hope will be a useful resource for you and your students.

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‘Civics is a Love Language’: Reflecting on the Civic Learning Week Opening Forum

Folks from your Lou Frey Institute and other civic learning organizations had the great pleasure to attend the Opening Forum at the National Archives in Washington, DC for the kickoff of the first national Civic Learning Week. It was an excellent start to the week, and it featured a fantastic and engaging collection of speakers and guests.

You can view the entire event below, but I though that it might be helpful to share some thoughts and reflections on each session, and consider what this first week should mean moving forward. So if you want to see what you missed, view the video embedded below (it starts around the 36th minute) and read on!

We began with a welcome from Debra Steidel Wall, Acting Archivist of the United States, and Louise Dube, Executive Director of iCivics. The point made by the Acting Archivist is so important: ‘Access to powerful documents has never been more necessary’, and we encourage you to check out the new resource developed by our friends at NARA, Civics for All of US.

We then have our first panel discussion. This panel, Civic Education for a Plural Yet Shared Nation, was moderated by Danielle Allen of Harvard University. It featured a discussion between Christina Grant, Superintendent of Washington DC Public Schools, Benjamin Klutsey of George Mason University, and Dan Vallone of More in Common USA.

One of my favorite things about this forum is that so many good points were made so clearly, and during this panel, the participants identified two needs: 1. leaders who can emphasize common grounds in civic education, and 2. more collaboration to find common ground. To paraphrase,‘In the doing we learn about each other and dissolve the myths about each other’. It was also pointed out that polarization seems worse because the most extreme on left and right are the most loud. But civics helps us understand we are not as polarized as we think. Differences in thought can be enriching, and diversity in ideology is important…but it requires a willingness to listen and accept that dissent is a GOOD thing! This requires an improved understanding of civil discourse as well (aside: Florida has included a significant module on civil discourse and civic engagement in its new Seal of Civic Excellence course!).

Our second session was a much-too-brief conversation between Danielle Allen and Republican Governor Christopher Sununu of New Hampshire on prioritizing civic learning.

I wish we had more time with the governor. He talked about the importance of Founding Principles and the role of local government and the local community, and the wonderful example of the New England Town Meeting as a form of civic participation and learning. He was also quite funny, honestly, and his time was too short!

After the governor left the stage, we got a very in depth, and honestly a bit depressing, panel about research, evidence, and the impact of civic learning.

This panel, moderated by Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy of the Civics101 podcast, shared research from Joe Kahne of CERG and Julia Kaufman of RAND discussing research around civic education and social studies. The RAND study was very disturbing though for those of us in the field perhaps not suprising.

In short, social studies continues to suffer from a lack of attention, and lack of resources, at the K-5 level. It gets deeper, and I enourage you to read their report here. The lack of quality resources is a HUGE problem. How do we build a consensus to address it??? Something to think about.

Relatedly, CERG looked at what is happening in the classrooms around tough topics and civil discourse.

The data concerning UNCIVIL discourse at the k-12 level is concerning, and the lack of professional development on how to conduct discussions of controversial issues is disturbing…but an opportunity for those of us in the field. Kahne pointed out that districts that make clear statements of support concerning civic education see improved outcomes and instruction and less problems in civic instruction and learning around difficult topics. Both researchers shared their thoughts on what needed to be done: a consensus on high quality resources and materials, and a need for professional development around leading discussions on controversial issues. Well said. How do we do them?

Following that sometimes depressing but always necessary discussion, Lee Glazer, director of the Museum Programs Division at NARA, talked some more about the importance of Civics for All of US. I want to reiterate again what an important resource this can be.

One of the most interesting and exciting panels followed. Hearing students talk about civic education and its impact on their learning and their lives was simply fantastic.

Moderated by Andrea Foggy-Paxton, Entrepeneur-Residence of Education Leaders of Color, it brought together parents and teachers Tanisha Carpenter, Amber Coleman-Mortley, and Neil Wrona to discuss civic education and engagement with students Roman Messali, Garvey Mortley, and Sarah Rivera. It was fantastic, and some key comments stuck with me:
-‘Civic experiences happen on a day to day basis. We engage in civic practice everyday.’
-‘Civics is a love language.’
-‘We have to support and appreciate our teachers for civic education to happen in this polarizing environment.’
-‘There is a lot of civic education happening in classrooms and schools that we don’t realize.’
-‘Those of us that are able to sit in a room with people that we don’t agree with, that we vehemently disagree with, and have civil conversations that get us to a place [of understanding] that is the power of civics.’
-‘Justice is heavily tied to civics. It is not separate.’
-‘Civics education is about problem solving.’
-‘Student engagement around issues that matter. Real people that can make a real difference.’
-‘Being able to have real conversations. Learn how to talk to people.’
-‘Analysis should be prioritized. Civics Ed is a right.’


There was so much more that was said, including the importance of student government. But I just want to thank these folks for sharing their thoughts, and for the Civic Learning Week team in bringing them in. It was fantastic.

The final panel session of the day was moderated by Crystal Patterson of Washington Media Group.

The discussion between Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute, Miriam Vogel of EqualAI, and Sam Wineburg Stanford University dived deep into digital democracy, social media, artifical intelligence, and information literacy. Levin made a great point that sticks with me even now: ‘Educators also have to help people unlearn what is untrue.’ This is such a huge struggle, especially as many of the people we are trying to teach have no idea what they know is untrue. Levin went on to say that“Just being engaged, just participating is not enough. We have to have a set of skills for distinguishing truths from falsehood.” We MUST help students understand the civic system and civic life they live and engage in in order to innoculate them against conspiracy theory and falsehood. As Wineburg said, ‘Information literacy should be a non-partisan issue’, but sadly, it sometimes seems it is not. And the Internet can help make people more informed…or more confused. It was a really interesting conversation across all three panel participants, and I fear that we are not doing enough to support not just media literacy but information literacy.

We then had a video presentation from Brandon Short, with PGIM Real Estate and a former Giants and Panthers football player (GO PATS).

Short discussed the connection between civic engagement, civic learning, and the American Dream, and it was an inspiring and motivational few minutes!

Finally, we wrapped up with Shawn Healy of iCivics and Rajiv Vinnakota of the Institute for Citizens and Scholars.

Together, they summarized the three main themes of the opening forum:
1. Need to reimagine civic education to include civil discourse and the relationship challenge; Question how we help kids distinguish truth from falsehood (information literacy);use all spaces as civic spaces; 2.Local work as our work; lynchpin of civic progress; 3. Everyone is a civic teacher. We all help students grow in civic life.

As Healey said to close, civics should be in our bloodstream. Teachers want PD, so let’s give it to them. And we all want better civics, so let’s fund it!

Moving Forward

Civic Learning Week should be Civic Learning Year, all year, all day, every day. We have a responsibility to the next generation of participants in civic life to provide them with the tools and the resources to engage and to grow and to learn what it means to live up to our Founding Principles and to improve our communities. Sadly, I think we have been saying that since the Founding; while we have made progress in civic education, we must continue to grow and to ensure access and opportunity and strong foundation of knowledge. We look forwrad to working with colleagues in Florida and across the country in following up on the goals of Civic Learning Week. Because, after all, civics is a love language.

Civic Learning Week: A Chance to Change Perspective

This morning’s Civic Learning Week blogpost comes to us from FJCC/LFI Civics Instructional Specialist Kimberly Garton. It’s a consideration of new perspectives, and we hope you find it helpful.

Recently I read a piece of advice that encouraged individuals to start saying “thank you” instead of “sorry”.  While obviously there are situations where an apology is necessary, somewhere along the line, we became a society that constantly apologies and the phrase lost its value.  So, the idea is, instead of “sorry I am late” to swap it with “thank you for waiting for me”.  The psychology behind the change in behavior says that when we start saying thank you more often, we become more confident, improve our self-worth, stop judging ourselves harshly, and it overall helps us see the good in the world around us.  A simple change from a negative connotation to a more positive outlook can certainly do wonders. 

In the world of education, especially civics education, the negativity can be overwhelming.  Recently for teachers in Florida, it has been a constant bombardment of negativity towards education and educators.  Whether accurate or not, the messaging has tended to focus on limitations placed on teachers and schools: don’t read these books, don’t teach these topics, don’t say these phrases, don’t use these resources.  As educators, we often choose frustration and feel “sorry” for content or pedagogy we perceive to have lost the ability to engage with.  So instead, this Civic Learning Week, let’s try some “thanks”:

  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach about the brilliant young individuals who founded this country.  Individuals who read, debated, compromised, and fought to build any incredibly durable system of government.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach about the language and components of the U.S. Constitution, a framework for government that also protects sacred rights and liberties.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach about individuals from all walks of life and their courageous struggles and endeavors to fulfill the promise of democracy and bring us closer to “a more perfect union”.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach about ways citizens can and must be involved with their government, and the power and responsibility behind the phrase “We the People”.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach the meaning and importance of rule of law and due process in the United States legal system.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach about world affairs and U.S. foreign policy methods available for interacting with the international community.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach patriotism through our country’s aspirations.  In the words of Fredrick Douglass “I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes and at whatever cost.”
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach using a vast number of primary sources that allow for deeper understanding, greater student connections to past events, and as the National Archives puts it, “History in the Raw”.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to teach students how to “develop an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping on individual freedoms, and examine what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.” (Florida State Statute 1003.42-Required Instruction)

Many Framers had concerns about the practicality of the newly established government.  But in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “education would facilitate the people’s good sense on which we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty”.  The ability to teach or be a part of civics education in any way is truly a gift and a blessing.  Together, we ensure this “great experiment” continues and each generation is equipped with civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be citizens capable of participating in civic life.          

So I encourage you to take this Civic Learning Week and reenergize your passion.  Re-read your standards, benchmarks, and state statutes and remind yourself of all of the amazing content and skills you get to teach and share.  Listen to a new podcast, attend a professional development opportunity, pick up a book, or engage your colleagues in a conversation about their favorite civics topic.  Take a moment to see the good in the world of teaching civics and government.

And thank you for all that you do.

Civic Learning Week: Weavers of Civic Practice

Today’s post for Civic Learning Week comes from our own Christophe Spinale, Associate Director of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. He writes for us about the importance of student civic practice!

Despite consensus that civics education is important, there is certainly no shortage of opinion of what civics education should like. Whether from the left, right, or middle, it seems everyone has a view of what civic education should be.  This cornucopia of views got me thinking about the common “threads” that make up civic education and whether or not there will ever be agreement about which ones to use.  I am a bit pessimistic on this point.  As a nation of 50 states, all with their own education policies regarding the teaching of civics, depending on which state students live, the type of civics education they receive is varied. With all this variance on what civic education should be, how can American democracy be expected to survive when, for example, students in Illinois are learning civics differently from students in Florida? Is there enough common ground for the next generation to understand the fragility of our constitutional democracy and what it will take to make it stronger? 

Some argue that the focus should be on the knowledge, but is that sufficient? I would argue no, and I know I would be in good company.  Those considered experts in the realm of civic education have long advocated that knowledge be put to use. This is not a novel approach. For a thousand years, people have learned by doing.  The practicum is foundational to this idea. Seriously, how can this nation’s students learn to “keep the Republic,” if they are not afforded the opportunity to practice citizenship as part of their schooling? Why not afford the opportunity to students to be citizen apprentices? Semantically, I think this is an acceptable approach as the apprenticeship is not novel to education. When I think about those common “threads” and the ways in which they may be “woven” to form a “tapestry’ of civic practice, I am awestruck at the possibilities. Civic education policy makers should be too.

With all the research that shows the effectiveness of coupling civic knowledge with civic skills, the citizen apprentice affords teachers the opportunity to become weavers of civic practice. They are able to take the common “threads” of knowledge and skills and “weave” them together to develop practical learning opportunities around the habits of good citizenship. Of course, this begs the question, what habits?

When thinking about this question, I often think about how the Founders.  This is mostly because they are the ones invoked by the “knowledge advocates” as the basis for understanding our origins. No matter whose story I read, three things strike me – how young many of them were, how well read they were, and how they practiced what they preached.  Obviously, their education provided a foundation of knowledge upon which they could develop the necessary skills to be able to accomplish what they did, but the ages they did it, now that is remarkable. I guess the point is we celebrate these young, bright, accomplished men for their writings, debates, protests, and fighting, so why is there hesitation to include a practice component to learning civics where students learn to deliberate, collaborate, and propose solutions to community issues of concern to them? Shouldn’t there be an expectation to engage in the American experience and participate in political processes as part of learning how to be a good citizen? Shouldn’t these types of “threads” be a basic component for all students engaged in civic learning? 

As a parent, I want my children to have this type of civic education.  I don’t want them being distrustful of democracy. I want them to engage their elected officials responsibly. I want them to have civil discourse and find common ground on issues where there may be disagreement.  In other words, I want them to know how to be a good citizen, having discussed current events and controversial issues, engaged service learning, and participate in simulations of democratic processes.  Imagine the possibilities of allowing our schools and teachers to be weavers of civic practice, where students can truly learn what it means to be  a good citizen, but more importantly, act like one.

Bill of Rights Institute MyImpact Challenge

This post features outreach from our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute.

As you may know, research shows that students who participate in service-learning projects have higher academic achievement and awareness of current issues (Smith, et al 2019). However, it can be a struggle for teachers to offer innovative service-learning opportunities on top of everything else they do. At the Bill of Rights Institute, we have a plug-and-play solution!


Our MyImpact Challenge contest and curriculum direct students who want to give back in a way that increases academic outcomes, AND they can win prizes!

The contest, open to students aged 13-19, asks entrants to undertake a service project in their communities and send us a project report and an essay on how their project aligns with Founding Principles and Civic Virtues. We offer up to $40,000 in prizes to students and teachers, with a student grand prize of $10,000.

In addition, we offer a free, six-lesson service-learning curricular supplement that shows students how to design a service project targeted to local issues.

We are looking for partners in the following efforts:

  1. Advertising this year’s contest to students already involved in community service. We want to make sure that civically engaged students find out about the contest in time to enter by May 21. That means getting out the word to districts, teachers, and guidance counselors.
  2. Getting our service-learning curriculum into schools for 2023. Our six-lesson supplement helps students design local service projects tailored to the needs of their communities. It is a great addition to social studies courses ranging from 8th Grade Civics to AP Government. We’re happy to meet with any state or district that has an interest, and we want to make sure we’re reaching smaller districts as well as large ones.
  3. Setting up local civics fairs. Our long-term plan is to evolve the contest to include state-level competitions that filter up to the national contest. We are seeking local partners to launch in-person civics fairs either at the end of this school year or sometime in the 2023-24 cycle. Planning for several of these events is already underway, but we are hoping to significantly scale up activity in the coming year. 

If you are interested in any of these initiatives, email Adam Brickley at abrickley@mybri.org to set up a meeting. 

This is an exciting opportunity and a worthwhile effort, and we appreciate the work that our friends at BRI are putting into student civic engagement!

Celebrating Eagles During the Super Bowl

Today’s post comes to us from Dr. Terri Fine, our content specialist and the Associate Director of the Lou Frey Institute, in honor of Super Bowl Sunday (though I confessm, being a lifelong Patriot fan, I was not aware the Super Bowl was still played anymore). It looks at the American Bald Eagle as our national bird!

One of the great unofficial American holidays is Super Bowl Sunday.  In 2023, the Super Bowl matchup brought together the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles.  Philadelphia represents so much about U.S. civics, government, and history because the U.S. Constitution was written in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   But what about the team mascot, the American Bald Eagle?  Why is the American Bald Eagle the national bird, and why does the image of the American Bald Eagle appear on so many government documents and artifacts including the Great Deal of the United States, the president’s flag, the mace of the U.S. House of Representatives, dollar bills and coins?

In 1789, the year that the U.S. Constitution took effect, the American Bald Eagle was chosen by Congress to represent the United States.  What is unique about the American Bald Eagle that influenced Congress (and, likely, the Philadelphia professional football team) to select it as the national bird? 

The American Bald Eagle is uniquely American—it is found only in North America and is seen as a symbol of strength and freedom.  It has no predators and is not a bird that is typically eaten unlike, by contrast, the turkey, which is both hunted and eaten.  When turkeys do fly, it is for short distances only, and generally not nigher than 50 feet, which is quite different from the American Bald Eagle, which flies solo and does not travel in flocks.  Consider these symbols in the context of the emergence of the United States as an independent world superpower, “flying above” other nations that seek to emulate the United States in their government and economic systems.

Civics Education Resources for Black History Month

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Well, apologies, friends, it has been far too long since the last post. I will work on that. Today, I want to share some excellent resources for civic education during Black History Month.

The Plainest Demands of Justice (Bill of Rights Institute)

I encountered this excellent resource during the recent SOURCES conference at UCF. It is a primary source driven collection that, in the words of BRI,

explores the efforts to realize the Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice by exploring key periods in African American history.”

The entire collection is organized into multiple categories, and each category has a curated selection of primary sources (or playlists, because hey, have to be hip to the kids! :))

You can check out this resource here.

Civics in Real Life (Florida Joint Center for Citizenship at the Lou Frey Institute)

You may be familiar with the work of FJCC at LFI. Besides our extensive lesson plans, however, we have an ongoing weekly series called ‘Civics in Real Life’. This comes out every week and connects current events to civics concepts. We also have extensions of this series, however, and if you simply do a search for ‘black history’, you will find materials specifically developed to support instruction on figures, events, and organizations significant to black history.

To be clear, however, we cover related material throughout the course of the year, not just in February, so please feel free to take advantage of the search bar. If there is a topic not addressed that you would like covered, please feel free to reach out!

You can find the Civics in Real Life resources here.

The National Archives African American History Collection (NARA)

The National Archives has curated a great many primary sources into a strong collection for teachers to use in their classroom, covering a wide variety of cultural, social, economic, and political topics.

One of the things I like is that they have compiled a set of lesson plans that you can adapt for use in your classroom and with state standards and benchmarks.

You can find the excellent NARA resources here.

Black History Month Lesson Plans from The Civics Renewal Network

We here at FJCC/LFI are proud members of the Civics Renewal Network. Our friends there have a FANTASTIC and easy to use searchable database of resources, and of course you can find Black History Month resources there as well, including a curated collection from Share My Lesson.

Be sure to take advantage of the search feature to find some excellent resources that you can use.

Check out the Civics Renewal Network here.

Black History Month Lessons, from iCivics

If you teach civics, you are likely pretty familiar with the resources from iCivics. Naturally, they have an excellent collection of resources for this month.

You can search the iCivics collection here.

Black History Month, from various federal agencies!

What a fantastic collaboration!

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.

A variety of US federal agencies and museums have collaborated on providing a collection of resources for teaching black history, and it is definitely worth a look!

You can find this great collection here.

Black History Month, from the Center for Civic Education

If you teach civics, you are probably familiar too with the great stuff from the Center for Civic Education. I am a big fan of their 60 Second Civics series, personally. Well, they have also compiled a variety of great resources for Black History Month.

Be sure to check out their great stuff here.

Obviously these are just a few of the excellent resources that you can use to teach during Black History Month, and if you are in Florida, be sure to check out what is available on CPALMS. But it’s important to remember that Black history is American history, and these sorts of resources should be integrated into your instruction throughout the course of the year!

Election Related Civics in Real Life Resources

Well, another election approaches next week! And we have some Civics in Real Life resources to share!

This includes our newest CRL on the upcoming mid term elections.

But don’t forget that we have so many more!

Inflation & Presidential Approval

Gerrymandering

Voting Reform

U.S. Postal Service & Elections

Party Platforms

Voter Registration

Elections

Presidential Libraries Webinar: Carter, Clinton, and the Middle East Peace Process

Did you miss our webinar in collaboration with the Carter and Clinto Libraries last month? It is now available online! You can view it here, and click below to access Carter Library resources aligned with the webinar.

Looking for high school government teachers in Florida for a really cool opportunity!

Hey friends! We want to share with you this excellent opportunity for a couple of high school government teachers here in Florida. It culiminates with an engagement with a member of Congress for your students!

This collaboration with the fine folks at UC Riverside includes a $1000.00 stipend, free PD, and a certificate for that PD that you can use towards renewal.

This is a really cool opportunity for teachers and their students. The timeline is tight but doable.

You can download the flier below. Questions or want more info? Shoot us an email!

September Holidays and Observances for Social Studies

Good morning, friends! Today we bring you a resource for September that you might find useful. This PDF, with embedded links, shares important holidays and observances that take place throughout the month of September. It includes links to lots of resources that you might find useful! You can download it below.