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David Feith

Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education

In the latest in our case studies series on teaching citizenship in charter schools, David Feith, an editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal and editor of Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, takes a look at the way that UNO charter schools in Chicago approach civic education. The UNO Charter School network is one of the two largest charter operators in Illinois, and the nation’s largest with a focus on the Hispanic community.

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Action Civics: Round II

On Tuesday, we highlighted some differing responses to the Education Department’s new report, “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy.” Much of the debate centers around how much schools (and the federal government) should focus on traditional classroom civics education (emphasizing knowledge about government and American democracy, e.g.) versus a newer model of “action civics,” which focuses on civic participation and service learning.

Yesterday, Teaching America editor David Feith entered the fray.

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2011 Top books for citizenship

Inspired by our friends at NCoC and the Claremont Institute, the Program thought it would try its hand at a best-of-the-year list for books on citizenship:

  • What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, edited by Amy A. Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub. An anthology of 74 great American short stories, speeches, and songs. Reacquaint yourself with classics, both old and new, with selections by Jack London, Edward Everett Hale, Frederick Douglass, Ring Lardner, O. Henry, Flannery O’Connor, and many more.
  • Conserving Liberty by Mark Blitz. A spirited defense of American civic virtue. Claremont McKenna College professor Mark Blitz reminds us that individual liberty alone cannot produce happiness. To secure our rights and use them successfully, we need certain virtues: responsibility, toleration, individual excellence, and self-government.
  • Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education. Editor David Feith lines up a cast of civic-minded all-stars–Rick Hess (AEI), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Bruce Cole (Hudson Institute), and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–to argue for reinvigorating civic education in our nation’s schools. Look for great things to come as Feith launches the Civic Education Initiative with top charter network Democracy Prep Public Schools.
  • Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society. Another fine volume on the importance of civic education by noted scholar William Damon. Damon was moved to write Failing Liberty after interviewing American high-school students about what U.S. citizenship meant to them. The results, as described in this book, are deeply troubling, raising “the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it.”
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Boot camp for citizens

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz reviews Teaching America, a collection of essays on the need for civic education, edited by Program friend David Feith:

The case for civic education—what might have been called “civics” in an earlier generation—is straightforward. Just as, say, doctors who receive defective medical training will be handicapped in the performance of their professional tasks, so too citizens whose civic education is lacking will be less than competent as members of an extended political community. Studying the Constitution—not to mention American political ideas and institutions—can help us all to exercise our rights and respect the rights of others and to weigh the merit of contending policies. More generally, as Mr. Feith notes, civic education can nourish a common culture by showing that partisan disputes often reflect conflicting interpretations of a shared commitment to freedom and equality.

Learn more about David’s work, and his new partnership with Democracy Prep Public Schools, at the Teaching America website.

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Civic health, engagement, and…the economy?

In yesterday’s USA Today, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (now chair of iCivics) and former Florida governor-turned-U.S. Senator Bob Graham penned an op-ed in which they discussed recent findings that show a positive correlation between civic engagement and low (comparative) changes in unemployment.

The study, released last month by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), combined eight commonly used economic factors with five civic engagement measures to predict unemployment since 2006. When using just the traditionally used economic factors, the researchers could explain about 38 percent of the variation in the change in unemployment rates among different states, but when the civic engagement measures (volunteering, attending public meetings, working with neighbors to address community problems, registering to vote, and voting) were added, the model explained 68 percent of the variation in unemployment change.

As O’Connor and Graham explain,

Such trends are borne out at the state level. Eight of the 11 states with the highest volunteering rates at the outset of the financial crisis–Alaska, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and Vermont–experienced among the smallest rises in unemployment. Seven of the 10 states with the lowest volunteering rates–Arizona, California, Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Rhode Island and Delaware–experienced among the highest increases in unemployment.

Using these results, the two authors conclude: “For the sake of our democracy and our economy, it is time for America to reinvest in civics. The connection between civic learning and economic success begins early in life, but civics has all but vanished from the public school curriculum…The secret to America’s success is the strength of our civil society. An informed citizenry lays the foundation for not just democracy but also for an innovative, dynamic economy.”

Another leader working to this end is David Feith, whose recent compilation Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education we have profiled before (and which includes contributions by both Justice O’Connor and Senator Graham). Tevi Troy has a good interview of Feith over at New Books in Public Policy, which is very much worth listening to. The interview can be found here.

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Event Re-cap: Teaching America

Missed today’s event on charter schools and civic education? See the summary below, and visit the event site for full video (and clips!).

At an event hosted today by the AEI Program on American Citizenship and the Civic Education Initiative, a panel of charter school leaders discussed how charter schools can help close the nation’s “civic achievement gap.” Robin Lake (Center on Reinventing Public Education) provided an overview of the state of civic education in the charter sector and outlined some of the diverse approaches charters are taking to civic education. Mike Feinberg (KIPP Schools) discussed his experiences at KIPP, stressing that civic education is important because charter schools are “not just about college, but about how to [provide] good lives” for students. Seth Andrew (Democracy Prep Public Schools) agreed and suggested that the Obama administration change its focus from “college and career” to “college and citizenship” because career is only one component of good citizenship. Juan Rangel (United Neighborhood Organization) highlighted the challenges of providing civic education to Hispanic immigrants and said schools should put greater emphasis on assimilation. Immigrants, he cautioned, “will assimilate, but without our guidance, they will assimilate in ways we don’t want them to.” The panelists also debated the link between civic knowledge and civic skills or dispositions (such as voting or community involvement), discussed ways to best engage disaffected and disadvantaged students and argued for the need for better metrics to measure students’ civic success.

And watch these terrific videos from our charter panelists:

Seth Andrew, Democracy Prep Public Schools
Inauguration Celebration in Harlem
Juan Rangel, United Neighborhood Organization
UNO Charter School Network Remembers 9/11

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AEI