Preparing students for civic life


A question that has recently been on my mind as I work on book chapters around helping English language learners with civic learning is the question of teaching for citizenship. Certainly, one of the key goals of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is preparing students to be citizens. It is, after all, in our name. But on reflection, perhaps we should consider that we are going deeper than that. We are, instead, preparing students for civic life. Not all of the students we seek to reach are citizens, after all. At the same time, the knowledge, skills, and dispositions we want children to develop should be practiced long before they are able to assume the rights and duties of citizenship anyway. Key here is the idea that civic life is more than simply voting or serving on juries, both of which are rightly and justly limited to citizens of the United States. But what does it mean to prepare students for civic life, to truly help them understand what it means to engage in their communities and to seek to be a difference-maker?

Before we begin considering that question, it needs to be stated plainly that what we are discussing here is a not a question of liberal or conservative. Instead, it is a question of doing what you think is right and necessary for the civic life of your community. Civic life should not be centered around partisan warfare; rather, it should be centered around true discussion, collaboration, and the common good as our Founding Fathers understood it. As one of my personal heroes, John Adams, so eloquently put it in the Constitution of the great state of Massachusetts:

Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it.

So, in preparing students for civic life, what should we be addressing? The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has suggested that the focus be on civic competencies that have stood the test of time and reflect the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for civic life in the 21st century United States of America. Today’s post will discuss the first competency, knowledge; later posts will dive into the skills and dispositions, the Six Proven Practices, and the new(ish) C3 FrameworkC3 Framework and how that might serve us as civic educators.

Civic Knowledge: Starting With a Foundation

You have to start somewhere. For us, civic life must be built on a foundation that reflects what came before. You cannot engage in civic life and the pursuit of the common good if you have no or little knowledge of history, civics, and government. The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools describes the competency of civic knowledge thus:

Civic content includes both core knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge to different circumstances and settings.

  • Key historical periods, episodes, cases, themes, and experiences of individuals and groups in U.S. history
  • Principles, documents, and ideas essential to constitutional democracy
  • Relationship between historical documents, principles, and episodes and contemporary issues
  • Structures, processes, and functions of government; powers of branches and levels of government
  • Political vehicles for representing public opinion and effecting political change
  • Mechanisms and structure of the U.S. legal system
  • Relationship between government and other sectors
  • Political and civic heroes
  • Social and political networks for making change
  • Social movements and struggles, particularly those that address issues as yet unresolved
  • Structural analyses of social problems and systemic solutions to making change

In other words, to effectively participate civic life, we must have an understanding of what came before. It means understanding the decisions that our Founding Fathers made, and the roots and consequences of those decisions. Why, for example, did they decide on the Electoral College? How did the party system develop? What kinds of issues have those seeking to lead, organize, or participate in civic life had to deal with over the course of our two and a half century history?

It also requires that we be able to interpret the key documents that have shaped civic life and civil society in the United States. This includes the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the later amendments to the Constitution, and even the Articles of Confederation (among so many others). Important within this understanding is being able to grasp the different ways these documents have been interpreted in the past and continue to be debated in the present. For example, what do we mean when we say and debate the idea that Constitution is a living document? At the same time, we cannot know our rights, truly know and practice our rights, unless we understand them. And that rights are balanced by responsibilities and the importance of civic virtue and the common good.

To participate in civic life, we also need to understand how government works and how to take part in that government. This is more than simply voting; this is active engagement with fellow citizens and leaders in order to pursue change using the processes of government. And, again, we need note have a partisan perspective on this. The Tea Party movement of the previous decade is one form; the civil rights marches of the past century are another. Both seek to influence the levers and powers of government to pursue political, economic, or social change. But to do so effectively, we must help our students understand how government works and what influences government to take, or not take, action.

The idea of heroes, as presented in the list proposed by the Campaign, is to me a bit problematic and can lead to rather contentious debate. What do we mean by ‘political and civic heroes’? One person’s hero may be another person’s villain (as we see in the contentious debate over Confederate monuments). That does not mean, however, that this is a discussion to avoid. Indeed, we may find this debate a way in which we can model for our students the ways in which disagreements should be approach in a healthy civic culture. Whatever the choice we make, our heroes should reflect the types of engagement we want our children to have in civic life.

For me, most importantly, helping our students understand that engaging in civic life CAN make a difference is key. What networks can we form, what understandings can we refine, in order engage in civic life and pursue the common good?

Knowledge Matters

To me, without the competency of civic knowledge, the skills and dispositions are, to some great degree, worthless. If you lack understanding, how can you collaborate to make change? How can you engage in civic life? This does not serve as a call for rote memorization or some multiple choice test; rather, we need to teach our students how to find the information they need, how they may use the skills they have to interpret it, and, reflecting the desires of folks like Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster, and later Horace Mann, a common understanding and body of knowledge that is shared among all participants in civic life.

In a later post, we will take a look at the skills that can take advantage of this knowledge.

Celebrating Success

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is an organization that relies a great deal on the work of and collaboration between some very driven, dedicated, and passionate people. One of those people is our program coordinator, Ms. Peggy Renihan. Peggy has done a great deal of direct work with schools in an effort to help teachers and students become better civic learners and leaders, and she has spread the work and message of the FJCC across the northern part of Florida.

This weekend, Peggy graduates with her Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of West Florida. As educators, we never stop learning, and we never stop leading. Congratulations, Peggy, and thank you from your colleagues at the FJCC for all of the great work that you do.


Peggy Renihan stands with Dr. Doug Dobson (left), director of the Lou Frey Institute at UCF, and Bob Graham (right), former governor of and Senator from Florida

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.

civics360 cover

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.

Continue reading

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship: Who are we?



With apologies to Lewis Carroll, the time has come, I think, to talk of many things. These many things will be mostly just what the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is and what we do, as well as projects we have on the drawing board that can help civics educators in Florida and the nation.

What is the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship? 

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, or FJCC, is a partnership between the Lou Frey Institute at UCF and the Bob Graham Center at UF (hence the ‘Joint’ in our name).  While we are grateful to be associated with the wonderful folks at the Bob Graham Center, most of the small team here are associated with the Lou Frey Institute. Our funding is provided to the Lou Frey Institute through the state legislature, with all of the benefits, and drawbacks, that provides. The FJCC provides curricular resources for social studies and civics teachers in Florida and beyond. These curricular resources, available on our main website, are 100% free (though registration is required) and include, but are not limited to:

  • Civics in a Snap (CIAS): 15 to 20 minutes ‘mini-lessons’ that address the civic benchmarks and are aligned with Florida’s ELA Standards (and easily adaptable to Common Core and the social studies standards of other states)
  • Students Investigating Primary Sources (SIPS): This series of lessons, which range from 2nd through 12th grade, introduce students to primary sources around a variety of topics. They are intended to be somewhat short and simple to use while still providing some level of rigor. They are aligned with Florida’s ELA and social studies benchmarks (for civics, government, and/or US history)
  • Civics Correlation Guide to Current K-5  Reading Series: This resource is connected to all current K-5 reading series being used in Florida, and illustrates will you will find some level of alignment with civics benchmarks.
  • K-5 Civics Modules: These extended lessons are aligned with civics and ELA benchmarks.
  • 7th Grade Applied Civics Resources: Here, you will find 35 lessons that have been developed to teach, with fidelity, the assessed civics benchmarks. On the page link provided, you will find lesson plans, power points, teacher-oriented content videos, and assessment items, among other things.
  • Civics Connection: Developed in partnership with College Board and the United States Association of Former Members of Congress, the Civics Connection provides video-based, internet-delivered set of lessons that engages former members of Congress to help high school students understand Congress and the issues it faces. Videos and resources are aligned to the AP U.S. Government and Politics curriculum and may be used in other government classes as well.

Besides the resources listed above, we have also partnered with the National Archives to offer a webinar series around their quality primary sources (which you can get to through the links here and here). We have also begun our own ongoing webinar series for Florida teachers, which you can access here and here.

This summer, we will be partnering with the DBQ Project to work with elementary teachers in moving their DBQs towards an engaged citizenship model, which we are very excited about.

The most significant new project we are launching (which is usable now) is Civics360.  Civics360 is an interactive civics review tool to help Florida students improve their understanding of civics. Civics360 is funded by the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida and provided by the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, in collaboration with the Escambia County School District, and targets the civic knowledge and skills necessary to succeed on Florida’s Civics End of Course Assessment. I will have a post that provides an overview of Civics360 before the weekend.

We also, at this time, provide some level of face to face professional development. I was, for example, in St. Johns this week working with teachers there. If you are interested in PD, please feel free to contact me.


The Staff of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship

The FJCC has a small staff, but, we believe, a great one, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such wonderful people.

Dr. Doug Dobson: Dr. Dobson is the Executive Director of the Lou Frey Institute and a renowned advocate and leader in civics education in Florida and nationally. It is in many ways his leadership that helped the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act get passed.

Ms. Peggy Renihan: Ms. Renihan is FJCC’s program coordinator, based out of PAEC in the northern part of the state. In many ways, she is our ‘hands on’ person throughout the Panhandle and other areas of the state. She is one of the best PD professionals I have ever had the opportunity to work with.

Ms. Valerie McVey: Ms. McVey is the Curriculum Director for the FJCC, and our point person on curriculum development and resources. It is through her leadership, and the work of the rest of this great team and our collaborating teachers, that we have Civics in a Snap, Students Investigating Primary Sources, and our middle school lessons, among others.

Mr. Chris Spinale: Mr. Spinale has recently joined us as our new Action Civics Coordinator. He handles our mock election tools and resources, works on a variety of grant and curriculum related projects, and we will soon be planning an approach towards the C3 Framework and informed action.

Dr. Racine Jacques: Dr. Jacques is the brains behind the data. She provides us with data analysis on our our resources, as well as on civics teaching and learning in Florida and beyond.

Dr. Terri Susan Fine: Dr. Fine is a long time and well regarded professor here at UCF, within the political science department, and serves currently as our content specialist and as associate director of the Lou Frey Institute.

Dr. Elizabeth Washington: Dr. Washington is one of the most well-regarded social studies educators in the nation, and is a long time professor at the University of Florida. She currently serves as our pedagogy specialist.

Ms. Marcia Bexley: Ms. Bexley serves as the program manager of the Lou Frey Institute.  Marcia has worked with Congressman Lou Frey for the last 15+ years and shares his passion for Civics Education.  She’s our liaison with the Rotary Civics Bowl and raises money for us through the golf tournament she runs for LFI in joint with the National Center for Simulation, and her local outreach.

Mr. Mike Barnhardt: Mr. Barnhardt is our lead programmer and developer. Much of what you see of our web presence is his fine work, and we are excited to begin work on new iterations of that presence this summer, including an additional resource page, a dedicated webinar page, and more.

Mr. Lucas Cross: Mr. Cross has just joined us the assistant web developer.

Mr. Ryan Hill: Mr. Hill was brough on board to help develop the instructional design behind Civics360. We are very grateful for his work!

Ms. Shena Parks: Ms. Parks is the one behind the budget. She makes sure that our dreams are affordable. 🙂

Ms. Laura Stephenson: Ms. Stephenson is the executive assistant to Dr. Dobson, and in many ways the first person our colleagues and collaborators encounter. She keeps our schedules and makes sure this place runs smoothly.


There is a great deal more I can say about our partnerships and our work (with NARA and with the fine folks from CIRCLE, as well as leaders throughout Florida, for example), but I will save that for another time. If you have any questions about the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, please feel free to contact me at any time!

Social Studies/School-Related Legislation to be aware of in Florida


Good morning friends. It is important, I think, for us to all be aware of legislation that can impact our beloved field and our profession. Of course we all know what is happening at the national level, but remember that ultimately, education is a state-level issue. And so, dear friends, what legislation is on the agenda in the current Florida Legislative Session that might be relevant for us? I have summarized significant or relevant pieces below, but remember that you can track all bills in our state legislature!


House Bill 67: Public School Recess
Requires that K-5 students get minimum number of minutes of free-play recess each week and minimum number of consecutive minutes each day.
Likely to pass
As the parent of an active third grader, I think this is a great and necessary idea. We know that recess has positive effects on student learning, and that it has seen some level of decline as schools have focused more on assessment. One drawback of this, however, is that this may impact the already limited time elementary schools devote to the social studies. It is, indeed, a difficult balance to strike. 

House Bill 131: Mandatory Retention
Removes requirement for mandatory retention of 3rd graders based on ELA Assessment
Currently in committee
This is unlikely to have a huge impact on social studies, but it could have a significant impact on elementary schools and promotion/retention policies and approaches. 

House Bill 303: Religious expression in public school
Prohibits discrimination against students, parents, or school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression; requires districts to adopt limited public policy forum and deliver disclaimer at school events; requires DOE to develop and publish model policy and boards to adopt and implement it
Passed; moving on to governor

Senate Bill 392: High School Graduation Requirements
Adds .5 credit to social studies requirement in the form of a stand alone personal financial literacy course and money management. Reduces elective credits to 7.5.
Moving forward
The state of Florida has tried to implement some sort of personal financial literacy component for the past few years. This time, the bill seems more likely to pass. Obviously it increases social studies requirements for high school graduation, and will necessitate a re- balancing of teacher preps. Note that this is a stand alone course and NOT integrated into the traditional economics course. It also will have an impact on the arts and other electives, as students lose a half-credit there. 

House Bill 549: Student Assessment
Requires that DOE website publish any assessment administered or adopted during previous year. Expectation is every three years (see College Board as example)
Working through committees
This bill, if it passes, is likely to have a some level of financial impact on the state; currently, the DOE re-uses test items. If they are required to post older tests, they will then have to order the creation of even more items for a bank. 

Senate Bill 964: Education Accountability
Eliminates End of Course Assessments (including Civics and US History)
Passed Senate, on to House; likely outcome unknown
The House and Senate differ, generally, on the benefit of accountability measures. It should be noted that the passage of the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act and the existence of the civics EOCA provides social studies education with a much greater level of prominence and importance than it had prior to the act and the assessment. What happens to that if the assessment disappears? 

House Bill 989: Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education
Revises terminology, standards, and review and adoption processes relating to K-12 instructional materials; PROVIDES FOR OBJECTION BY CERTAIN PERSONS TO ADOPTION OF INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS; provides right to appeal school district decisions; REQUIRES DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARDS TO PROVIDE CERTAIN PERSONS FULL ACCESS TO MATERIALS IN SCHOOL LIBRARIES
On track in House and Senate
We are currently in an adoption cycle, and texts and resources for social studies are likely to have been selected before the requirements of this bill are implemented (should it pass). However, our science friends are likely to be impacted by this, and note that it allows anyone, not just parents, to object to curricular resources being used in schools. We have seen, in our state, vigorous debate over instruction in certain controversial issues in social studies; this will probably increase the amount of those discussions. 

House Bill 1023: Required K-12 Instruction
Revises requirements for instruction relating to Africa to include specific content relating to enslavement of African peoples; revises requirements for curriculum of required character education programs to include history of Africa and African-Americans
Still in early stages
Obviously this would fall under the social studies bailiwick. 

Senate Bill 1710: Education
Designates September as Founder’s Month; revises duties of ‘Just Read, Florida’ office to include developing resources for elementary schools; requires postsecondary students to demonstrate civic literacy.
Moving forward
The expectations of this bill reflect what we already teach in our US history, civics, and government courses. I am, honestly, not quite clear on the part that requires a demonstration of civic literacy by ‘postsecondary students’. This could be some sort of graduation test around civics, or it could be a civic assessment targeting college students. We will have to wait and see. 

Remember, always, to make your voice heard. As social studies teachers and as civic education professionals, let’s be models for our students, no matter where you stand on these or other bills.

Linking Literacy and Civic Action: A DBQ Project/FJCC Collaboration


We know that exposing students early to, and helping them contextualize and understand, primary sources is vital to helping them begin thinking within a disciplinary lens while also building literacy skills. This means that we really need to begin the work of social studies and civic education while our future citizens are still in elementary school. In pursuit of this idea, the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, in collaboration with the renowned folks over at the DBQ Project, are excited to offer an opportunity for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers to work together in extending the DBQ Project towards lessons around civic action. If you are at all familiar with the C3 Framework, this also fits wonderful within that ambitious effort at inculcating within our students a passion for civic engagement, inquiry, and informed action. Take a look at the flyer below. We do hope to see you here this summer, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work with you! For more information and to register, visit this page and sign on up!



Florida Council for the Social Studies 2017 Conference



Hello friends. The 2017 Florida Council for the Social Studies Conference is now accepting proposals for this fall.


This is the 60th annual conference for FCSS, and we expect some excellent opportunities for engagement with social studies teachers and leaders from across the state and country. The conference will be help on October 20-22, 2017 in Palm Harbor, Florida.

More information about the conference can be found on the FCSS homepage. We look forward to seeing you in Palm Harbor!

FJCC Webinar 2: Review, Remediation, and Reteaching for the Civics EOCA Now Available



Good morning, friends. Our recent webinar is now available! It discussed some resources and tools that you can use for reteaching, remediation, and review. You can view it below.

All resources and tools discussed in the webinar are available at Our next webinar will occur in June, and address understanding the the data you receive about the Civics EOCA.

Tolerance & Peace in Education Symposium to be held March 27 at the UCF Student Union

Good afternoon friends. I wanted to take a moment and share with you an upcoming symposium to be hosted next week at UCF. It is worth your time, especially in these troubled times.

The Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research & Studies, Lou Frey Institute, and the Partnership for Civic Learning, will be hosting a special symposium, “Teaching Tolerance & Peace in Education: American Experiences & International Lessons” on March 27, 2017 at Garden Key Room in the Student Union. The event will feature three visiting experts as well as a diverse group of community and educational leaders from Central Florida. The symposium will feature four sessions, including a working lunch, which will run from 9:15am-3:00pm.


The symposium will examine how education has played a central role in managing change over time – in economics, social norms, and increased global interdependence. In recent years, there have been grave challenges to peace and tolerance posed by extremism, political instability, economic inequality, and social unrest. Discussion will focus on the role education plays in promoting tolerance, ways to promote social unity on a national and international level, and the types of programs which promote these ideals. The symposium will also look at what can done to promote tolerance on the local level.


Sessions will be chaired by three visiting experts, Dr. James Gibson of the University of Washington in St. Louis Department of Political Science, Dr. Patricia Avery of the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, and Dr. Peter Levine of Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences. Gibson specializes in political psychology, political tolerance, and democratization. His work includes extensive experience in the Balkans and South Africa. One of the most accomplished scholars working on political socialization and education, Avery has worked on issues related to tolerance, civic identity/education, and teacher education for 35 years. Levine is the Associate Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Director of CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement).


“We are extremely honored to have three distinguished scholars participate in the symposium. We believe the event will encourage a very important and timely discussion of some of the issues we face at a local, national, and international level. We anticipate Drs. Gibson, Avery, and Levine, as well as an impressive list of local participants, will contribute to the development of concrete ideas and plans about promoting tolerance and peaceful decision-making,” noted David Dumke, Director of the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Program (PMBF).


Featured experts will provide background on key topics and steer conversation – as the goal of each session is to stimulate an open discussion of ideas among those who work, study and have a stake in education. After the symposium concludes, UCF will produce a detail paper summarizing findings, provide an overview of different approaches to the issues discusses, and identify projects and programs which promote the concepts of tolerance and peace in education and how they could be applied internationally, including in the Middle East region.


The symposium, which is funded in part through a grant provided by the Association for International Education Administrators, is open to faculty, staff, and students. For additional information or to RSVP, please contact Kinda Haddad at the PMBF Program at or by calling (407) 823-2510.

Registration Open for FJCC Webinar 2: Review and Remediation Resources for the Civics EOCA

Good morning, friends in Civics. We are happy to announce that registration is now open for our next webinar. This webinar will focus on review and remediation resources for Civics End-of-Course Assessment. Hosted by the team of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, we will provide a number of tools, links, resources, and strategies to help you get your kids ready for that assessment.

The Webinar will be held March 29, 2017, from 4:30-5:30 EST. 

Registration will close on March 28th at 6pm EST. 

You can register for the webinar here or use 

The GOTO access link will be shared with all registrants after registration closes. We look forward to having you join us!