Democracy at a Crossroads: National Civics Summit

October 11, 2017

By Dr. Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Dr. Peter Levine

What do Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour, former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., NBA legend Shane Battier, and the actress America Ferrera all have in common? They were featured speakers at the recent Democracy at a Crossroads summit in Washington, D.C.

On Sept 21, more than 250 experts, advocates, philanthropists, educators, students–and a few celebrities–from throughout the country gathered to discuss civic learning, including Dr. Michelle Herczog from the Power of Democracy Steering Committee. The event’s hosts were iCivics, Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida.

More than 30 partner organizations made commitments to expand civic learning. People who signed a pledge to support civics included iCivics founder Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.), former president Jimmy Carter, comedian Stephen Colbert, rapper and actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, actress Whoopi Goldberg and CEO of the Case Foundation Jean Case. America Ferrera shared a moving video pledge to educate and inspire young people.

To coincide with the summit, the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University released a white paper entitled “A Republic Still at Risk.” You can download the paper here. Its authors are Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg from Tisch College.

“A Republic Still at Risk” updates evidence for the “Six Proven Practices” that have been advocated in previous reports, starting with The Civic Mission of Schools in 2003:

  • Deliberations of current, controversial issues
  • Service-learning
  • Student-led voluntary associations
  • Student voice in schools
  • Simulations of adult civic roles

To these six practices, “A Republic Still at Risk” adds complementary streams of research and practice:

  • News media literacy education
  • Action Civics (action projects that encourage students to act as citizens, with rights and powers)
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • School climate reform

The report frames a renewal of civic education as a necessary response to the crisis in our republic, which takes the form of deep polarization and distrust. Because the political and civic context has changed (and because there is little evidence that civic education was ever adequate), we cannot be satisfied with a return to the past. Civic education needs innovation.

Civics also needs new state policies. “A Republic Still at Risk” presents new evidence that ambitious state reforms in Florida and Illinois are beginning to yield significant improvements.