The core principles of American government are unifying and ennobling, but they only work if people understand and apply them. Improved civic knowledge leads to greater civic understanding, better civic skills, deeper civic attachments, and wiser civic action.
Yet civic education is underfunded today, with much money spent inefficiently on issue advocacy rather than enduring knowledge. Philanthropy can provide great returns for donors willing to invest in Americans’ understanding of ourselves. The Philanthropy Roundtable’s new program in civic education is helping philanthropists reach all age and education levels, using multiple strategies, to bolster civic literacy and democratic norms.
There are many solid foundations we can build upon. Here are examples of college or pre-college efforts where donor support is helping young Americans become better-educated citizens:
- Preparing the next generation of civics professors: The Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History has developed a network of more than 900 fellows at more than 300 colleges and universities. These fellows have educated almost one million college students. It also has specialized expertise in helping donors and faculty members establish campus centers and courses for the study of American history and political thought.
- Open educational resources on American history: OpenStax and the Bill of Rights Institute have partnered to develop a digital, free, high-quality U.S. history textbook that is fully integrated with the Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics framework. Every chapter includes material from academics on opposite sides of a question.
- Interacting with the Constitution: The College Board and National Constitution Center have received philanthropic funding from a variety of foundations to create a two-week plan of study on the First Amendment for high-school students following their Advanced Placement exams. Each spring, as students prepare to enter adult society, they’ll discuss their legal rights and moral responsibilities, and network with students from other regions of the country. The National Constitution Center also engages high-school and postsecondary students through the Interactive Constitution.
- Hamilton comes to town: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History enables high-school students to study America’s Founding Era, create their own presentations about the period, and see the musical Hamilton. Donors including the Rockefeller Foundation have helped fund the program. GLI also offers a master’s degree for teachers of American history through Pace University, boasts an archive of more than 70,000 historical documents, and trains instructors on how to teach English literacy and historical literacy at the same time.
- Citizenship knowledge for students entering adulthood: The Joe Foss Institute has successfully encouraged more than 30 state legislatures to require students to pass some form of the basic civics exam that immigrants take to become U.S. citizens.
- Learning through games: Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 to teach civics through engaging online games. The newest of the 20 games, Race to Ratify, puts the player in the middle of the state debates about whether to ratify the new Constitution. In other games you might find yourself at a law firm deciding whether your client’s Constitutional rights have been violated.
Read the full article about teaching civics Adam Kissel at The Philanthropy Roundtable.
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