In their 2011 report the Carnegie Corporation discussed public schools as the guardians of democracy. As students go back into the classrooms this fall, many for the first time in 18 months, our work with the public-school leaders is at the forefront of our minds. Despite a tumultuous election cycle and a focus on public sector issues in the media such as public health, the federal budget and policing, few people have asked how are schools doing civically? Are they adequately developing students who will be our next voters and civic leaders? Will they be prepared or even interested in participating in our democracy and facing the challenges ahead?
David Brooks argued in his recent NYT article that the pledge of allegiance is one such way of restoring common values in schools. It is a way to acknowledge daily we are citizens of the same country and we are dependent on each other to thrive.
Brooks discussed this topic last year stating that we need faith in each other and in our institutions to prevent the collapse of society. Learning community values throughout our lives can serve us all in powerful ways and public schools in particular are a big part of the learning process. Schools are where we meet people who are different from our families, who have different socioeconomic backgrounds, different cultures and different religions. We are taught how to learn with others, share a classroom, cafeteria, and playground. The question is does it go far enough? Many would say no including the judge who ruled against the 14 students in RI who sued the state over the lack of civics education. Students sue Rhode Island over lack of civics education | CNN
Simple and meaningful activities that build civic engagement and offer civics lessons are currently a part of many of our cities and towns. We encourage you to do what you can to continue these efforts.
One long-standing example of a town who has invested in civic education and participation is Lexington MA. Their Citizens Academy has gained a reputation within the state. One of their residents was recently heard on the radio praising what he and his wife had learned through the Citizen’s Academy programs. The Lexington programs are available in person and on Zoom. This year’s annual program will have eleven topics offered over the next eleven weeks. Comments from attendees appear below:
“Very impressed by staff’s dedication and passion for their job and service to the community.”
“Gave me great awareness of services I never knew Lexington provided.”
Another great effort was recently shared when non-profit civic education organizations came together from around the country this spring to unveil the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap recognizing the deep polarization within the country as well as a lack of care about and understanding of the systems that we all depend on as Americans.
With the challenges facing our country we all need to strengthen our partnerships and community values to intentionally move us to a place where working together and serving the common good becomes the north star for our individual and collective decisions and investments.