Thirty teachers from 15 high schools came together to launch the Global Citizenship Initiative (GCI) on May 18-19, a project designed to building the civic mission of schools in Chicago. With funding support from the McCormick Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and Macarthur Foundation, high schools will work together for the next three years to strengthen civic skills and participation among students. This work recalls the founding principles of public education in the United States - to prepare young people for the important participatory work of democracy.
Each GCI school will work in three areas during the first pilot year: 1) Strengthen service-learning and civic action; 2) Implement a year-long course in civics and financial literacy; and 3) Facilitate student leadership and governance work in their schools.
Each of these strategies has been identified by the civic education community in the United States as an effective proven practice of civic education. By re-focusing on building civic skills, the aim of the initiative is to reverse the decades long decline in civic participation in the country. Unfortunately more and more people are retreating from public life into private spheres to the detriment of a healthy and functioning democracy. As Alexis DeTocqueville admired the skills of Americans to associate and thereby bring more equity to public life in the mid-19th century, Professor Robert Putnam acknowledged more recently that Americans are more often "bowling alone", a sign of retreat into the private. The more we tend exclusively to our private lives, the more government and corporations make decisions for us that adversely impact our communities.
GCI teachers will continue to gather for professional development in civic practices over the course of the year highlighted by a week-long civics boot camp at the end of July designed to prepare teachers to facilitate a very hands-on, project-based civics course beginning in the fall. Together with teachers, civic partners, and universities, GCI is charting a new course for civic education in Chicago.