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 McCormick Foundation Civics Program: TEACHER BULLETIN  |  June 2011 / Volume  43

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June Welcome

June is here which means it is time for summer!  The McCormick Foundation Civics Program is excited about the busy few months ahead.  There are still spots available for our First Amendment Summer Institute taking place in Chicago July 18 - 22.  We have some wonderful speakers lined up - Charles Haynes from the First Amendment Center in D.C., Barbara O'Toole from the ACLU and Peter Alter from the Chicago History Museum, just to name a few.  Click here to register today!  There are also still a limited number of spots available for the four-day Teaching with Controversy Institute in Oak Brook, June 20 - 23.  To register, click here.

Last month, the Freedom Express celebrated a special milestone. On May 27, it completed its first full year of traveling to schools and communities around Chicagoland. Thanks to all the teachers and schools who have worked with our staff to organize our visits for the past year.  Help us start off our second year of travels by booking the Freedom Express for your summer school classes and enrichment programs.

This issue of FreeSource includes an op-ed on the recent release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores written by Civics Program Resident Scholar, Shawn Healy.  We also spotlight the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation for their work with and support of civics teachers throughout the country.

Good luck wrapping up the end of the year and we hope to see you this summer!


Janice Belzowski
Professional Development Coordinator 

Nation Earns a Failing Grade in Civics
By: Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar and Director of Professional Development, McCormick Foundation Civics Program

Our nation’s schools are failing in their obligation to prepare America’s next generation for informed engagement in our representative democracy. According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Civics, released recently by the U.S. Department of Education, less than a quarter of students of all grade levels performed at or above proficiency level in the subject. Moreover, fewer than five percent of graduating seniors leave high school with the ability to list two privileges of U.S. citizens, explain the impact of television on the political process, or summarize the views of Roosevelt and Reagan on the role of government.

Given these appallingly lackluster results, it should come as no surprise that our nation’s political discourse is callous and shallow. Voter apathy outside of presidential elections is the prevailing norm, and public corruption permeates all levels of government. In an era of standardized testing that has served to narrow the curriculum and crowd out the social studies, our schools are tasked with ensuring that our students are career and college-ready. These obsessions have undermined schools’ original civic mission to ensure that all graduating seniors emerge with the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions for lifelong exercise of their responsibilities as citizens.

Thankfully, Illinois has a cadre of schools who have acted as stalwarts to these troubling trends.  Nine Chicago area high schools have been accredited by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition as Democracy Schools.  Democracy Schools are exemplary providers of authentic experiences for their students in the rights, responsibilities, and tensions inherent in living in a representative democracy.

Seniors at Community High School in West Chicago’s American Government class participate in the “Legislative Semester,” an in-school simulation that recreates the structures and politics of the Illinois House of Representatives. Freshmen at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, meanwhile, take part in the SEEDS (Students Educating for Equity in a Diverse Society) program, which teaches students that they possess the power to affect societal change by asking them to pick an issue they care about, develop an action plan, and share their ideas at an open house.

To continue reading this essay, please click here.

James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation

Organization: James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation

Established: The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 for the purpose of improving teaching about the United States Consitution in secondary schools. The Foundation is an independent agency of the Executive Branch of the federal government and receives its funding from Congress and generous contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.  

Named in honor of the fourth president of the United States and acknowledged "Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights," a James Madison Fellowship funds a great deal of each Fellow's course of study towards a master's degree. That program must include a concentration of courses on the history and principles of the United States Constitution.

The 57 James Madison Fellows chosen in 2011 were selected in competition with applicants from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the nation's island and trust territories.  Recipients are required to teach American history or social studies in a secondary school for at least one year for each year of fellowship support.  

Since 2007, the McCormick Foundation has funded a second James Madison Fellow from the state of Illinois. In addition to the James Madison Summer Institute at Georgetown University, the McCormick-sponsored Fellow also completes a summer internship with the McCormick Foundation Civics Program. The first award was given to Pat Usher, social studies teacher at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park.  Of the experience, Pat says,

"...My James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellowship (JMMFF) was one of reflection, understanding, and empowerment.  The challenge for me was that each step of the way I encountered so many talented and smart (very smart) individuals; I found myself empathizing with those hesitant, but hopeful students in my own classroom...In large part, we (high school history and government teachers) feel forced to conquer coverage of the curriculum rather than explore the depth of the content.  For me the JMMFF experience empowered me to think beyond those pitfalls of education and rediscover the promise of experiment in the classroom." 

Erica Bray-Parker, social studies teacher at Glenbard North High School, says she grew as a professional despite the academic challenge the Fellowship proved to be.  Bray-Parker said, 

"...To bring that knowledge back to my students, makes it all the more powerful of an experience.  The excitement that I have after experiencing Washington D.C. for a month has also transferred positively onto my students.

And, Wheaton Warrenville South High School social studies teacher, Kyle Hickman reflects,

"The McCormick Foundation-James Madison Fellowship has given me the opportunity to further my education and collaborate with other educators to develop better teaching strategies.  I have become much more confident teaching in the classroom because of the new strategies I have learned in collaboration with other educators and the content knowledge I have gained from my graduate program."

  For more information on the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, please visit their website at www.jamesmadison.com.