Time to Ride the 2021 Civic Wave

By Frank F Islam & Ed Crego, April 6, 2021 (Photo credits: Tom de Boor, Shutterstock, et al)

  • In the area of civic life, Robert Putnam noted in his classic 2000 study Bowling Alone, participation in civic organizations and associations fell off substantially during the last half of the twentieth century. An excellent article by Alexandra Hudson, published in National Affairs, documents that two decades later, we Americans are still bowling alone.
  • The 2020 presidential election results and the protests and refusal to accept the outcome put a spotlight on the extent to which we are polarized. The extent of this polarization is captured in a Pew research study published in the week after the election which was titled, “America is Exceptional in the Nature of Its Political Divide.”
  • The finger of blame for the current divide cannot be pointed just at those of us on America’s “uncivil” war battlefield today. It can be traced back backward through the divisions of World Wars II, the Great Depression, World War I, and the Civil War, to the compromises made to establish our constitution.
  • The American constitution is the greatest document in the history of democracy. It also contains the seeds for some of the conflicts that separate us today. As we noted in a blog after the 2016 presidential election, these include: the electoral college, the same number of senators for each state regardless of population, the design of electoral districts, and the 10th amendment which reserves the powers not delegated to the United States to the states, or the people.
  • Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy (Roadmap), released in March 2021, “provides a framework for improvement in history and civics learning with the goal of supporting the development of all students into prepared, informed and engaged citizens.” This report was prepared by a team comprised of representatives from iCivics, Harvard University, Arizona State University, and Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life and its Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement.
  • CivXNow Federal Policy Agenda (Federal Policy Agenda) focuses on civic education, outlining eight recommendations for improving K-12 civic education recognizing “…that civic education, equitably delivered, is a critical component of rebuilding the civic strength of our country.” CivXNow is a large cross-partisan coalition of organizations convened by iCivics. The CivXNow Coalition was instrumental in getting the Educating for Democracy Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in September 2020.

The series is being hosted by Danielle Allen, Director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and a co-editor of the Our Common Purpose report.

Each event is preceded by a workshop for K-12 educators and public librarians. Later in the year, the Library will reach out to public librarians with follow-up activities directed at helping them assist citizens of all ages.

These new guidelines try to thread the needle. As Stephen Sawchuk reports in his article for Education Week:

They are guidelines and not standards. Time will tell the degree to which they will be accepted and/or implemented.

    • $1 billion in spending for the next six fiscal years for grants to states, institutions of higher education, qualified nonprofits and research
    • Funding for non-profit entities to develop or expand access to evidence-based curricula, instructional models and other educational programs
    • Grants for higher education institutions to assist in developing and training elementary and secondary school teachers