Often, the answer to the question, “What is the purpose of civic education?” is focused on teaching the fundamentals of our constitutional democracy so that more of our citizens understand our system of governance, vote, commit to community service, and engage in local politics. These are important tenets of civics.

The moment at hand – as millions of Americans have raised their voices in outcry against racial inequities, institutional racism, and incidents of racist attacks that have pervaded this country since its beginnings – is a stark reminder that civic engagement is also a manifestation of our commitment to self-governance. Sometimes the voice of the people is best heard when people are joined together. As a result of the protests, in short order, we are beginning to see movement toward change; some of us are among those trying to make change as part of the gathered people.

As the Advisory Council of CivXNow , we are writing this open letter, urging that now is the time that we as a Coalition should listen to that voice and lift it up where it already speaks from among us. 

Protests can be traced back to our nation's founding, and are often the most vivid evidence that it is the people who ultimately govern. Today, peaceful protestors who have taken to the public square in every corner of our country in the aftermath of yet another police killing of a Black man, George Floyd, are shouting in the streets that we must take more seriously our commitment to equality and justice, and to addressing systemic, particularly anti-Black, racism. 

CivXNow – a community of over 120 organizations – is dedicated to prioritizing and improving civic education. The signers of this letter believe that we can, and we must, do better to integrate racial equity into our work. We must lift up voices from communities of color to learn more about the disjuncture between civic education as it is traditionally taught and the realities experienced by students of color every day – and we are urging other members of the Coalition to add their names to this.     

Individually our members have released dozens of statements condemning recent police violence , supporting legislation on police reform, standing in solidarity with the Black community, calling for action and an end to racism in our democracy – and for changing the way we teach civics to layer important historical context. We invite you to add your organization’s statements to this list. Please email Patricia Leslie-Brown links to your statements if you would like to add yours.

But now cannot simply be a time for making statements. This moment should propel us to build better civic education moving forward. This does not necessarily mean a wholesale change. Civic education includes civic knowledge, the skills to engage in the civitas, the dispositions to engage with diverse viewpoints, and the agency to take action. Yet civic educators must also dig deeper, and teach with more depth and nuance so that students can grasp the racist patterns in our history, develop the breadth of moral vision necessary to overcome them, and be motivated to act. We must make a commitment to tell the full and complex story of our republic – including how racism has manifested itself in the work of our institutions – so that students can learn how to recognize racism today, and become advocates proactively working against anti-Black racism. This is a moral imperative.    

Civic education must teach about our country’s ideals of equality and justice – about when this country has pursued those ideals with integrity and when it has failed to live up to them – because as students of history, we know that justice will not come without the people demanding it. 

The success of our Coalition’s work will depend on collective and individual efforts. Many of our member organizations have indicated that they need to revisit core elements of their work to address racism. We urge every organization in the Coalition to continue conversations about race, and to consider taking urgent steps to help all our nation’s young people understand the historical and continuing impact of systemic racism and also to acquire the tools, skills, and moral vision to overcome it. 

Over the past year and a half, a diverse group has been grappling with the issue of equity in civics through a Hewlett Foundation funded Equity in Civics grant co-facilitated by Generation Citizen and iCivics. Over 30 people have been engaged with this work so far, including many members of the CivXNow Coalition. The goal of the project is to advance the issue of racial justice in the field of civic education. We will publish our results this Fall. Never has the success of that work been more critical. We recognize that this is only a first step of a larger process of change that must happen throughout the field. 

We do not have all of the answers within the civic education field, and we must continue on the path of learning and discovery. This is only the beginning. The commitment of the Coalition – in its own work – is to a process of listening, learning, and action.

For instance: 

  • Equity is at the heart of the CivXNow Policy Menu. In it, we call for states, districts, and schools to establish strategies such as including civics in state accountability systems, disaggregating results for subgroups, and devoting resources that will reduce racial and economic disparities in civic learning. It’s time we revisit the deficit approach reflected in some of our recommendations, and commit to an inclusive approach that prioritizes the voices of communities of color in fashioning solutions to inequities in the civic education system.    

  • Going forward, when we issue guidance about how to craft policies for civic education, we must do so incorporating the perspective of addressing systemic racism.  

  • We need to examine who is at the table, and whether we are meeting our goals as to inclusion – including the composition of this Advisory Council which offers this statement acknowledging we are a majority-White governing body that needs to diversify.

The civil unrest of the past several weeks has elicited voices on both sides of the aisle. Addressing racism is not a partisan issue, and it’s good to see that our political leaders recognize that, even in this polarized time. It’s once again brought to the forefront conversations about ending racial inequality that we need to make a permanent pillar of our work – and not just a matter we revisit after each violent incident. 

We issue the call to members of the Coalition interested in joining a conversation about racial equity to get in touch with Patricia Leslie-Brown .

The civic education community has always focused on supporting, and in many instances rebuilding, the civic fabric of our country. But civic strength can be built only when the words found above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court ring true: Equal Justice Under Law. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, but he emphasized that it does not bend on its own. It is a “tragic misconception,” he wrote, that “the very flow of time... will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.” As a community, we must work together to strengthen our national commitment to a present and future that lives up to the best of our country’s founding ideals of liberty, equality, and effective self-government, and that also builds beyond them to address injustice.

Danielle Allen, Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University
Brian Brady, President, Mikva Challenge
Kristen Cambell, Executive Director, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement
Louise Dube, Executive Director, iCivics 
Shawn Healy, Democracy Program Director, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Peter Levine, Associate Dean, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University
Ted McConnell, Senior Policy Advisor, CivXNow
Julie Silverbrook, Senior Director of Growth Initiative, iCivics 
Sterling Speirn, Senior Fellow, National Conference on Citizenship
Scott Warren, Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, Generation Citizen 
Andrew Wilkes, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, Generation Citizen

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Inside this Newsletter:
  • Youth Fellows Reflect on the Current Moment and How We Move Forward
  • New Coalition Members
  • CivXNow Federal Policy Task Force
  • Indiana Task Force Formed to Improve Civic Learning
  • CivXNow Website Launch

Youth Fellows Reflect on the Current Moment and How We Move Forward

Over the past school year, 20 high school students took part in the inaugural Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship and Youth As Civic Experts Network. The program stemmed from a collaborative effort between iCivics and Generation Citizen to explore and define equity in civic education. The fellowship and youth network brought together students from diverse backgrounds – most from urban and rural schools – for a series of workshops to explore how to make civics more inclusive and relevant to Americans of all backgrounds, and to learn skills that would help them become civic leaders. Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation , the fellowship and the network are part of a broader initiative to explore the challenges that civic education has when it comes to diversity. 

Throughout the year, the fellows worked on group projects around advocacy, engaged in group discussions on equity, civic education, civic engagement, and designed civic action projects around the upcoming census and voter engagement. Over the past month, many of the fellows on their own, have taken part in protests and civil action on racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. For this month’s member spotlight, we wanted you to hear from a few of these students about why this moment has been so important to them. 

Q: What was your first experience with racism?

Paris Mathews (Las Vegas, NV, rising senior) : When I was in first grade, other girls called me “dirty” and “ugly” and didn’t want to play with me because I was Black. One of the girls tried to cut my hair because I looked pretty on picture day. Then, my teacher told my parents I had to be put into special needs classes, even though I was perfectly capable of taking the regular course like everyone else.

Alexandra Henderson (Baton Rouge, LA, rising senior) : I was 4 years old. I went to a predominately White Catholic school. Two of my classmates and I were talking, and they wanted to come up with nicknames. They called themselves something along the lines of “vanilla princesses.” They called me “mud girl.” I went home, told my mom, and she explained to me that what they said was not a compliment. They were calling me names because I am Black. I never forgot that moment, and I don't think my mom did either.

Marcus McNeill (Boston, MA, rising junior) : When my sister (who is a veteran) was followed around in a department store by an employee.

Rachel Roncka (Boston, MA, rising junior) : Being biracial, it can sometimes be difficult to identify racism in others' interactions with you. It usually comes in more subtle forms, stemming from the idea that Asian-Americans are somehow "other" or "different.” I saw this in the media, in how teachers favored White students and mixed up the names of Asian students, and it even caused me to try to distance myself from my Chinese identity when I was younger.

Q: How are you experiencing this moment right now?

Paris Mathews: Seeing my people die not only at the hands of the police, but also from the coronavirus upsets me. There are more Black people dying from the virus than those from other races, and that is confusing and concerning. Then seeing Black men and women being killed for little things just makes me sick. I’m scared for my father, my brother, and my cousins. I don’t want them to be next, nor the women in my family. I don’t even feel safe at home, not because of the home itself but because people everywhere, who don’t even know me, want me dead.

Alexandra Henderson: I feel like at every turn, I am being told that my life is worthless. I see people on Twitter screaming so passionately that they hate Black people, and they get to go to college with no consequences. When I bring awareness to these issues, I'm told that I’m being dramatic, that I am an angry Black woman, or being called radical. I didn't know that fighting to live a better life without fear and prejudice made me radical, or that just asking to be equal and valued is some abstract concept that people obviously don't understand. 

From a young age, I was told to rise above adversity, to be better than racism, to kill them with kindness. But when police are killing Black people on the streets, are they killing them with kindness or killing them with prejudice? When I accidentally bump into someone at the store, and I am accused of trying to steal from them, is that rising above racism or is that perpetuating it? When people yell and scream at Latinos for speaking Spanish in public, are we being accepting, or are we forcing people to assimilate into a culture that treats them like animals out of fear?

I am feeling a lot of emotions right now, and the most prominent one is disgust. It is 2020, but people in America act like it's 1920. It's 2020, and I'm scared that if my mom and grandma speak Spanish in public, someone will accost them. It's 2020, and I'm scared that I'll still be called a “n****r.” It's 2020, and I feel like I can't live my life. It’s 2020, and I can't be Black or Hispanic without people telling me how "well spoken" I am. It's 2020, and people are surprised when I tell them I want to go to law school. It's 2020, and I am tired of having to prove time and time again that my life is valuable.

Marcus McNeill: Some days I'm still at a loss for words, but right now my mind has been switching to more activism and advocating for the African American community and what I can do to continue doing my part.

Rachel Roncka: I want to do as much as I can to support the movement, but I can't go to protests, so I am contributing by donating to organizations, signing petitions, emailing, and sharing resources online. I've had many important and long overdue discussions with friends, classmates, teachers, and family about racism in our society. I am working on teaching myself and my family more about the history of systemic racism in our country through the works of Black filmmakers, activists, and authors. We can never fully understand the experience of being Black in America, but we can listen, learn, and support the movement and the people whose lives it represents.

Q: What is your hope for the future?

Paris Mathews: That one day there will be justice for all, that there will be no hidden racism in the justice system or any other system. That I can not have a breakdown every time I see a cop or if someone I’m with gets pulled over. That I don’t see another Black person die for holding a hairbrush, or reach for their ID, or anything else. I hope that, when we say that we can’t breathe, they’ll listen.

No. I hope the police don’t use the chokehold position anymore. 

I hope we don’t need the Black Lives Matter movement anymore because everyone finally agrees that we do matter. I hope that there’s no more White privilege and that we have the same playing field as them, that I don’t have to worry about getting an opportunity because of my skin, that the stereotypes end, and that we love each other. I hope that there will be peace and actual freedom in America.

Alexandra Henderson: My hope is that people open their eyes and consider what they have done to contribute to this situation. I hope that the Black community can unify. I hope people will stop measuring each other's blackness. I hope that I can just be a person. I hope people see me for who I am, and do not judge me because I am Black. I hope that another Black person doesn't have to die to make people get it. I hope I can live my life freely. Most of all, I hope that everyone I love can live without fear of being killed on the streets, shot by a police officer, or publicly executed because they were racially profiled. I want this world to change.

Marcus McNeill: We are the next generation that will pass laws and bills in order to make Black lives matter in our communities. Plus, making sure we are allocating money for urban extracurricular programs so that students are busy and learning something new at the same time.

Rachel Roncka: I hope the spirit and passion behind this movement remains strong, even if the outpouring of social media posts begins to slow. As time passes, I hope that everyone remembers the outrage of all these recent injustices, and that it fuels us to continue fighting and applying what we've learned. It seems like law enforcement and government leaders are really starting to listen, and I hope this leads to more systemic change to correct the generations of racial oppression.
New Coalition Members

Working in concert with one another, we believe that we can ensure every school fulfills its vital civic mission that all students have access to quality civic education and are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary for authentic, informed, and effective civic engagement. The CivXNow Coalition now stands strong at 129 member organizations! We remain deeply appreciative of all of your efforts and what we have already accomplished together.
The latest additions to the Coalition include:
These organizations will be added to the full list of members on the CivXNow website . Please join us in welcoming them to the Coalition! Several other organizations are also in the process of joining. We urge you to recruit new members that share our goals. We are especially interested in recruiting more national organizations with large, scaled networks, state civic learning coalitions, youth voice organizations, organizations that represent rural or urban communities, and organizations that are active in K-12 after-school activities.
CivXNow Federal Policy Task Force

CivXNow and members of the Coalition have been hard at work supporting state-level policy efforts throughout the country, such as those in Texas that were featured in last month’s newsletter and the newly formed CivXNow State Policy Task Force that kicked-off this month. This Task Force is for people working actively on policy and legislative efforts in their states. 

We are forming a Federal Policy Task Force to meet regularly to develop an ambitious national policy agenda for civic learning. Let us know if you are interested in finding out more about the CivXNow Federal Policy Task Force .
Indiana Task Force Formed to Improve Civic Learning 

The Indiana Bar Foundation – a member of the CivXNow Coalition and CivXNow State Policy Task Force – has created a Civic Education Task Force in Indiana to study methods of instruction, programs, and educational outcomes to improve civic education opportunities throughout the state. Its creation was spurred by a recommendation included in the 2019 Indiana Civic Health Index which measures civic engagement. The work of the Task Force is chaired by Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and funded by Lumina Foundation

The Task Force held its inaugural meeting virtually on April 17 th with presentations by Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and member of the CivXNow Advisory Council, and Ted McConnell, Senior Policy Advisor for the CivXNow Coalition. The Task Force’s second virtual meeting took place on June 24 th

The group will lay out an ambitious plan of action which will culminate with a report to Indiana policymakers in late 2020. To learn more about the Task Force, read their full press release here
CivXNow Website Launch

As our movement grows and our efforts evolve, so must the CivXNow website. We are excited to announce that the redesign of the CivXNow site is now live

The site was created with an eye toward better articulating our goals and vision for civic learning, easier navigating and an adaptable infrastructure, speaking to a broader audience of stakeholders, better featuring all of the outstanding member organizations that have joined this movement, providing more research and resources regarding civic learning, and being more transparent about what we do, who’s involved, and those who lead these efforts. Check it out, and let us know what you think!
Have a Great Summer!

We’ll be taking next month off from the newsletter to prepare for more exciting initiatives we have planned for the fall and winter such as our new class of Youth Fellows, the release of the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, a state coalition affiliate program, and an ambitious federal policy agenda. We hope you all have a healthy and relaxing summer, and we look forward to bringing more updates about civic learning and the CivXNow movement to your inbox when we return in August!
Your CivXNow Team

Our CivXNow team facilitates the publication of this newsletter.

In addition, we are supported by (and very grateful to) several members of the Coalition who - very generously - contribute their energy, time and guidance including: Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics , Mikva Challenge , PACE , McCormick Foundation , Tufts University , Citizen University , Ronald Reagan Foundation , JFK Library Foundation , ConSource , National Conference on Citizenship , Generation Citizen , and many many others who support individual projects.

This important work is generously funded with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York , The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation , and The Robert R. McCormick Foundation .


Louise Dubé
Executive Director
iCivics, Inc.
Cambridge, MA