Civics and Comparative Religion Belong in Public School, Survey Says

Every year, Phi Delta Kappa—an organization that has been connecting and supporting educators since 1906—conducts a poll called “The PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.” The annual poll measures opinions on a variety of topics related to K–12 education. This year, pollsters asked 2,389 Americans 61 questions. The survey revealed widespread discontentment among teachers, considerable parental support for a teachers’ strike, and concerns about a lack of financial support for public schools.

Some surprising results regarding curriculum content emerged this year: 97 percent of American parents and adults overall believe civics should be taught in public school, with two-thirds of this group saying it should be a requirement. In addition, 77 percent say students should have the option of taking a comparative religion class and 58 percent say bible study should be available.

Aligning public schools with these findings would require some major shifts in current practice. Presently, just 36 states require students to study civics, and only eight mandate a yearlong course. And the inclusion of the bible in public schooling has been much less common since 1963, when the U.S. Supreme Court put strict limits on bible reading in public schools.

Jeffrey Guhin, a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UCLA, weighed in to CultureFeed on the survey’s curriculum findings—and in the areas of both civics and comparative religion, offered support with a note of caution.

Guhin studies how moral life works in schools and religious groups and is writing two books, each featuring case studies of American high schools. While Guhin endorses the idea of civic education, he cautioned that if people’s desire is to increase civic engagement, disappointment is probably inevitable.

“I’m skeptical of civics programs for the outcomes most people want,” Guhin said. “If the outcome they want is knowledge, they can be helpful. But if the outcome they want is greater participation in government or civic-mindedness, the most effective tool is probably not a class.”

Guhin mentioned the “more information hypothesis”—the idea that the more we know, the more our behavior changes. This, he said, is almost always false.

“These classes are great for learning how a bill becomes a law and about the different branches of government, but they don’t necessarily lead to attitudinal or political changes in behavior like voting more,” he said.

This kind of change is best accomplished through involvement in activities like the Boy Scouts and ROTC, Guhin said. In addition, he noticed during his research that smaller schools—both public and private—have an easier time fostering a sense of mission and community, elements that may be important to inspiring civic engagement.

“My hunch is that the more a school can have a sense of mission and community, the more effective it will be at giving students a sense of being a citizen of the school, and then also of the community and the world,” Guhin said. “At a big school, it’s hard to do that.”

Guhin also noted that a teacher’s passion is more critical to inspiring students’ civic participation than the content of a curriculum. He said, “You can’t guarantee all kids will love poetry, but a charismatic teacher will make that a lot more likely. It’s the same with civics; the charisma of the teacher can have that effect.”

Guhin agreed that comparative religion could be an important addition to public school curricula.

“Religion is a huge part of people’s lives,” he said. “We absolutely should raise the awareness of religion in American history, of world religions, of the role of religion in history. I am concerned about how, in some parts of America, it would play out. But I think that among some secular people, there is a knee-jerk reaction against learning anything about religion, which is silly and anti-intellectual.”

However, he was cautious about the idea of public school students offering a class wholly devoted to the bible, even when couched in a “bible as literature” class.

“I observed a bible as literature class, and it really was evangelization class,” he said. “The teacher covered his bases, but he would take off hats and put on hats in the course of the class. I often feel as though ‘bible as literature’ is a smokescreen to get the bible back as a moralizing force in schools.”



Civic Education and the Voting Booth

With the primary season now underway, a study has just been released finding that a network of charter schools appears to have improved students’ civic participation as adults through a focus on attitudes and activities, not just knowledge. The findings could prove valuable for schools in other sectors, from traditional public schools to religious and independent schools.

The study comes at a time of frequent pessimism over students’ proficiency in civics. Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown of the Center for American Progress have written:

While the 2016 election brought a renewed interest in engagement among youth, only 23 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam, and achievement levels have virtually stagnated since 1998. In addition, the increased focus on math and reading in K–12 education—while critical to preparing all students for success—has pushed out civics and other important subjects.

Shapiro and Brown also note that “state civics curricula are heavy on knowledge but light on building skills and agency for civic engagement.” This omission may be contributing to low voter turnout and lean participation in local politics.


Policymakers have tried to remedy the situation through various means, including making the test for naturalization as a US citizen a high school graduation requirement. reported,

Recently, 14 states considered bills to incorporate content from the naturalization test. Four states—Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington—adopted those bills into law. Twenty states already had requirements related to that test: Some require passing an exam based on it to graduate from high school; others loop it into a half-credit civics requirement.

However, there is a difference between passing a class or a test and becoming civically engaged as an adult. In Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New GenerationDavid Campbell argues for the vital importance of a school’s “ethos” in predicting long-term civic engagement. He writes,

By ethos, I mean the norms encouraged, shared, and “enforced” within a school community—such as interpersonal trust and an expectation of public engagement. While perhaps not as easy to observe as classroom instruction, extant research indicates that a school’s ethos has a substantial, and enduring, effect on the civic engagement of its students.

The idea of a pervasive and reinforced ethos is further explored in The Content of Their Character: Inquiries into the Varieties of Moral Formation, which discusses the importance of a “thick” moral ecology in the shaping of character and citizenship.


The kind of ethos described by Campbell, characterized specifically by an “expectation of public engagement,” has been the stated focus of a network of open-enrollment, high-performing charter schools called Democracy Prep. Serving more than 6,500 students in five cities, mostly from low-income families of color, its mission is “to educate responsible citizen-scholars for success in the college of their choice and life of active citizenship.”


If a life of active citizenship can be at least partially measured by adult voting registration and voting rates, Democracy Prep is succeeding. Mathematica Policy Research, founded in 1968, recently conducted a study comparing Democracy Prep graduates with individuals who were not selected by the random entrance lottery. Mathematica reported that


  • We find a 98 percent probability that enrolling in Democracy Prep produced a positive impact on voter registration, and a 98 percent probability that enrolling produced a positive impact on voting in the 2016 election.
  • Democracy Prep increases the voter registration rates of its students by about 16 percentage points and increases the voting rates of its students by about 12 percentage points.


This proof of adult engagement after graduation is arresting, and it naturally prompts the question, How did they do it? According to founder Seth Andrew, learning facts about civics is not enough. Democracy Prep’s approach is threefold, emphasizing civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic dispositions in a deliberate sequence. He told Education Next:

We need more civics taught in middle and high schools, but that doesn’t mean having a boring one-semester course requirement. It means creating outcome expectations around civic skills and knowledge. Lots of states now mandate x amount of civics in high school. I think that’s the wrong way to think about it, because it focuses on input as opposed to outcomes. In the Democracy Prep civic-outcomes model, we actually don’t teach “civics.” There is no standalone “civics” course. However, there is a course on the “sociology of change,” a course on economics, and a senior seminar on American democracy. We require a “change the world” project for seniors, and we hold Election Day get-out-the-vote campaigns at least once every year … What we’re trying to do is remind the world that “civic education” is not about a specific course; it’s about the public purpose of education and putting citizenship first.

Democracy Prep’s emphasis on citizenship is unusual. But the researchers who studied its success pointed out,

its success in raising the registration and voting rates of the low-income minority students it serves provides a proof point for charter schools and conventional public schools alike: an education focused on preparation for citizenship can in fact increase students’ civic participation when they reach adulthood. Renewed attention to the foundational purpose of public schools might broadly increase civic participation across the country.

A long-term study of a school’s impact on students’ behavior post-graduation—complete with a valid control group—is a rarity, and the findings of this one are particularly encouraging. Beyond an affirmation of the efforts of Democracy Prep, they may point the way for other schools seeking to instill civic engagement. And in a country where young people are often characterized as politically apathetic, this is good news indeed.

NY students interview vets, use stories to create interactive book

Fourth graders in Pittsford, New York’s Thornell Road Elementary School are making some new friends in their community and chronicling their stories in a book about service and sacrifice.

Teacher Toni Stevens-Oliver’s class recently interviewed 23 veterans from the Rayson-Miller American Legion Post 899 to get an intimate understanding of why they joined the service and how it shaped their lives. The students then chronicled the stories in a new book called “Veteran’s Voices” – which also features an online app to view videos of the veterans in their own words, WHAM reports.

“The book was a way for us to connect one-on-one personally a student with a veteran and get to know each other through the veteran telling their story and the student writing that story,” Stevens-Oliver told the news site.

The veterans “were blown away by the interest the students showed, the respect the children showed,” she said. “We hope our book inspires people to ask their local veterans what their story is.”

Students told WHAM they learned a lot from the class project.

“Freedom isn’t free, and the veterans sacrificed a lot of things,” student James Kazacos said. “They sacrificed time with their family, holidays.”

“They are just like normal people, except that they step up and do a job that takes courage,” classmate Jake Schreyer added.

Al Herdkoltz, commander of the Rayson-Miller post, said the effort gives him hope the stories of local veterans will not be forgotten.

“They actually had an interest and they were my friends,” he said. “I felt very comfortable and at ease. I felt I had a new friendship even though there was quite a bit of age difference, they were my friends.”

Steven-Oliver shared the project on Shutterfly and posted supporting documents to her Pittsford Schools website as a template for teachers looking to pursue a similar project. The school page also features a special shout out from Sen. Rich Funke acknowledging students’ hard work.

“To take the time to not only interview our veterans, but to take those interviews and incorporate them into an interactive book was special, not just to them but to all of us who care about our veterans,” Funke said in a video message.

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than students’ self-interests. In The Content of Their Character, researchers noted how rural schools are particularly strong at fostering connections to broader spheres of moral obligation through immigration, religion and the military.

“In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the U.S.,” researchers wrote, great teachers “were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills.”

Much of the work centers on gratitude, and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a plethora of research on the subject, including the public’s perception of gratitude and links between the virtue and service.

“More recently, the Centre has extended its focus on gratitude by examining the effects of teaching interventions on comprehensions of gratitude and related virtues,” according to the website.

IN history teacher brings Pledge of Allegiance to life through personal connections

Greensburg High School history teacher John Pratt is bringing the Pledge of Allegiance to life in a unique way that’s inspiring students to think big.

Pratt explained his very simple idea for the pledge to the Indianapolis Star: “Each day we have someone different from the community in to lead us.”

So far, those people have included Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, astronaut David Wolf, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, journalists and cartoonists for the Star, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and dozens of other inspiring characters.

In some cases those who participate call in, or video conference, while others visit the rural school in person to connect with students. Pratt told the Star that arranging a new person to lead the pledge each day can be a chore, but it’s a worthwhile effort to offer up role models who love and respect America.

“I love saying the pledge every day because it gives me an opportunity to thank those who served our country,” he said. “In particular those in my family.”

Many of the distinguished guests share inspiring stories with students that encourage them to dream big, a concept Pratt first developed as a teacher near Lake Chautauqua, New York two decades ago. There, Pratt revived a 19th century program called Chautauqua that brought in notable speakers to share their unique lives. Many had overcome life-altering challenges, such as the Holocaust, life without a limb, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

And while the program at Greensburg High School involves less interaction than the in-depth lectures in New York, it’s clearly inspiring students to reflect on their civic responsibilities and character.

“It’s an awesome project that Mr. Pratt put together. It makes you more attentive,” Greenburg High School senior Walker Taylor told the Star. “It makes you want to put more effort into the pledge because there is someone with a different history in here every day.”

Pratt believes it’s a program all schools could benefit from to make significant broader impact.

“I teach students to be idealists. And wouldn’t it be cool if once a month every school had a guest leader for the Pledge of Allegiance?” he told the Star. “There are hundreds of dignitaries in Indiana. Wouldn’t it be great if each one took 60 seconds out of the schedule to phone in the Pledge of Allegiance with any school. Think of the value that would have.”

Research from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia shows parents undoubtedly support Pratt’s mission.

A 2016 survey summarized in “The Vanishing Center of American Democracy” found that “eight of 10 (respondents) … agree that ‘America is an exceptional nation with a special responsibility to lead the world.’

“Overwhelmingly (93%), they also describe themselves as patriotic,” according to the report.

Educators considering their role in promoting patriotism in students could consider education activist Diane Ravitch’s article “Should We Teach Patriotism?

Ravitch reviews her take on the history of patriotism in American schools, as well as thoughts on the proper way to convey the concept to students.

“If … we teach civic education and define patriotism as a respectful understanding and appreciation of the principles and practices of democratic self-government, then patriotism should be woven through the daily life and teachings of the public schools,” Ravitch wrote.


Texas teen fights expulsion for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance

A Texas high schooler is fighting to reverse an expulsion decision for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, an act of defiance she argues is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

“I don’t think that the flag is what it says it’s for, for liberty and justice and all that,” Windfern High School senior India Landry said last year after she was sent home. “It’s not obviously what’s going on in America today.”

Kizzy Landry, the now 18-year-old student’s mother, contends school officials initially would not provide details about why the girl was expelled last year, though a principal later said “she can’t come to my school if she won’t stand for the pledge,” USA Today reports.

India told KHOU she sat through the pledge on previous occasions without issue, despite state law that requires a parent’s signature to do so. The situation prompted the Landrys to file a federal lawsuit against the Cy-Fair Independent School District, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened in the lawsuit late last month to defend the expulsion.

“Schoolchildren cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge,” Paxton said in a statement, which also noted Texas is one of 26 states that require a parent’s signature. “Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country.”

Laundry’s attorney, Randall Kallinen, shrugged off Paxton’s involvement as a political ploy, and noted the punishment came one week after President Trump criticized NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

“We are confident that, based upon the law, that Ms. Landry will prevail and she will once again be able to sit for the pledge of allegiance,” he told KHOU.

An informal survey by KHOU found roughly 85 percent of viewers online agreed with the effort to require students to stand for the Pledge, while only 15 percent believe students have the right to choose.

That’s seemingly consistent with a 2016 survey by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture outlined in “The Vanishing Center of American Democracy.”

The study found:

“Eight of ten (81%) (of respondents) … agree that ‘America is an exceptional nation with a special responsibility to lead the world.’ Overwhelmingly (93%), they also describe themselves as patriotic.”

The American Civil Liberties Union offers resources for students and teachers that outline free speech rights in public schools, covering topics from silent protests, to walkouts, to political clothing in the classroom.

“If you’re a public school student, you don’t check your constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors,” according to the ACLU website. “But whether schools can punish you for speaking out depends on when, where, and how you decide to express yourself.”


Students march on September 11 to honor first responders

Students at Muskogee, Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Center may not fully understand the gravity of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but they’re getting a sense of the American spirit that brought the country together in the wake of that horrific day.

“This is great to see 4-year-old children honor and remember what this day means for our country,” District Attorney Orvil Loge told the Muskogee Phoenix as children paraded down Broadway waiving tiny American flags.

The youngsters spent the 17th anniversary of 9/11 participating in an annual march the school has held since 2002 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, as well as local first responders who keep the community safe.

“Ever since then, it’s just gotten bigger and better,” ECC Principal Malinda Lindsey said.

Lindsay told the news site the intent is to focus on character virtues like cooperation, respect and citizenship, while getting kids out in the community to show their patriotism.

This year’s march kicked off with an assembly to give thanks to veterans and first responders, followed by a walk to the Muskeogee Public Schools Board of Education Service and Technology Center, where administrators dolled out cookies and congratulations.

A large fire truck, police cruisers and an ambulance escorted the children, who wore crafted paper hats, American flags and chanted “USA, USA!”

“It’s so fun to just watch them walk down the street,” Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall told the Phoenix. “They seem to be really excited about it.”

The superintendent said the march is part of the district’s effort to promote citizenship “and being part of our country.”

“And I think this starts early,” he said. “Doing this parade is one of those moments you can do that with kids and teach them it’s really important to be a good citizen and celebrate being an American.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture point out that the way school teach citizenship matters as much as the content of citizenship because character and citizenship are formed through shared social practices.

IASC founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character”:

Character is not … solitary, autonomous, unconstrained; merely a set of traits within a unique and unencumbered personality. Character is very much social in its constitution. It is inseparable from the culture within which it is found and formed.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching offers numerous resources for educators and others to help students develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to participate as active and responsible citizens.

Those resources include a Citizenship Curriculum, as well as projects, journals, awards and other advice.

AL schools connect students with heroes from history to develop character and civic responsibility

Dothan City Schools is launching a new civics education initiative that will help connect hundreds of Alabama middle school students with role models from American history to tackle subjects like character development, civic responsibility, financial literacy and others.

“Not everyone has great examples of character building in our lives, so to have a component like this in our school system, where we are investing again in our youth, is a huge peace that will come back to pay large dividends for our community,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said at a press conference announcing the new “American Character Program” in August.

The program is a joint venture between DCS, the Liberty Learning Foundation, and the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, which donated $30,000 to bring the program to about 650 students at Girard, Honeysuckle, Beverlye Magnet, and Carver middle schools, the Dothan Eagle reports.

Patti Yancey, who founded the Liberty Learning Foundation provide “civic education programs and live experience that improve child, community and country,” told those in attendance at the Girard Middle School press conference that the 10- to 12-week program focused on building students’ character wouldn’t be possible without buy in from school officials and other local leaders.

“One person can’t do it by themselves; one organization can’t do it by themselves,” she said. “(DCS Superintendent) Dr. Edwards, (DCS Director of Curriculum) Teresa Davis, and (DCS Board Chairman) Mike Schmitz are just great at putting their money where their mouth is, and putting their purpose where their mouth is of truly seeing the whole child and not just the academic side.”

Darius McKay, principal of Girard Middle School, agreed that the American Character Program will undoubtedly have a positive impact on students in the school this year, but said he expects a ripple effect that could carry over for years to come.

“(When siblings of middle school students) look up to their middle school brother or sister and see they’re setting a good example, that may rub off on you,” McKay said. “(The program) will encourage students to have conversations about doing the right thing and honoring your country and things of that nature.”

“As our kids have conversations about what’s right to do,” he said, “incidents of wrong things won’t happen.”

James Davison Hunter, author of “The Death of Character,” points out that helping students develop a sense of morality – through historic role models or other means – is a crucial component of effective character education.

“(W)e must acquire a moral sensibility – we learn what is right and wrong, good and bad, what is to be taken seriously, ignored, or rejected as abhorrent – and we learn, in moments of uncertainty, how to apply our moral imagination to different circumstances,” Hunter wrote. “Over time, we acquire a sense of obligation and the discipline to follow them.”

For students and adults alike, the sense of obligation comes with a desire to help others through service projects or other contributions to the community. The nonprofit Learning to Give offers a starting point for helping students develop their passion, or “spark,” and “build self-efficacy, empathy for others, and confidence in one’s ability to do something to make a difference in the world.”

“Developing and nurturing one’s spark is the result of a three-part formula. First, you have to know your spark. Second, you need three champions (family, school, community) who help you develop your spark. Third, you must have the opportunity and the freedom to develop your spark,” according to “When students follow this formula, they not only find their spark, they thrive with it and experience school success, engagement, compassion and a sense of purpose.”


New WA civics standards raise concerns about political bias

Ed Pole, Washington state resident and member of The Olympian newspaper’s Board of Contributors, wants parents and educators to weigh in on the state’s new civics standards to ensure they’re not implemented with a political agenda.

In a recent editorial, Pole outlined new civics requirements under SHB 1896, approved by the state legislature last year, and concerns about how schools will frame the discussion. The bill requires students to earn half a credit in high school civics to graduate, and it states lessons should cover all levels of government, state and U.S. constitutions, and current electoral issues, as well as values and “character traits” defined in the state education code.

Students must pass a U.S. citizenship test, and the new law also calls for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop training materials and learning opportunities for educators across the state.

Pole wrote:

At first blush this seems like a good bill, benign or even admirable. A bit of reflation reveals a note of caution. The content of these courses and materials should be of concern. The character traits are ones that almost all would support. However, no mention is made of natural law nor English common law – both of which the United States is founded. Will issues such as the Second Amendment, citizenship, speech, and federal versus state powers be discussed in a politically neutral manner? Will the 9th and 10th Amendments even be discussed? (I consider them the most important and most neglected of the first 10.)

I am disturbed that the content of the courses and the education of the teachers will have little input from the public, especially parents. Given the nature of education courses at universities over the last 20 to 30 years, the content of the courses are likely to be politically skewed. I fear group rather than individual identity is likely to be the focus, and group rights rather than individual rights will take precedence. I’m concerned that hierarchy and power will be blamed for wrongs rather than individual actions.

Pole concluded by calling on parents to dig into how the new civics curriculum will be implemented in their child’s school, to examine information and materials on the state website, and to take action to ensure the new requirements accomplish what they’re designed to do: educate students about how government works, and their obligations as good citizens.

The call to action is in itself a lesson in civics – one that speaks to the importance of connecting with communities for truly effective education.

Sociologist James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education”:

Individuals are social creatures inextricably embedded in their communities. As such, their identity, their most meaningful relationships, and their morality can only develop from a healthy connection to the social fabric of which they are a part.

Educators focused on teaching civics through strong connections to their communities can find a wide variety of resources at the Center for Civic Education, which provides “teacher links” for everything from authentic assessment, civic education organizations, and historical documents, to lesson plans, national standards, and public policy.

California teacher promotes civics to confront ‘selfish’ student stereotype

Mission San Jose High School teacher Jeffery Alves wants students to focus less on themselves and more on what they can do for others.

The Fremont, California teacher learned about complaints from colleges about “selfish” students focused more on their academic achievement than civic and social issues, and crafted two courses designed to better engage students in government and their communities, the East Bay Times reports.

“I thought this would be a great course for the kids in Fremont because we really focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) a lot, and I think social sciences is kind of forgotten sometimes,” Alves told the news site.

“Civics really works to get them aware of their rights, their responsibilities, but also how to engage in civic dialogue, and how to participate, whether it’s in a company or in politics.”

The courses, implemented last school year, prompt students to take action by writing letters to the editor, creating fundraisers, and starting student clubs, among other projects aimed at advocating for others or challenging the status quo.

“That’s what we want,” Alves said. “We want active, productive, positive citizens.”

Meera Sehgal, a 14-year-old at Mission San Jose who took the class said it’s helped him “develop more as a person.”

“Mission as an atmosphere is quite competitive. Luckily, my personal family, they don’t really push me too hard, but I definitely see other kids here struggling a lot. Because the thing with immigrant parents is they try to push you to succeed a lot. I think that can be detrimental to some kids,” she said.

“If they take a class like this, which shows you that there’s more to life than just your grades, I think that can really help break out of that single focus.”

Jeff Guhin, a UCLA sociologist and researcher with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote about the obsession with personal achievement in urban public schools he visited for a chapter in “The Content of Their Character,” an analysis of character education in a variety of schools.

After extensive interviews with students, teachers and administrators, as well as observations in classes, assemblies and other venues like sporting events, Guhin noted that “self-actualization was by far the most important moral idea in any of the schools, on both an aggregate and individual level.

“It represented what schools were supposed to do according to administrators and to district, state, and federal programs,” he wrote. “It was what the teachers and principals wanted for the students, and what the students themselves wanted.”

The renewed focus on civics at Mission San Jose High School is one example of how educators can successfully redirect students to focus more how they can serve others through civic participation.

The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues offers resources, such as “A Framework for Character Education in Schools,” that can help educators bolster moral and citizenship education in their classrooms.

The Framework delves into the intersection of character and civics through a look at the psychology of moral development, the virtues of good character, and the important role teachers play in character development.


AR teachers recognized for connecting students to history, promoting civic engagement

Hot Springs Arkansas Intermediate School social studies teacher Pamela Wallace takes her Declaration of Learning seriously.

The sixth-grade teacher, along with Lake Hamilton High School librarian Jil’Lana Heard, was recently recognized for dedication to the Arkansas education initive, which was created in 2013 to connect students with history and promote civic engagement.

The Sentinel-Record reports:

The program uses historic art and objects from state and national museums and libraries to develop innovative lesson plans centered around civic engagement …

Wallace said … that because of the program, students are aware of constitutional rights and ways to be contributing citizens to their communities.

Wallace and Heard, who were presented with awards from Gov. Asa Hutchinson for their efforts, were among 26 educators who took part in the 2017-18 program.

“I’m so proud of Mrs. Wallace’s accomplishment,” Hot Springs School District associate superintendent Becky Rosburg said. “She is an awesome social studies teacher and I know she will take what she learned in the program and implement it into her lessons. Her sixth-graders are going to love going to social studies class next year.”

Wallace said “the program impacted the future leaders’ views of active citizenship in the local community with each knowing that citizenship is more than voting.”

Heard, who mentored other Declaration of Learning teachers, added that helping to connect students with real artifacts from history is a rewarding experience.

“My participants took strategies learned at the summit and engaged their students into making a difference in their community,” she said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to watch these amazing educators grow.”

In his book “The Death of Character,” Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture founder James Davison Hunter points to esteemed sociologist Charles Moskos’ perspective on the importance of developing a shared sense of civic virtue.

“ …(A)s Charles Moskos put it, ‘because of the relative weakness of other forms of community …, our cohesion depends upon a civic ideal rather than on primordial loyalties,’” Hunter wrote. “In this way, service-learning as a vehicle of civic education can be a means by which communities are drawn together again.”

The Declaration of Learning is one of many civics programs gaining momentum in schools across the country in recent years.

The Center for Civic Education is another that offers a framework for civics called CIVITAS, which “sets forth in detail the civic knowledge, skills, dispositions, and commitments necessary for effective citizenship in the 21st century.”

The CIVITAS program was crafted with the help of nearly four dozen scholars that promotes “civic competence and responsibility among young people and encourages their participation in the political and civic life of their communities and the nation,” according to its website.

“Presented in clear, easy-to-use format, CIVITAS is a valuable resource. Major topics are civic virtue, civic participation, and civic knowledge and skills.”