Educating for American Democracy initiative releases roadmap to strengthen civic education

West Hall is pictured reflected on the door to Tisch College at Barnum Hall on Feb. 21, 2020. Patrick Milewski / The Tufts Daily

A team of 300 civic leaders and scholars involved in the Educating for American Democracy initiative, an unprecedented effort to improve and advise history and civics classes at all grade levels nationwide, recently released a roadmap and report of their findings. The materials aim to strengthen the nation’s civic education and create civically-engaged citizens during this period of heightened political polarization and inequality.

The EAD project report was authored by the initiative’s executive committee, which includes scholars from various universities and organizations, including Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Peter Levine of Tufts. Kawashima-Ginsberg is the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Levine is the associate dean of academic affairs and the Lincoln Filene professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tisch College. 

Trumbull Professor of American History and Pforzheimer Foundation Director at Harvard University Jane Kamensky, who is also on the executive committee with Kawashima-Ginsberg and Levine, outlined multiple indications of the United States’ failing civic education standards in a livestreamed EAD national forum. 

“One indicator is that the 2018 Napes civics exam shows that less than a quarter of eighth-graders scored proficient or above in civics and that the history results were even worse: only 15% as proficient or above,” Kamensky said. 

She added that a further issue with civic education in the United States is the lack of investment.

“We now invest about $50 a student each year in the important STEM fields, yet only five cents per student per year on civics,” Kamensky said.

As a result, Kamensky highlighted how the current citizenry and electorate are poorly prepared to understand, appreciate and effectively engage in the country’s demanding form of self-government. 

In response to these failing standards, the roadmap aims to strengthen the civic education of the United States and offers guidance for educators, scholars and legislators to effectively teach civics. 

The roadmap contains seven themes, including “civic participation,” “we the people,” “a new government and constitution” and “a people in the world.” Each of these themes consists of overarching questions and key concepts divided by grade level. The roadmap is not a curriculum but an advisory framework with content guidance and educational strategies to help state and city governments improve civic education. 

Kawashima-Ginsberg explained how EAD’s work will be beneficial.

“The main purpose of EAD is to envision a more bold and comprehensive civic preparation of all students in the United States, so that they have all the knowledge skills and disposition necessary to effectively participate in a democratic society,” Kawashima-Ginsberg wrote in an email to the Daily.

Louise Dubé, the executive director of iCivics and another member of the executive committee, echoed Kawashima-Ginsberg in the national forum.

“We want 60 million students to have access to high quality history and civic learning opportunities, a million educators to be EAD ready and 100,000 schools to be civic ready by 2030,” Dubé said. 

Levine emphasized that, due to the decentralized nature of the American governments, it is difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to reach these goals.  

“If you try to come up with one model, or one policy, it’s just not going to be adopted,” Levine said. 

This explains why the EAD team did not build an in-depth curriculum or syllabus. According to Levine, the ideological, demographic and age diversity within schools would mitigate the beneficial impacts of the civic education curriculum. 

Appropriately, the roadmap consists of numerous ways to implement civic education nationwide.

“The logistics of the implementation include developing and supporting coordinated strategies at the local, state and tribal government levels while the Federal government invests in data infrastructure to make sure that students are getting high-quality civic learning opportunities,” Kawashima-Ginsberg said. 

She added that the EAD’s immediate goals include curating ready-to-use resources and exploring pilot projects so EAD can be implemented in real classrooms.

The EAD project team has been brainstorming methods to distribute and publicize the roadmap across the United States. Levine, for example, envisions sustained federal funding with select state and school districts as partners and textbook resources, but sees everyone working on something different.

“I’ve been working with McGraw Hill, the textbook publisher,” Levine said. “That is one place that I’m putting some of my attention, but not all of us would do the same.”

The EAD team ultimately hopes that teachers, students and government officials can embrace disagreement, inquiry and agency through the implementation of the civic education roadmap.


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