526 Dis 2 Read the attached article on The Power of Active Citizenship: A Renewed Focus On Teaching Civics Education. Summarize the article by critically

Read the attached article on The Power of Active Citizenship: A Renewed Focus On Teaching Civics Education. Summarize the article by critically analyzing the article for classroom purposes and application. Critique the article by telling why you liked or disliked the article and pose a thought-provoking question to your peers. 

4 AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018

By Bob Graham and Randi Weingarten

At the end of the day, the students at my school felt one
shared experience—our politicians abandoned us by failing
to keep guns out of schools. But this time, my classmates and
I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to
pressure them to take action.

–Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School

E
arlier this year, a horrific tragedy unfolded at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County,
Florida. On February 14, a former student walked into
the school with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and mur-

dered 17 students and staff in the deadliest high school shooting
in American history. Only the 2012 mass killing at Sandy Hook
Elementary School, with a toll of 26 young children and adult staff,
resulted in a greater loss of life in a K–12 school. Since the Colum-
bine High School shooting in 1999, 187,000 students have expe-
rienced gun violence at their schools, and active shooter drills are
now commonplace.

We were devastated by the needless loss of life and anguished
that yet another mass school shooting had taken place while com-
monsense gun safety legislation to protect America’s students and
educators lingered in Congress and many state legislatures. Yet
we were heartened by what came next. Because, rather than
allowing themselves to be further victimized, the students at Mar-
jory Stoneman Douglas began to take matters into their own
hands, meeting and networking on social media, speaking to the
media, participating in vigils, organizing walkouts and demon-
strations, establishing coalitions with others who share their
outrage and goals, and traveling to Tallahassee and Washington,
D.C., to lobby on behalf of meaningful gun safety laws.

In other words, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students have
been acting as informed and activated citizens, utilizing their
constitutional rights to assemble and speak freely, and they have

Bob Graham is a former U.S. senator and governor of Florida. The author
of four books, including America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City
Hall—and Win, he currently leads efforts to encourage citizen engagement
and train students to become future leaders through the Bob Graham
Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. Randi Weingarten is
the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Highlights from her
career include serving as the president of the United Federation of Teachers,
as an AFT vice president, and as a history teacher at Clara Barton High
School in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.

The Power of
Active Citizenship

AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018 5

learned competencies to petition the government for the redress
of their grievances.

It is notable that Florida, like most states, stopped teaching civ-
ics—the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a
democracy—in the 1960s, only to restore it by legislative action in
2010, with citizenship instruction making its way back into schools
around 2011. (For more on each state’s civics education require-
ments, see the article on page 10.) Thus, these Marjory Stoneman
Douglas students were among the first wave of students in Florida
public schools to be taught civics in nearly four decades. For many
of them, their civics education started in middle school and con-
tinued through a 12th-grade Advanced Placement government
course where the teacher, Jeff Foster, espoused a simple mantra:
“ ‘If you don’t participate, you can’t complain about things.’ I tell
them in order to make a difference in the country, you need to
participate. Unfortunately, we had this event happen [at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas], and now it’s in live action.”
Evidently, the education provided at Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School served these courageous students well:
they credit their teachers with introducing them to the civic
knowledge and skills they have been using so effectively. Indeed,
before the shooting, some students had just had this debate on guns
in Foster’s class.

The fact that these students feel empowered to take a stand
on their own behalf is a testament to the value of educating
young people on their rights and responsibilities as citizens in
a democracy, as well as teaching them how to exercise the power
of active citizenship.

An Antidote to Authoritarianism
The events in Florida are taking place at a time when democracy
itself is confronting serious threats,* both in the United States and
internationally. In October 2017, the Albert Shanker Institute
brought together leading scholars and democracy activists from
across the globe to discuss these challenges.1 They are many: grow-
ing economic inequality, intense political polarization, government
dysfunctionality and paralysis, the decline of civil society institutions
such as organized religion and organized labor, attacks on science
and factual knowledge, and the emergence of movements of racial,
religious, and nativist intolerance. The conference’s participants,
who included Han Dongfang, a leader of the independent unions
in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests, and Mac Maha-
raj, a leader of the antiapartheid struggle who had been a prison
mate of Nelson Mandela, agreed that the future of democracy cannot
be taken for granted but must be actively promoted and secured by
confronting these challenges. That is our work as citizens.

Education for citizenship is the first, essential part of securing
the future of American democracy. (For more on the importance
of civics education in preserving our republic, see the article on
page 14.) This is not because—as some have incorrectly sug-
gested—popular support for democracy is flagging or because
today’s youth are less committed to democratic governance than
previous generations. In fact, the best evidence indicates that sup-
port for democracy has increased modestly and American youth

are more stalwart in their support for democracy than those who
are older.2 Rather, it is because openness to authoritarian rule is
greatest among those who are disaffected and disengaged from
politics, and who are under the sway of prejudice toward fellow
citizens of different backgrounds. When a person lacks a sense of
his or her own power as a citizen, experiences a problem that
dysfunctional democratic institutions have been unable to solve,
and has little experience in working constructively with other
citizens on common goals, he or she is more likely to give up on
democracy and turn to a “strongman” to solve his or her problems.
Education is a powerful antidote to this authoritarian temptation,
because it can impart that needed sense of civic efficacy and com-
mon cause. We know from national and international studies that
increases in educational attainment are highly correlated with
increases in civic participation and support for democracy.3 So
the more education we provide to Americans—and the better we
make that education—the healthier our democracy will be.

To be most effective, civics education must be resonant and
relevant. Any serious effort to ensure that young people are fully
educated about the values, processes, and institutions of democ-
racy depends on accomplished and experienced teachers who
both know their subjects well and actively engage students in their
learning. Research both here and abroad confirms that those
students who understand democracy best—and who participate
most actively in civic life as adults—are those whose teachers
know their material and dare to run classes that involve students
in civic work and in discussions of controversial subjects.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas students
were among the first wave of students
in Florida public schools to be taught
civics in nearly four decades.

*For more on these threats, see “Hope in Dark Times” and “History and Tyranny” in
the Summer 2017 issue of American Educator, available at www.aft.org/ae/
summer2017.

Students at Edison Preparatory School protest a lack of funding for
teachers in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Active Citizenship

6 AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018

Civics instruction should be “bottom up.” We need to teach
students to interact directly with their government and make
government respond to their concerns. The Marjory Stoneman
Douglas students have done this, but it shouldn’t take a shooting
for students to become civically engaged. Civic engagement
should begin close to home. It is more important to teach students
how to seek effective action from their school board or persuade
their city commission to place a stop sign on the corner than it is

for them to know that there are 435 members of the House of
Representatives. This concept of bottom-up civic engagement is
what the book America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City
Hall—and Win is all about (see the sidebar below).

Teaching civics should be more than just understanding the
structures and functions of government. In an era of “fake news”*
and Internet conspiracy theories, it is crucial that students learn
how to gather and evaluate sources of information, and then use
evidence from that information to develop and support their ideas
and advocacy positions.† No polity can make wise decisions if its
citizens do not know how to separate fact from opinion, and how
to gather and weigh relevant evidence. Education for democracy
shapes attitudes, values, and actions—it creates the foundations
for a culture of democracy, not just an understanding of what it

is. It takes time and long-term funding. It requires new
forms of professional training.

Citizenship education at its best is a unification of foun-
dational knowledge with civic values and key competen-
cies. Together, these elements represent action civics. One

of the biggest roadblocks to participatory democracy is the per-
ception that everyday Americans can’t influence government
policy, and that only the privileged and special interests can com-
mand the levers of power or change bureaucracies. But if students
can actually identify a problem in their school or community that
is important to them, consider the options to solve that problem,
marshal evidence in support of their selected solution, identify
which public decision-maker can make a difference and how he
or she might be persuaded to take action, determine the best time

It shouldn’t take a shooting for students
to become civically engaged.

Teaching Civic Engagement
BY BOB GRAHAM

I am a former U.S. senator, Florida governor,
and member of both houses of the Florida
Legislature. In my campaigns for governor
and the U.S. Senate, and while serving in
those offices, I was known for working full
days in a variety of occupations, including as
a factory worker, busboy, fisherman, and
ironworker—in total, 408 workdays over a
30-year span. One job—my very first
job—certainly stands out, however, and
shaped much of my later work. It was 44
years ago, when I spent a semester teaching
civics at Miami Carol City Senior High School.

Before working in the classroom, I was
the head of the Florida state Senate’s
Education Committee, and I was surprised

by how little students understood about
their local government institutions and how
to influence change. I observed the decline
in the teaching of civics, and how the
curriculum placed too much emphasis on
teaching about government, with too little
attention to civic engagement. If students
are not engaged, I found, they too often
become cynical and divorced from commu-
nity life, as well as the activities of a
democratic society.

While bringing these concerns to a
gathering of civics teachers, I was chal-
lenged to stop preaching, come into the
classroom, and learn the reality teachers
faced—indifferent students, parents who
would not attend parent-teacher nights, an
overly bureaucratic school administration,

and all those laws politicians placed on
teachers. I accepted this challenge for what
became a semester-long transformational
experience.

With the help of my students and
Donnell Morris, a young social science
teacher at Carol City High School, I devel-
oped a citizen-centric civics curriculum
constructed around the essential skills of
effective citizenship and hands-on projects
applying those skills. Our goals were to
tackle real issues that students were
concerned with in their school and commu-
nity. Students would learn ways to advocate
for real change—this was not a simulation,
but an exercise in advocacy. We wanted to
teach students how to make government
work for them.

*For more on the proliferation of fake news and the importance of civic reasoning in a
social media environment, see “The Challenge That’s Bigger Than Fake News” in the
Fall 2017 issue of American Educator, available at www.aft.org/ae/fall2017/
mcgrew_ortega_breakstone_wineburg.
†For more on developing arguments and teaching evidence-based writing, see “For
the Sake of Argument” in the Spring 2018 issue of American Educator, available at
www.aft.org/ae/spring2018/friedrich_bear_fox.

Chicago students march to the U.S. Department of Education to
deliver report cards to Secretary Betsy DeVos.

AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018 7

and conditions to pursue a decision, attract allies to an expanding
coalition of support, devise a plan to engage both traditional and
new media, and propose credible fiscal solutions for challenges
requiring public funding—then students can both move the
needle toward success for the problem at hand and gain the con-
fidence and experience necessary for a lifetime of action civics.

The active-citizenship approach we encourage focuses on five
key principles for teaching action civics:

• Help students recognize challenges or opportunities in their
school, community, state, or nation that can be addressed
through effective citizenship;

• Instruct students on the competencies required for civic suc-
cess (i.e., the skills of effective citizenship);

• Provide students with foundational knowledge of democratic
institutions and processes while teaching citizenship skills
(e.g., exploring federalism to identify which level of govern-
ment can resolve the challenge a student has selected);

• Instill in students the dispositions of democratic citizenship,
such as respect for fellow citizens of different races, religions,
classes, and sexualities, and tolerance for different political

viewpoints; and
• Encourage students to utilize their newly learned skills, knowl-

edge, and values to address the challenge or opportunity they
have identified.4

We must provide students with the opportunity to acquire the
above-described citizenship skills. Civics is not an accumulation
of dry facts and abstract ideas. As with any endeavor that we wish
to perform well, it must be practiced. You don’t learn to play the
piano by reading a textbook about the piano or even memorizing
famous scores. You don’t learn to make persuasive oral arguments
by studying the science of speech or even watching great speeches.
You learn to play the piano by playing the piano. You learn to make
persuasive oral arguments by practicing such arguments. And you
learn the skills of civics—the habits and attitudes of democracy—
by engaging in civic activities.

A
merica needs a “crash course” in civics. More impor-
tant, we need to instill an understanding of the rights
and responsibilities of citizens into our collective
experience. Perhaps the need has grown so acute

because civics education, like other areas of social studies, has
been pushed to the back burner in American schools, a victim of
the single-minded focus on English language arts and mathemat-
ics wrought by our recent national obsession with standardized
testing. But, in a very real sense, the students of Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School have proven the vibrancy and strength of
American democracy. Despite the horror of their circumstances,
they fell back on an education that provided them with the knowl-
edge and skills to demand change from local, state, and national
elected leaders. It is up to us to see that their citizenship education
experience is provided to all American students. ☐

(Endnotes on page 43)

Three decades later, after three terms in
the U.S. Senate, I—as a senior fellow at the
John F. Kennedy School of Government at
Harvard University—led a class of Harvard
undergraduates in an updated version of
the Carol City High School curriculum. I then
used these ideas last year as the basis for a
new book (coauthored with my former
Senate speechwriter Chris Hand), America,
the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City
Hall—and Win, which encourages strong
civics education and participation.*

Senator Graham holds up his book, America, the
Owner’s Manual, during an April 2018 professional
development session based on his work, as Karla
Hernandez-Mats, the president of the UTD
Teaching Excellence Foundation, looks on. The
foundation has funded a curriculum guide and
professional development sessions based on the
book. This workshop was held in Miami.

*To learn more about my ideas and review case studies
of everyday Americans who have developed the skills to
make changes in government policies, read America, the
Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall—and Win,
published by CQ Press.

G
R

E
G

O
R

Y
R

E
E
D

I’m honored that the United Teachers of
Dade (UTD) Teaching Excellence Foundation
has converted my book into a curriculum
guide, combining it with professional
development taught in part by me. More
than 100 Miami-Dade teachers were trained
in a series of union-sponsored professional
development sessions this past school year,
and my ideas on civic engagement are now
being piloted in middle and high school
civics classrooms across the county. This
would not have been possible without the
strong support of UTD President Karla
Hernandez-Mats and her team at the union.
It’s my hope that next school year, we will
be able to expand the program piloted by
UTD’s foundation to other school districts
across the nation.

High school students in Boston get out the vote as part of a civics class.

8 AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018

Activating Student Engagement

BY RANDI WEINGARTEN

My passion for politics has been lifelong,
but the art and science of turning that
passion into student engagement was
kindled in the classrooms of Clara Barton
High School, where I learned how to teach
civics education. While serving as legal
counsel for New York City’s United Federa-
tion of Teachers in the late 1980s, I had
worked closely with Clara Barton, helping it
through a health and safety crisis caused by
construction work that had been improp-
erly conducted on asbestos-containing
insulation, ceilings, walls, and floor tiles.
The relationships that were formed in that
work led to an invitation to teach in the
school, and I joined its faculty as a social
studies teacher in September 1991.

More than a quarter of a century later, I
can still vividly recall my excitement and
anticipation—and my nervousness—the
day I first stood in front of a political
science class at Clara Barton. My students
were intellectually curious, thoughtful,
and hard working. As students of color,
mostly of African descent, and with many
first-generation immigrants from the
Caribbean among their number, they
brought a rich set of real-world experi-
ences to the study of politics and govern-
ment. The challenge for me as a new
teacher was how to actively engage them
in their learning so that their great
potential could be fully realized.

Clara Barton had a solid cohort of
experienced and accomplished educators,
and I drew upon their professional
expertise and advice as I developed my own
pedagogical approach. They helped me
more than I can ever properly thank them,
in particular Leo Casey, with whom I taught
several Advanced Placement (AP) United
States Government and Politics classes. I
had practiced law and litigated cases—in
courts and in arbitration forums. I knew
that the practice of law was more impor-
tant than the study of law. Likewise, I had
studied John Dewey’s educational philoso-
phy and believed in his focus on learning by
doing, but I did not appreciate the full
power of this approach until I saw how
Barton teachers used it, and I began
applying it in my own teaching.

For instance, one of my classes took part
in the We the People civics competition on
the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Students
participated in mock congressional
hearings and debates to demonstrate their

ability to apply their knowledge and
understanding of American government to
contemporary issues. Since this was shortly
after the first Gulf War, students debated
the war-making powers of Congress and
the president. And, at a time when the
Supreme Court had upheld laws criminal-
izing gay sexuality, they analyzed the rights
of all Americans to privacy and intimacy.
They spoke eloquently on the First Amend-
ment protections of their speech in the
schoolhouse, on how the principles of the
Fourteenth Amendment should be applied
to affirmative action programs, on what
the Fourth Amendment had to say about
police stopping and searching them on the
street, and on whether the United States
still needed a strong Voting Rights Act. And
they related these questions to the very
principles underlying American govern-
ment—natural rights philosophy, republi-
canism, and the Lockean social contract.

In sum, my students learned how to be
democratic citizens by actively using civic
knowledge and practicing the skills of
citizenship. Empowered by this method of
education and its relevancy to their lives,
they were motivated to give this work their
all and went on to defeat schools from
much more advantaged settings, winning
the New York state championship and
placing fourth in the nation in the We the
People competition.

During my years at Clara Barton, I went
on to teach courses in law, American
history, and ethical issues in medicine, and I
applied the insights I had acquired on how
to actively engage students in their

learning. My law class was centered on a
mock trial, in which students acted out the
different roles of judge, jury, prosecution,
and defense. In my ethical issues in
medicine class, our practical nursing
students debated real-life challenges and
dilemmas in healthcare, and, weighing
values such as respect for life and respect
for patient autonomy, discussed how they
should be handled. In my history class,
students engaged in a project of research-
ing candidates for elected office and
volunteering on the campaign of the
candidate of their choice.

What I learned from my teaching is that
engagement is essential. Student engage-
ment and knowledge lead to critical
thinking, confidence, judgment, and
empowerment. While I am a teacher of
social studies and civics, and my approach
is rooted in my experience, the same
practices of active student engagement—
project-based instruction, student inquiry,
and experiential learning—are no less
applicable in other subjects. But I believe
these practices hold a special value and
importance for civics education today: the
future of our republic and democratic
governance hangs in the balance at this
critical moment, and active democratic
citizenship is essential for its survival. Civics
education, in which students learn
democratic citizenship by practicing it, is
essential not just for good education, but
for democracy itself.

Weingarten, bottom right, with her students
at Clara Barton High School in 1994.

C
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T
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AMERICAN EDUCATOR | SUMMER 2018 43

Active Citizenship
(Continued from page 7)

Endnotes
1. Proceedings of the conference are available at www.
shankerinstitute.org/event/crisis-democracy-conference.

2. Lee Drutman, Larry Diamond, and Joe Goldman, Follow
the Leader: Exploring American Support for Democracy and
Authoritarianism (Washington, DC: Democracy Fund Voter
Study Group, 2018).

3. Zhaogang Qiao, Ying Zhang, and Guodong Liang, “Does
More Education Promote Civic Engagement?,” Journal of
Postdoctoral Research 5, no. 9 (2017); and Thomas S. Dee,
“Are There Civic Returns to Education?,” Journal of Public
Economics 88 (2004): 1697–1720.

4. See Bob Graham and Chris Hand, America, the Owner’s
Manual: You Can Fight City Hall—and Win (Los Angeles:
Sage/CQ Press, 2017).

Photo Credits
Page 4: Top, Sipa USA via AP.

Page 4: Bottom left, AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Robin
Zielinski.

Page 4: Bottom right, Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times.

Page 5: Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP.

Page 6: Pamela Wolfe.

Page 7: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer.

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