Monday, April 29, 2013

The New Civics Taking Root in Chicago

The April 2013 edition of  The Progress of Education Reform, published by The Education Commission of the States, provides a look at the new civics and how it differs from previous practices in civic education According to the article, civic education has long been a central element of K-12 curricula.  "American schools typically required student to complete multiple courses in civics and government."  However, civics was also typically delivered through "textbook-based classroom lectures centered on civic knowledge."  Today, an Illinois student can graduate from high school without ever having taken a civics or government class.  Illinois is one of only ten states without a civics or government requirement.

Chicago Public Schools is working to reverse the trend of "old civics" and no civics.  With funding support from the McCormick and Spencer Foundations, CPS launched the Global Citizenship Initiative in August 2012.  The Global Citizenship Initiative currently works with 16 district high schools to breathe new life into the civic mission of schools. Based on researched-based six proven practices of the new civics - service-learning, discussion of controversial issues and current events, extracurricular activities, participation in school governance, classroom instruction in civics and government, and simulations of the democratic process - CPS provides professional development, curricular resources, access to civic resources, participation in multi-school civic learning events, and technical support.

The most recent opportunity for GCI teachers and students was a visit from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -  O'Connor discussed her time on on the Supreme Court and her post-Supreme Court vocation to strengthen civic education in American schools.  Earlier in the semester, Alcott students were able to receive Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in their classroom for a discussion on gun control issues.

Alcott High School students were able to discuss the value of civic education in schools.  One student wrote:  "I find my civics class very intriguing.  I am learning how to become an active citizen and be a participating in the process of bettering my community."  Another wrote:  "I would like to let you know how grateful I am to participate in this civics course.  It demonstrated an opportunity to change things in our communities that impact or concerns us the most."  Civic education is about academic learning in the best possible way; it allows students to develop the skills and learn that they can change the world.

During the 2012-13 academic year, our 16 GCI schools are expected to implement a year-long capstone course for seniors - civics and financial literacy, and facilitate a Student Voice Committee.  The Student Voice Committee meets regularly with the school principal throughout the school year to address school improvement issues.

Teachers are already planning for the second year of GCI during which we will introduce a Global Issues course for high school students along with a revised Civics and Financial Literacy Course.

For more information, contact Jon Schmidt at 773.553-6391 or

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