Chances are, most of you reading this blog have some sense of why Education Commission of the States exists and the work that we do. Our hallmark is assisting state education leaders in learning from experience by providing unbiased information and opportunities for collaboration. We know that informed policymakers create better education policy.
I suspect, however, that the work of one of our centers, National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement (NCLCE), is less well known. I say this based on my own experience. When I attempt to describe to people why NCLCE exists and what our work is, the most common responses are a polite but vacant “Oh, that’s nice,” or an equally polite but uninformed “And exactly what do you mean when you say civic education?”
I don’t blame anyone for either of these responses. Civic education can be an unclear concept to those outside the field. Even within the field, many contradictory definitions of civic education exist. Naturally, then, our constituents have widely-varying (and usually well-substantiated) beliefs on a range of civic education issues, such as:
- What constitutes good citizenship?
- What is and what is not included in civic education?
- How, where and when shall civics be taught and for what purposes?
- What are the universal competencies (knowledge, skills and dispositions) that ought to be developed by every civic education curriculum?
- Can civic education help students understand the political world without engaging in partisan rancor in the classroom?
Very much like the work of Education Commission of the States, our job at NCLCE is to help you answer these and other questions, for yourself, through unbiased research and reports, counsel and opportunities for collaboration. Our focus is not to provide our constituents with what we think is THE answer to any of the questions above but, rather, to be a source of trusted information so that they can chart a course for civic education in their state.
Starting with the premise that civic education is an essential component of education from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary, NCLCE’s strategic plan outlines the following values that guide us in this work:
- The primary role of education is to build and sustain a strong democratic society that is informed, engaged and principled.
- Active principled citizenship is more than an academic exercise; becoming a good citizen takes practice.
- As demonstrated by research, effective instructional strategies for civic learning and engagement include:
- Classroom instruction in civics, government, history, law, economics and geography.
- Discussion of current events and controversial issues.
- Service-learning, a teaching and learning strategy in which students use academic knowledge and skills to find viable solutions to real community needs. Students acquire and apply cross-disciplinary, standards-based, academic content to address real world community issues and problems.
- Extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for student to acquire and practice civic skills.
- Student participation in school governance.
- Simulations of democratic processes.
- Education policymaking should be guided by research and data, and focused on learning.
- Honesty, integrity and ethical practices in work, relationships and public life guide the work of NCLCE.
- Vision and courage in organizational and public leadership are necessary components of civic engagement. In order to maximize the collective impact of the civic learning and engagement field, NCLCE recognizes the importance of seeking out and sustaining regional and national collaborations with allied organizations and individuals to provide resources, training and technical assistance to state policymakers and other education stakeholders.
Within NCLCE, we put these values in action through three primary activities.
First, we serve as a clearinghouse for state policy and practice on civic learning and engagement in schools. We do this by creating, identifying and/or assessing existing and emerging policy strategies, best practices and other related issues of concern for state policymakers and allied organizations.
Second, we support states’ efforts to develop policies regarding civic learning and engagement in schools at every level.
Third, we collaborate on research projects that advance policy, practice and capacity to support development of all students’ civic learning and engagement.
In 1822 James Madison wrote, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” While our constituents hold many different http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/docuthoughts on how to go about addressing civic education in their states, we look forward to working with each to ensure that Madison’s warning does not go unheeded.