By Allie Niese

On March 13 I attended the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition's Annual Convening. The purpose of the convening was to share best practices for civic education, satisfy our own needs for civic learning, and spark action toward civic learning policy. I had a great time at the convening and took away at least three major ideas I'd like to share with you, the first of which is #BRINGCIVICSBACK. This hashtag serves as a reminder of how absent civic learning has been in our school for the past 50 years. Let me remind you that civic learning doesn't equate to a government class, new up lppa history class, or a constitution test alone. Civics is more than facts and figures, it is characterized by knowledge made active in the pursuit of fulfillment in our role of American citizen.

What Civic Learning Is and Means to Me

Civic learning should: teach us about our Constitution, the foundations of our government; it should teach us the history of our nation, ignoring neither the heroes or villains we've been; it should introduce us to the methods for political action and how to create change for issues we care deeply about; it should culture us not to ignore the news and see relevancy in events that take place everyday; and, it should prepare us for action as engaged citizens.

We don't all need to be the next president, but we all need to remember that we--as a sum--are the only thinking standing between a future that is bright and full of promise and one wherein our neglect leads to the destruction of a set of ideas and principles. Principles which first bound our adopted ancestors together to create a new nation, founded on liberty and built by the firm belief in the right of citizens to be a crucial element of the creation and exercise of government.  To deny civic learning to ourselves and to our children denies and erodes that belief. Who are we as Americans if not a nation founded on the very principle that the people's right to be actors in their government is indispensable? Who are we if we forget that truth and substitute learning that preserves our democracy for learning that only grows our economic station in the world? I do not wish to imply that a focus on the maths, sciences, and technology is ill-founded, but I hope that we do not forget the importance of also preserving our democracy.  If we continue to do so, I have little doubt that our disconnected and disengaged populace will only grow, dissolving our principles completely and destroying a powerful force in the world by negligence. We once fought a war to ensure that we could have the right to engage in active citizenship. We need to bring back civics to honor that sacrifice and all the sacrifices since by those who still belief that this nation has principles worth fighting for.

So, please share #BRINGCIVICSBACK on your own social media platforms and reach out to your Congressmen and women, your state representatives, your governor, your neighbors, and your family. Talk about what it means to be an engaged citizen and be disturbed by the fact we rarely teach the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in school. Together, we can create noise that will spark action to remedy this sad state of affairs and #BRINGCIVICSBACK.

Civic Learning in Illinois

The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition has worked hard to spread the message of civic learning and has gotten two bills introduced to the Illinois General assembly: one to require all high schools in Illinois to have a civic course in their curriculum required by students, and a second providing professional development to teachers in the area of civic learning. You can learn more about the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and sign a change.org petition on civic learning policy. Illinois HB4025 is currently making its way through the Illinois General Assembly’s House of Representatives with a great deal of support (if passed, this would amend our school code to make a true civics course a graduation requirement). Please read up on the bill here and help us support this legislation as it moved into full House debate and then hopefully into the Senate.

Civic Learning's Benefits (if it wasn't already clear)

If you were wondering, here is a short list of benefits of quality civic education, as provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in Chicago:

  1. Strengthens the basic understanding of our structures of government, along with related processes of legislation and policy making.
  2. Enhances "21st century competencies" that are valued by colleges, universities, and employers.
  3. Closes the civic achievement gap across race, ethnicity, income, and parental education attainment.
  4. Lowers high school dropout rates.
  5. Creates a positive school climate that supports students feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe.
  6. Builds news literacy skills necessary for gathering information to make reasoned decisions on critical issues affecting your country.
  7. Increases volunteerism and work on community issues.
  8. Enhances democratic accountability of elected official.
  9. Improves government transparency.
  10. Increased voting a discussions of politics in the home.

Contact Us

Master of Science in Education School of Education & Social Policy

618 Garrett Place
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/467-1458

Email: msedprogram@northwestern.edu