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Meet the Class of 2026

They may not realize it yet, but the 3.8 million kindergarten students who arrived in U.S. schools this month, including the adorable Democracy Prep students in the video below, will be a part of history.  They are the Class of 2026.  With a little luck and diligence they graduate from high school just days before the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  

Some current trends bode well for the Class of 2026.  More than four-fifths of today’s kindergarteners will likely be high school graduates by the time the U.S. turns 250.   By the time they graduate, the kids in this video should be part of an unprecedented wave of students of color on college campuses.  On July 4, 2026 they will hopefully be enjoying their last summer before beginning college.

But unfortunately, when today’s kindergarteners attend their graduation parties and celebrate Independence Day 2026, there is little reason to believe they will be any better prepared for a lifetime of active, engaged citizenship than are today’s high school graduates.  Civics, once at the heart of public education, has taken a backseat to preparation for college and career.  With the recent decision to indefinitely postpone NAEP Civics and History testing in 4th and 12th grade, civic education is heading in the wrong direction, becoming less of a priority at exactly the wrong moment.

There is still time to reverse this trend before today’s four- and five-year olds reach voting age.  On this Constitution Day, CitizenshipFirst, a civic education initiative of Democracy Prep, is leading a call to revive the American tradition of public education as preparation for citizenship.

Step one is a campaign we’re calling Challenge 2026.  It’s a simple proposition:

By the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s founding, every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. citizenship exam–the basic test of civics, history and government that would-be citizens must take and pass to become naturalized citizens.  At present, 98% of those who take the test pass.  However fewer than two-thirds of native-born children can do the same.

We’re a long, long way from ensuring that every one of our children has the civic knowledge, skills and desire to be a fully informed and engaged citizen.  Rebuilding our common store of civic knowledge is a critical first step.  If you agree that every American deserves to know the basic of civics and citizenship, and that every graduate of a U.S. high school should be able to take and pass the U.S. Citizenship Test, we urge you to support Challenge 2026 and add your name.  The Class of 2026 deserves nothing less.

Happy Constitution Day!

 

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Schools, Civic Engagement and Upward Mobility

 

A big new study on upward mobility finds correlations between schools, civic engagement and enhanced odds of escaping poverty.  The New York Times is touting the study as the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States.  Based on millions of earnings records, the study provides “some of the most powerful evidence so far about the factors that seem to drive people’s chances of rising beyond the station of their birth, including education, family structure and the economic layout of metropolitan areas.”

The Times analysis focuses on areas of the country where upward mobility is most and least likely.  Escaping poverty is hardest in Southeast and the Rust Belt; it’s easier in the Northeast, the upper Midwest and the West, “including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.”

From an education perspective–and a civic education perspective in particular–what’s most interesting are the correlations the authors observed between schools, civic engagement and upward mobility.  ”The researchers concluded that larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent seemed to improve income mobility only slightly,” the Times reports.  Nor was there much correlation between upward mobility and the presence or tuition costs of local colleges.

“All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.  Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.”

The Times cites the work of Robert D. Putnam and his book “Bowling Alone,” which made the case that “social connections play an important role in a community’s success.”

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Teach Your Children Well

I was pleased to have the chance to write a piece for CNN.com over Independence Day on the civic mission of education.  The point is one I expect to make repeatedly here: “College and Career Ready” are important goals for those of us who toil in K-12 education, but a third “C” is equally valuable: citizenship.   Preparing kids for a lifetime of active engaged citizenship was a founding purpose of education in the U.S., but it has fallen into neglect.  The money quote from the CNN piece:

“One way or another, schools will shape our children as citizens. The question is whether we want them to do so by accident or neglect, or by thinking carefully about the civic knowledge, skills and republic-keeping mindset our children will need to nurture and maintain our democracy in the 21st century and beyond.”

The American Enterprise Institute’s Program on American Citizenship takes up the call here.  Joanne Jacob weighs in here.  Meanwhile if this is your first visit to our site, take a moment to test your own knowledge of civics and history

 

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Our Words, Our Selves

A fascinating David Brooks column in the New York Times this morning looks at shifts in the words we have used over the past half century, and makes a compelling case that our language–and perhaps, therefore, our society and our culture–has become more focused on the individual and less on the communal.  A Google database of millions of books published from 1500 to 2008 allows researchers to look closely at how words come into and out of popular usage over time.  One study of this deep, rich dataset show that words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” have become more commonly used in the past 50 years.  By contrast, communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” have become less commonly used, Brooks writes.

Another study finds “general moral terms like ‘virtue,’ ‘decency’ and ‘conscience’ were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like ‘honesty,’ ‘patience’ and ‘compassion’ were used much less frequently.”  Brooks says the words we use tell a story about us.  ”Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked,” he writes.

“This story, if true, should cause discomfort on right and left. Conservatives sometimes argue that if we could just reduce government to the size it was back in, say, the 1950s, then America would be vibrant and free again. But the underlying sociology and moral culture is just not there anymore. Government could be smaller when the social fabric was more tightly knit, but small government will have different and more cataclysmic effects today when it is not.”

“Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias. People see patterns they already believe in,” Brooks concludes. “Maybe I’ve done that here. But these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.”

Brooks doesn’t say so, but a similar case can be made about education.  We have almost certainly come to value personal outcomes — college and career readiness, getting a good job, earning a good living — over communal outcomes like citizenship and civic engagement.

Read the whole column here.

 

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A Teachable Moment for the Ages

As “teachable moments” go this is one for the ages.

Today in lower Manhattan, on a morning as clear and bright as another morning nearly twelve years ago, a team of construction workers affixed a spire to the top of a building.  The Freedom Tower is now at its full height of 1,776 feet.

world-trade-center-spire

It is well worth stopping whatever we are doing in any classroom in America – in every classroom in America – and asking our kids if they understand the significance of the building’s name and its designed height.

There are at least two good lessons in this moment.  One is about the symbolic value of 1776 and the name “Freedom Tower.”  But the larger lesson is in the spirit of resilience embodied in all that has occurred at this site from September 11, 2011 through today.  On a site where thousands died, we did what Americans do:  first there was a rescue effort.  Next, a memorial was built to remember those who were lost.  Finally we went about the business of rebuilding.  By placing on the site of the deadliest attack on our nation’s soil a 1,776 foot tall structure with the name of our principal civic value, we demonstrated just a bit of another time-honored American trait: defiance.

 

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