CitizenshipFirst aims to become the country’s most creative driver of civic-education innovation. Housed at Harlem-based Democracy Prep Public Schools, the organization began in 2011 with the publication of Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, edited by David Feith. Through creative advocacy, in-school programs, research and reports, CitizenshipFirst aims to remind educators, policymakers and all Americans that the founding purpose of education was to prepare our nation’s young people for self-government—and that restoring the civic mission of education must be an urgent national priority.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that American democracy cannot endure without an educated citizenry; that all students deserve to become informed and proud participants in American self-government; and that every generation must prepare the next to understand, protect and perfect the institutions of American freedom. These truths motivated the establishment of America’s school system long ago, and they must be an urgent national priority today.
- Civic illiteracy threatens our nation’s smooth functioning and continued vitality. It cripples our common culture, disenfranchises millions, and poisons our politics.
- The first and most important relationship that a child has with an American institution is with his or her school. When that relationship fails, the child does not become an active citizen.
- A good education can and should promote national identity, unity and loyalty without indoctrination. Cultivating understanding of and pride in America’s history and ideals is an appropriate end of public education that in no way conflicts with the goal of creating independent, free-thinking citizens in a pluralistic society.
Our earliest thinkers about education didn’t see schools as places to create workers. Their concern was to ensure that every American citizen would be able to participate in our democracy as an informed and engaged citizen. At a time when our country faces profound challenges, both at home and abroad, it’s an idea that’s never been more timely or relevant. Education in America serves an important public purpose. That’s why we support education with our tax dollars.
The public purpose of education is Citizenship First.
CitizenshipFirst was founded to build upon the ideas raised in Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, edited by David Feith, in 2011. The book gathered together an unprecedented collection of leading thinkers to sound an alarm over a crisis in civic education—and lay out a powerful agenda for reform.
The urgent message: To remain America, our country has to give its children a civic identity, an understanding of our constitutional system, and an appreciation of the amazing achievements of American self-government.
But we are failing. Young Americans know little about the Bill of Rights, the democratic process, or the civil rights movement. Three of every four high school seniors aren’t proficient in civics, nine of ten can’t cut it in U.S. history, and the problem is only aggravated by universities’ disregard for civic education. Such civic illiteracy weakens our common culture, disenfranchises would-be voters, and poison our politics.
In assessing all this, authors draw on lessons and innovations from the Supreme Court, the White House, America’s best inner-city schools, immigrant life in 1960s New York, and elsewhere. They lay out how political reform, digital tools, charter schools, strategic philanthropy, teachers, and parents nationwide can advance civic renewal. Their message addresses parents, teachers, education reformers, policymakers at all levels of government, scholars concerned with citizenship and democracy, and activists looking for the cutting edge in civic health.