Rhode Island Elected Officials Take National Lead on Civics Education
Local Non-profit Generation Citizen Lauds Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Cicilline for their Role in Promoting Civics in Federal Education Bill
In July, the United States House and Senate passed new versions of the principal federal education bill, known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While the bills, vastly different forms, are now in conference committee, Rhode Island politicians Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline have taken a national lead in attempting to ensure that civics education is a prominent part of any new federal education policy.
In recent years, American history and civics education has been increasingly deprioritized as a discipline in our schools. Federal funds to support instruction in these subjects has been completely discontinued, and many states and school districts have reduced or eliminated professional development, class time, and graduation requirements for civics and history. The result, unsurprisingly, is that the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments reveal that American students test worse in civics and history than any other subject.
Recognizing the potential of civics to revitalize our education system, and our democracy, led by Senator Whitehouse’s leadership, the Senate version of the new ESEA continues specific funding for civic education programs. While the House version of the ESEA does not currently contain this funding, Congressman Cicilline is the lead Democratic author of a “Dear Colleague” letter asking members of the House to support funding for civics in conference committee. Both Rhode Island legislators are taking the national lead in making sure civics is prominently featured in any new education bill.
“We are deeply grateful to Senator Whitehouse and to Congressman Cicilline for their incredible support for civic learning” said Ted McConnell, director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. “As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Campaign Co-Chair, has stated ‘knowledge of our system of government, our rights and responsibilities as citizens of this republic, does not pass down through the gene pool, it must be taught and we have much work to do.’ Senator Whitehouse and Rep. Cicilline are incredibly effective allies in ensuring each generation receives the civic learning so critical to the health and future of our nation.”
Generation Citizen (GC), a national non-profit dedicated to ensuring that every young person in this country receives an effective action civics education, was started in Rhode Island in 2009, and works with over 2,000 Rhode Island youth each year in Providence, Pawtucket, and Newport, teaching them how to take action on issues they care about. GC has worked closely with Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline to promote civics education, in Rhode Island, and nationally.
“Elected leaders need to encourage and support future generations to learn about and participate in the political process early and often” says Tom Kerr-Vanderslice, Generation Citizen’s Rhode Island Site Director, “Through their support of civics education, Senator Whitehouse and Representative Cicilline have actively demonstrated to Rhode Island students that civic understanding is an essential piece of their education, not just an extracurricular activity.”
Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline pledge to keep the momentum moving forward on promoting and improving civics education for all American students.
“It’s critical that the ESEA include robust funding for civics education programs that equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to engage in our democracy,” said Congressman Cicilline. “I am proud to stand with Generation Citizen and help lead the fight in the House to ensure our schools are able to provide Rhode Island’s students with a first-rate education in civics.”
“A strong civics education is an important part of any curriculum, and it promotes a healthy democracy. I am happy to support measures that strengthen our children’s understanding of their government and lead to a more informed and engaged electorate,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and author of legislation to fund grants to improve history and civics education in low-income and underserved schools.
The ESEA bill is currently in conference committee as the Senate and House iron out the differences in the respective pieces of legislation.
About Generation Citizen: Generation Citizen (GC) is a non-profit that works to ensure that every young person in the United States receives an effective action civics education. GC envisions a country of young people working as active and effective citizens to collectively rebuild our American democracy. As part of GC’s core program, college student volunteer Democracy Coaches are partnered with classroom teachers to teach a semester-long action civics course in which teens work with local leaders to fix local problems.