May 20, 2019 / E-news
Long-serving Center for Civic Education associate director, Dr. Margaret Branson, passed away on Wednesday, May 15. Branson made remarkable contributions to civic education in the United States and throughout the world.
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May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
President of the AFT Teacher’s Union, Randi Weingarten, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 18, in a speech titled “The Freedom to Teach.”
Her address centered around the reasons that teachers feel called to teach—to change the world, to encourage curiosity, to make our democracy better. “Teaching is unlike any other profession in terms of mission, importance, complexity, impact, and fulfillment,” she said. “Teachers get the importance of their work. So do parents and the public.”
However, she cited statistics showing that teachers and other public school employees are leaving their professions, and there aren’t enough teachers. At the root of this problem and others, according to Weingarten, is disinvestment and deprofessionalization.
Weingarten offers solutions to these problems, too. Some include a culture of collaboration, the creation and maintenance of proper teaching and learning conditions, and the assurance that teachers have voice and agency befitting their profession.
The We the People program, of which Weingarten was a teacher, is one example where teachers are allowed creativity and agency. As a result, she saw “powerful learning” within students. “We’d spend hours after school—working in teams, deciding their best arguments, practicing and polishing. We developed deep relationships with each other and a meaningful understanding of the Constitution.”
It is the personal investment of teachers and students, the creativity, and the learning that drew her to the We the People program. Her speech ends with an emphasis on these qualities, as well as a call for better treatment for teachers. To teachers she said, “You are making a difference not only in your classrooms but in reclaiming our profession.”
Read the full speech here.
May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
Before We the People students attend the We the People National Finals or Invitational, they spend all year preparing by studying the textbook, learning about history and current events, and practicing their answers to the hearing questions. They compete in local and state competitions. One class from North Smithfield High School in Rhode Island even had help from their congressman!
Congressman David Cicilline visited the North Smithfield class and teacher Natalie O’Brien on April 18 to assist them with unit four questions. In preparation, students compiled questions about the For The People Act (H.R.1), updating the Voting Rights Act, and filibuster in the Senate.
Congressman Cicilline visits a We the People class in Rhode Island.
“The Congressman also shared some information from the Congressional Research Office; it was incredibly useful. There were some nuanced ideas about how government works that students had not learned from their research,” said O’Brien. For example, a student asked about an eight-hour speech given by Nancy Pelosi about immigration in the 115th Congress, and Cicilline explained the “Magic Minute”—individuals in key leadership positions in the House have an opportunity to speak on the floor about an issue for as long as they want. Although it is called the “Magic Minute,” the Congressman said that the minute never ends.
The Unit 4 team also shared their formal presentation of Question 3 in front of Congressman Cicilline. He offered feedback, giving the students their first direct experience with a judge who could give a first-hand account of the operation of government in Congress.
“The students left energized and more excited than ever,” said O’Brien. “However, I must say that the best resource is really the We the People textbook. It is the foundation of their knowledge and has led to a greater understanding of government and the necessary knowledge to encourage further research.”
May 14, 2019 / E-news
Ryan Ruttan, We the People teacher from Rancho High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, was presented with the Kiwanis Educator of the Year Award. Ruttan was nominated by Rancho High School’s assistant principal for the fun and engaging ways that he inspires students and also for his commitment to fostering deep academic and civic engagement in the classroom.
The Educator of the Year program was founded by the Kiwanis Club of Las Vegas in 1992 to recognize outstanding “Unsung Education Heroes” at the High School level in the Clark County School District (CCSD), Nevada.
“In my fifteen years of education, I have not once encountered an educator so committed to and so adept at growing a well-informed and engaged electorate,” said Assistant Principal Lilianna Bonderov.
Ruttan fought for the We the People program at his school when it lost its funding two years ago. By speaking at curriculum meetings and rallying students to share about their We the People experience, Ruttan and his students were able to win over the administration and Bonderov after “seeing seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds argue and debate constitutional values with the same enthusiasm that one might see in a first-year law school class.”
Teacher Ryan Ruttan accepts his Kiwanis Educator of the Year award.
Throughout the school year, Ruttan’s classes focus on academic rigor and civic engagement via debate on the various parts of the Constitution, time spent learning case law related to the Bill of Rights, developing the ability to make relevant connections to current events, and more. “It’s the rigor and academic discourse that educators (and their administrators) dream of,” said Bonderov.
Ruttan’s dedication to his students and their immersion in the We the People program led them to the Nevada state competition this year, their first time attending in the history of the school.
Bonderov credits Ruttan for a shift in the culture and mindset of students, as well as a large increase in student enrollment in AP Government and AP U.S. History classes. “[Students] see the kind of deep learning that happens in his AP classes as ‘rad,’ and they don’t want to be left out. He inspires students to want to know the ins and outs of government and to thoroughly understand development of the United States. They want to talk about politics and law and history and current events for fun.”
Congratulations to Ryan Ruttan for winning Educator of the Year, and thank you for all you do for your students! See some clips from the Educator of the Year awards here.
May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
More than a thousand We the People students traveled to Washington, D.C., for the We the People national competitions this April and May, impressing panels of judges with knowledge of the Constitution and its application.
Denver East High School captured the national championship at the National Finals. Second place went to Amador Valley High School of Pleasanton, California, and third place was awarded to Grant High School of Portland, Oregon. You can find the complete National Finals results on the National Finals results page.
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May 06, 2019 / E-news
When he was fourteen, Stephen Hawking “wasn’t the easiest person to teach,” he writes in his final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. His handwriting was messy and he was “slow to learn to read.” It was at this age that he met Dikran Tahta, a teacher who would change his life. Read the rest of this entry »
Apr 24, 2019 / Announcements
The Center for Civic Education’s programs have been greatly assisted by the active involvement of judges and justices since its inception. Many judges have given countless hours and days of their personal time over the decades to help the Center to promote high quality education for democracy, and have made significant financial donations that serve our programs. Read the rest of this entry »
Apr 21, 2019 / E-news
As part of its Expository Writing and Reading Curriculum (ERWC), California State University is publishing a module called “Remembering Injustice” using materials from the Center for Civic Education from the Center’s 9/11 and the Constitution lesson.
The ERWC offers high school English students and teacher tools to use “rhetorical inquiry to encourage critical thinking,” and “students learn strategies that help them thrive in college.” The “Remembering Injustice” module will work towards this goal, offering a college-preparatory course in English Language Arts for teachers and students in grade nine.
It is free to participating high schools, who build and personalize a year-long course for their students by choosing from a selection of approximately 81 modules. The Remembering Injustice module will be available until 2020.
The module highlights a resource that is freely available on the Center for Civic Education website that defines and explains important terms to know that are related to the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. Explore the Center’s Resources page to find more tools and free lessons!
Apr 21, 2019 / E-news, We the People
We the People students from all over the country will soon converge in Washington, D.C., to compete in simulated congressional hearings and explore the history of the nation’s capital.
High school teams will compete in the We the People National Finals from April 26 to April 29, and middle school teams will compete in the We the People National Invitational from May 3 to May 6. Both competitions will be held at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, near the capital.
These competitions are annual culminations of the We the People program, in which students learn about American representative democracy, history, and founding documents. Classes study the six units of the We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution textbook before being organized into teams around each unit and its concept. Each unit of the book deals with one aspect of American constitutionalism.
Students preparing to testify at the 2018 We the People National Finals.
High school classes compete at the local and state levels before attending the national competitions. At both the middle and high school competitions, each team of students is asked challenging questions about constitutional issues and current events by a panel of expert judges made of accomplished scholars, attorneys, and public officials, among others.
When not participating in the competition, students will tour Washington, D.C.’s monuments and learn about its history.
At the National Finals, the guest speaker is John Tinker, of the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines—a topic of study for We the People students. One school will be presented with a special Tinker Award for its response to Unit 5, Question 3. The award is sponsored by the John F. Tinker Foundation.
To keep track of this year’s competitions, follow the Center for Civic Education on social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr! The awards ceremony and speeches will also be livestreamed on Facebook.
Apr 11, 2019 / E-news
The Federal Bar Association’s (FBA) National Community Outreach Project will work to reach out to young people and their communities for the fourth year in a row to instill confidence in the judicial system. Middle and high school students will visit courthouses, meet lawyers, observe court proceedings, and have conversations directly with federal judges.
More than twenty-five chapters and sections of the Federal Bar Association in multiple districts across the country have agreed to participate in 2019. The FBA has also designed every April as “National Community Outreach” month.
In the related press release, the FBA stated: “In these times when communities, especially youth, have lost confidence in our judicial system, the FBA’s National Community Outreach Project seeks to instill confidence in the judicial system in middle and high-school students and other communities.”
The Federal Bar Association serves communities in other ways, as well, with events like tours of the federal courts, viewings of federal court proceedings, tours of federal agencies, and by providing citizens with free legal advice.
For more information on the National Community Outreach Project, visit www.fedbar.org/NCOP.