Nov 20, 2017 / E-news
Why should freedom of expression be taught? Adolph Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, took power in 1933 when he became chancellor of the German government. His death in 1945 marked the end of his absolute rule as dictator of the German people. He precipitated one of the worst periods in human history, in which millions of people died not only on the battlefield, but also in his attempt to eliminate all of the Jews in Europe as well as homosexuals, gypsies, and the mentally ill and handicapped, who were considered “needless eaters.” He began the first year of his reign by eliminating the political opposition. An early step he took to attain this goal was to eliminate all of the protections for freedom of expression and due process of law in the German constitution. The following decree was issued by the Reich president in 1933.
Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
This was followed almost immediately by the imprisonment in concentration camps of Germans who opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party. Martin Niemöller was a pastor in the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, an early supporter of Hitler who later turned against him. He was imprisoned in German concentration camps, including Dachau, from 1936 to 1945, when he was freed by Allied forces. He has been quoted as saying,
In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me … and by that time, no one was left to speak up.
Martin Niemöller, a German evangelical pastor
This tragic episode in history is not the only time those in power have tried to suppress freedom of expression by people critical of their rule. It happened in our country shortly after it began when Congress passed the four Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed into law by Federalist president John Adams. They made it more difficult for immigrants to become citizens, gave the president the power to put noncitizens in prison who they thought might be dangerous or were from a hostile nation and made it a crime to make “false” statements critical of the federal government. Among other things, the Acts were intended to suppress the right to freedom of expression of the opposing Democratic-Republican Party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Imagine a charismatic leader in power in America acting to suspend or erode our Constitution’s protections of our freedom of expression, our due process protections from unreasonable and unfair searches and seizures by government and our right to the equal protection of the laws regardless of the groups to which we might belong. Could it happen here? How strong are our political institutions? How deeply ingrained among us is an understanding of and commitment to the fundamental principles and values of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and its amendments. To what extent do liberty and equality lie in the hearts and minds of the American people and their elected representatives as a bulwark against the suppression of their liberties and denial of the ideal that “all men are created equal”?
American philosopher George Santayana
How should freedom of expression be taught? The American philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, too many Americans not only don’t remember the past, they are not aware of it. They are not well-versed in American history or the evolution of the American political system and its European antecedents. Lessons like those of Nazi Germany rarely come to mind when issues of freedom of expression, its proper scope and limits and threats to it arise. So, a knowledge of the history and centrality of freedom of expression to a free society, at least in western civilization, is an essential foundation for becoming an informed citizen in the United States.
This historical understanding should be accompanied by a conceptual understanding derived from philosophy and jurisprudence. For example, the justifications for widespread freedom of expression from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and other outstanding sources of political thought undergirding American constitutional democracy should be familiar to American students. This should be accompanied by an examination of the proper scope and limits of freedom of expression derived at least in part from an examination of landmark Supreme Court decisions on the topic. All inquiry should take place in the light of free and open discussion and debate in which a wide range of reasonable differences of position and opinion are encouraged and respected.
The burden of responsibility for the enlightening of our young people regarding the precious rights to freedom of expression they have inherited and a disposition to cherish them, exercise them competently and responsibly and protect them lies with the dedicated teachers of our school systems, many of whom are carrying out this responsibility daily in their classroom using the We the People Programs of the Center for Civic Education and those of other outstanding contributors to the field.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Times on October 25, 2017, as part of a special The President and the Constitution section.
Nov 20, 2017 / E-news
Each year, the American Lawyers Alliance recognizes three teachers of law-related education as the American Lawyers Alliance Teachers of the Year. Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 American Lawyer’s Alliance Law-Related Teacher of the Year Award! Nominate the teacher you know who goes above and beyond to develop programs that help promote an informed citizenry and enhance education related to the judicial and legal systems. David Alcox and Fred Cole, We the People teachers, won two of the three awards in 2017. Read more about these amazing teachers.
Learn more about the awards and how to nominate a teacher in your life here.
Nov 15, 2017 / E-news, James Madison Legacy Project
Teachers met in Anchorage, Alaska, to participate in the James Madison Legacy Project (JMLP) professional development workshop. They learned strategies for teaching We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution to their students by role-playing a simulated congressional hearing and hearing from speakers, such as Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger. “This workshop offers content and engagement. The interactive activities were very strong reinforcement of the material taught to the class,” said one JMLP teacher.
JMLP Teachers Role-Play a Mock Congressional Hearing
The teachers presented to their school board explaining the We the People program and its benefits to students. Teachers Minty Ruthford, Mary Ulroan, and Valeria Owrey, had their students become part of the presentation through a candy bar simulated congressional hearing. Each group of students picked a candy that they felt best represented the United States and presented to their class and three judges.
Students argued for a variety of candies. “Peanut M&M’s are red, green, brown, yellow and blue and this represents the diversity of America because there are so people from so many different backgrounds,” said one group. Another group argued for Hot Tamales because, “Hot Tamales are made in Pennsylvania just like America’s Declaration of Independence.”
As classrooms move from candy bar hearings to their real mock congressional hearings, Alaska’s JMLP teachers are confident that the We the People curriculum “gets kids to become more involved in their community and to practice their citizenship both inside the school and out.”
Nov 15, 2017 / E-news, We the People
Robert Leming, Director of the Center’s We the People programs, spoke at this year’s Birmingham Seminar on Civil Rights.
In his opening remarks, he honored those who fought for the cause of human rights. “We are here this weekend to honor those who were involved in the struggle, those who suffered discrimination, and those who given their lives for the cause … I am looking forward to this weekend with you, because I believe you are about love. You love your country, you love your families, you love your students, and you understand the importance of civic education.”
The Center for Civic Education has invited hundred of civic educators to experience the Birmingham Civil Rights Seminar to cultivate relationships with civil rights leaders and other educators. This year, Ms. Carolyn McKinstry, Ms. Janis Kelsey, Mr. William Collins, Ms. Martha Bouyer, Mr. Doug Jones, and Mr. William Baxley—who were personally involved in the civil rights movement—were some of the leaders who attended the seminar.
Three members from Charleston, South Carolina, spoke about their roles in the case of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The seminar was sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Birmingham Division. Speakers’ highlighted the weekend’s theme of hate crimes speaking on the tragic massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015; the murder of a transgender woman named Mercedes Williamson; and the history of hate.
For more on the 2017 Seminar on Civil Rights, check out the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Nov 14, 2017 / E-news, We the People
The fourth annual We the People Boot Camp for Nevada Congressional Districts 1, 3, and 4 took place October 14, 2017 at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada.
More than 300 students and 25 teachers participated. Presenters included District Coordinators Debbie Berger, Trey Delap, and Michael Vannozzi, Judge Elissa Cadish, Professors Rachel Anderson (UNLV), Sondra Cosgrove (College of Southern Nevada) and David Tanenhaus (UNLV), Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, Faiss Middle School Principal Roger West, Canyon Springs teacher Dr. Lou Grillo, and Clark County School District Social Studies Coordinator Jaynie Malorni. Congressman Ruben Kihuen’s Assistant Ashley Garcia was also on hand for the Boot Camp demonstration and workshops.
Professor Tanenhaus said that, for him, the highlight of the event was watching young people discover how relevant what they’ve been learning is to the world around them. “The students [were] working in groups to discuss how the most talked about stories in the news all related to constitutional elements,” he explained. Those events included the ongoing controversy about the National Football League (NFL) and the recent Vegas massacre. “They realized that the We the People curriculum gave them the vocabulary they needed to discuss these connections.”
Jayne Malorni, Roger West, and Dr. Lou Grillo demonstrate WTP Hearing
The president of Nevada’s League of Women Voters, Professor Sondra Cosgrove, was also impressed with the level at which participating students were working. “In [my] sessions, the students were highly motivated and eager to ask questions and share information,” she said. “We discussed research methods for leveraging online resources, as well as criteria for judging resource reliability. The students demonstrated a wide-range of research experience and constitutional knowledge, and a willingness to engage in debate.”
Vannozzi, a coordinator for District 4, was equally impressed. Working in small groups for just 15 minutes, he tasked his students with researching and composing answers to questions. The students then chose representatives from each group to present their answers in no more than 90 seconds. “The results were fantastic!” Vannozzi enthused. “Afterward, I had several teachers tell me that they will use our ‘sample follow-up question’ exercise in their own classrooms.”
Many of the students found the day valuable and said that it allowed them to become more comfortable with the hearing process, and the question and answer sessions. They also got to practice connecting current events with the U.S. Constitution using social media, technology, and other research tools.
Nov 13, 2017 / E-news
The Lyceum Scholars Program offers ten $10,000 scholarships to incoming Clemson University freshmen. The program uses a “Great Books” approach to studying the history of liberty, the American Founding, and the idea of moral character. Scholars take a series of eight hierarchically-structured courses (one per semester) as an intellectual cohort over their four years at Clemson. Students take classes including “Introduction to Political Theory,” “Wisdom of the Ancients,” and “Political Theory of Capitalism” and read works such as Plato’s Republic, Cicero’s On Duties, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Open to any major, the Lyceum Scholars Program awards a minor in Political Science and prepares students for careers in law, academia, policy making and business.
Because the program emphasizes moral character, Lyceum Scholars are assigned Socratic Tutors who guide students as they apply classroom theory to their own lives.
The priority application deadline for incoming Fall 2018 freshmen is December 11, 2017. Students accepted into the Lyceum Scholars Program receive $10,000 scholarships to Clemson University.
Please share this opportunity with your best students. If you have specific seniors in mind, please recommend them on our website here.
More information and an application are on the website, including a digital flyer for distribution that describes the program. Questions? Contact email@example.com.
Oct 04, 2017 / E-news, We the People
The Center would like to acknowledge the continuing generosity of the American Judges Foundation
(AJF). The Foundation voted at its annual meeting in Toronto to increase this year’s contribution to the Center for Civic Education for the We the People
program to $5,000 to support the We the People program. They have also made it an ongoing donation. In her gracious remarks, Judge Catherine Shaffer said, “This outstanding nonpartisan organization provides top notch civic educational opportunities for students across the United States via its highly praised ‘We the People’ program. Keep up your wonderful work!”
The Center thanks Judge Shaffer and her many colleagues in the American Judges Association
(AJA) not only for the grant but, more importantly, for the extraordinary services they have continued to render over the years as scholars and volunteer judges for the We the People program. Judge Shaffer is a King County Superior Court judge and currently serves as the AJA President-Elect. She has a long history as a participant in the We the People program, for years having served as a judge at the Washington State Finals and also as a judge at the National Finals competitions.
The American Judges Association is the only judicial organization that represents judges from both Canada and the United States and is the largest judges-only association in the US. Civic education and judicial education are central to its mission. Its members include a cross section of judges from all levels of courts with all levels of jurisdiction—a diverse group that, when united, speaks as the “Voice of the Judiciary.”
For additional information please contact John Hale at the Center.
Sep 25, 2017 / E-news, Project Citizen
Ghanaian students have now been participating in Project Citizen programs for eleven years! Since 2006, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) has been organizing Project Citizen in all ten regional capitals of Ghana to empower young people with the knowledge and skills to be informed citizens.
Students from both senior and junior high schools identify real-world issues in their communities and present their research and solutions to a panel of judges from various academic disciplines. Judges evaluate the presentations and arguments of students who come up with solutions to solve real issues they have identified in their communities. Some topics researched by students include teenage pregnancy, cement dust pollution, child marriage, and elections.
Students present their project to a panel of judges.
Participants develop critical thinking and research skills, confidence in public speaking, and knowledge of the public policy process. These tools are critical in helping them understand democratic values and principles, so that they may demand transparency and accountability on key issues in Ghana.
NCCE has also collaborated with the Ghana Education Service (GES) to form Civic Education Clubs in public and private schools, where students are extending their civic education beyond even their Project Citizen portfolios.
Sep 25, 2017 / E-news
Mark Molli, associate director of the Center for Civic Education, spoke with fifteen international participants as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education. The IVLP group focused on the goal of promoting civic engagement, exploring the legislative framework necessary to support civic engagement, and providing insight into how the United States engages youth in civic participation.
Molli highlighted the Center’s work to promote an enlightened and responsible citizenry, including its work at the national level to promote the Center’s programs with Congress and the administration.
Participants from all over the world attended the program and brought expertise from a range of professional fields, such as education, medicine, and human rights activism.
Mark Molli leads a discussion with IVLP participants. Photo by Daniel Labarca.
Sep 25, 2017 / E-news
The application for the 2017–2018 California Civic Learning Award for Public Schools is open! Co-sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, the awards celebrate civic learning and encourage public schools to enhance student engagement in civics and democracy.
A committee of representatives from the California Department of Education, the judicial branch, and other business and education leaders will assess the depth and breadth of applicants’ civic-learning classes, clubs, and programs. By identifying successful ways in which public schools are preparing students to be a part of an engaged citizenry, the California Department of Education hopes to spread effective models of civic education programs in other schools.
The application deadline is January 19, 2018, and Awards of Excellence, Distinction, and Merit will be announced in February 2018. Award of Excellence winners will be visited by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Award of Distinction winners will be visited by an appellate court justice, and Award of Merit winners will receive recognition from superior court judicial officers. Those who receive Awards of Excellence and Distinction will also receive plaques and invitations to the California School Recognition Regional Awards Ceremony hosted by the California Department of Education.
For more information, check out the California Department of Education website and the California Courts website.