Six Major Civic Lessons for Illinois

by Dr. Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar 

Today, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), convened by the McCormick Foundation, announces nine new Democracy Schools. Since 2006, the ICMC has recognized over 30 high schools throughout Illinois who have demonstrated deep commitments to civic learning across the curriculum, in extracurricular activities and through student voice in school governance.

During this time, we have learned six major lessons about sustaining and institutionalizing high-quality, school-based civic learning in Illinois:

  1. These efforts must target cities, suburbs and rural areas to reach the ever-diverse student population. Our democracy’s health is dependent upon equitable civic learning opportunities.
  2. Civic learning is not merely the concern of civics and government teachers, but the entire school faculty.
  3. Principals should lead a vision for their schools’ civic missions and create space for their faculties to align civic learning with Common Core.
  4. Teachers across disciplines need ongoing access to professional development opportunities emphasizing both civic content and pedagogies.
  5. Schools must bring community partners into their buildings to work with students and teachers, but also send students out in service of their communities.
  6. Schools should practice the democracy they teach by incorporating all stakeholders’ voices in their governance, modeling effective civic engagement and nurturing its development among students.

The ICMC is growing a self-sustaining network of Democracy Schools committed to students’ civic development. This network increasingly reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. Through rigorous research and evaluation, its practices prove that civic learning can flourish in every corner of Illinois, and among all student populations.


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