Civic Mission of Schools

In 2003, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE published The Civic Mission of Schools (CMS) report. It considers school-based civic education central to informed engagement among young people. Despite the fact that 40 state constitutions highlight the importance of civic literacy among citizens, school-based civic education is in decline. Whereas students formerly enrolled in three civics courses during high school, most are now relegated to a single-semester government course.

In an attempt to reverse these trends, the CMS report articulated six promising approaches for citizenship development in schools. They include formal instruction in U.S. government, history, law, and democracy; structured engagement with current and controversial issues; service learning linked to the formal curriculum; extracurricular activities that encourage greater involvement and connection to school and the community; authentic student voice in school governance; and finally, participation in simulations of democratic structures and processes. These six promising approaches undergird the Civics Program’s goal to strengthen the civic education system in Chicagoland.

The general principles of these approaches hold a common and intentional focus on civic outcomes, rather than mere educational gains. They have a focus on political and civic engagement, while avoiding the promotion of an individual position or political party. The approaches also promote active learning with real world connections, as well as an emphasis on the ideas and principles embedded in the founding documents and their influence on societal institutions, including schools.

In the aftermath of the publication of the CMS report, a coalition known as the “Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools,” emerged. The National Campaign is composed of 40 organizations “committed to improving the quality and quantity of civic learning in American schools.” To date, the Campaign has focused on implementing the recommendations of the CMS report at the local, state and national levels. Since 2004, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, an affiliate of the National Campaign, has led these efforts statewide, including the certification of Democracy Schools.

To learn more about the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and the Democracy Schools Initiative, please visit http://www.mccormickfoundation.org/democracyschools.

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