“Contrary to our idealistic normative assumptions, citizens do not have a principled or ideologically constrained approach to democracy...Instead, most citizens are prone to understand democracy through the lens of group membership…” (Edsall, Thomas NYT August 26, 2020 quoting research from Alexandra Filindra, political scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago). 

This is precisely why we need to teach civics intensively, intentionally focusing beyond “group membership" and towards anchoring healthy democratic norms that will secure our common purpose.

The past couple of months have shown us that there’s a lot of work ahead for the field of civic education. Increased civil unrest, the prevalence of false information, and the pervasive gridlock and partisanship in government continue to chip away at our democracy. Our work is now more important than ever! 

We continue to witness the passion of student civic engagement on and offline. This generation won’t wait, and they continue to rise to the occasion in a world of unknowns. This month, iCivics’ Director of Social Engagement, Amber Coleman-Mortley, moderated a conversation with Generation Citizen’s Scott Warren, IGNITE National’s Sara Guillermo, and Kidizenship's Amanda Little on the future of democracy in our country and how we can prepare our youth to save it. Listen to Gen Z and the Future of Democracy on the Commonwealth Club podcast.

Last month, Amber also spoke on a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Civics as a National Security Imperative: Addressing Racial Injustice, with leading civics and racial justice experts. The first day of the event focused on the specific ways in which domestic issues of race and inequality also have a broader impact on our national security. On the second day, Amber was joined by CivXNow Coalition members Danielle Allen of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, Shawn Healy of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and Andrew Wilkes of Generation Citizen in a discussion on how civics and civic engagement can address racial injustice and build societal resilience. It was quite clear from the discussion that civic education is part of the solution to solving the injustices in our society; building the social fabric of our nation through cross-cultural and cross-racial coalitions; restoring trust in our democratic principles; and equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary for justice-oriented civic work.

To that end, we would like to learn from each other regarding best practices in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and illuminate the role that CivXNow and our Coalition partners can play in both internal and external equity work. We are inspired by our nation’s young people, and want to take their lead in being a part of the solution. Please complete the brief survey here regarding the efforts your organization is taking. 

You can also share your support for civic education and racial justice by using our social media kit!

Inside this Newsletter:
  • 2020-2021 Youth Fellowship Application is Open!
  • When Students Need Civics Most, Civics NAEP to be Postponed
  • Member Spotlight - Commonwealth Club’s Focus on K-12 Civic Engagement
  • Upcoming Events - Constitution Day and Student Summit on Civics
  • New Coalition Members
  • Utah Civic Engagement Pilot Program Becomes Law
2020-2021 Youth Fellowship Application is Open!

The Equity in Civics Youth Fellows are middle and high school students who leverage their unique civic experiences to shed light on the ways in which civic education, civic engagement platforms, and civic institutions can create more inclusive spaces. As student ambassadors for equity in civics, Fellows engage in rich dialogue and explore the pressing issues facing our nation while adding necessary youth voice, perspectives, and talents to the CivXNow movement. 

Applications for the 2020-2021 class of Fellows are due September 20th. Check out our Medium page to learn more, apply, or nominate a student! 

Fellows have the opportunity to engage with experts in the fields of civics, education, policy, and media and represent CivXNow on panels and at events throughout the country. The Fellowship is a paid year-long program for students in grades 7 through 12 to lend their voice to the discussion on equity in civic education. Our goal is to cultivate a deeper appreciation for student voices in the field of civics which we accomplish by facilitating student-led discussions about civic education with equity at the center to ensure student perspectives are represented in the national dialogue.
When Students Need Civics Most, Civics NAEP to be Postponed 

On July 31, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) postponed until 2022 the voluntary administration of the 2021 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams in Civics and U.S. History for 8th graders. 

The decision was decided unanimously at the organization’s board meeting and was made with no discussion—as Board Chairman Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, called the move non-controversial, given that the exam is voluntary and not a Congressionally mandated test. 

This comes as the NAGB is trying to raise an additional $65 million from Congress to safely administer the 2021 NAEP assessment in Math and Reading for 4th and 8th graders, as federally mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, and it seems that some on the board are tying the future of the Civics and U.S. History exam to the ability to raise that money.

While we understand the pressures under which the NAGB is operating now, as COVID-19 has created some extraordinary circumstances, this is yet another example of how civics and social studies are being deprioritized on the national agenda. 

This decision defies the sharp reality of our time. Civic education remains one of the keys in addressing the many challenges before us. Postponing the assessment merely postpones progress in addressing these challenges.

All of us know the numbers: The 2018 NAEP results, released in April, showed that only 24% of our country’s 8th graders scored proficient or better in Civics. The design of the NAEP test for Civics is old and needs to be updated. Nevertheless, it is the most accessible yardstick highlighting the de-prioritization of civic education in our country and its resulting low levels of civic knowledge. Our policy agenda is clear. We must ensure that civics is measured more effectively and frequently. Given that the Civics test was so easily postponed, we must push to make it mandatory along with Reading and Math—not just for 8th grade, but also for 4th and 12th. At the very least, we must make sure that the 8th grade exam is given in 2022 when it is now scheduled. 

But as the exam is now postponed, perhaps it’s also time that the NAGB consider using the year-long delay to work on giving it a refresh so that we can have better, diversified data not just on how poorly our students are failing, but on why, so that we can all use that information to better inform how to finally help all students succeed.
Member Spotlight - Commonwealth Club’s Focus on K-12 Civic Engagement

This month’s member spotlight shines on Dr. Lauren Silver, the Education Director of the Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s largest public affairs forum. Dr. Silver, who was previously the Vice President of Education for the Computer History Museum in California, is the first ever Education Director for the 117-year-old Commonwealth Club. She’s been charged with a new initiative to develop positive civic engagement with the K–12 community. In this Q&A, she talks about how the organization is changing to focus more on young people, how it’s been forced to shift its work rapidly in the COVID-19 era, and about the Student Summit on Civics that the Commonwealth Club is hosting with CivXNow.

Q: What is the Commonwealth Club, and what has it been historically?

Silver: The Commonwealth Club is the oldest and largest public affairs forum in the U.S. It was founded in 1903 by prominent citizens in San Francisco to study and discuss civic problems and their solutions. My understanding is that it used to be more of an exclusive organization, for distinguished, wealthy citizens, mostly men, who could influence public policy. But it was also founded on core values of mutual respect, positive regard across differences of opinion, and the concept of working together for a common good, and it has always been at the forefront of movements for positive social change. From the very beginning, the Club has been a nonpartisan place for speakers and thinkers with varying points of view to come together to discuss and debate important civic issues. We’re still a membership organization, but we’re open to anyone and our core values haven’t changed.

Q: But it has gone through a number of changes over the years?

Silver: Well, I think any organization that has been around for over a century would have to have changed over the years! I think one of the strengths of the Club has been its ability to adapt and respond to the issues of the day, as well as to take advantage of new opportunities as they’ve become available. I love that our website talks about the “advent of radio” in 1924 as an exciting new technology that initiated our radio program, which still airs today. We’ve also changed by expanding into new communities around the Bay Area, and by spearheading special initiatives dedicated to specific issues such as California governance reform and, as I just said, climate change. And, obviously, we’ve had massive shifts just in the past five months. 

Q: How have the past five months made you change your model? 

Silver: Before COVID-19, all of our programs took place in person. But when the Shelter in Place was ordered, we made a fast pivot to digital so that we now offer everything online. I haven’t been at the Club for very long, but my impression is that we might actually be producing more programs now than we did before the shutdown. It has obviously been challenging in many ways, but it has also been a great way to expand our audience and even to experiment with new ways of producing and distributing our programs. And in some ways, being all-digital has given us better access to speakers, because we’re not bound to restrictions on their travel schedules—they can talk to us from their living rooms; they don’t have to be physically present.

Q: Can you talk more about the shift to online? How has the audience changed and expanded?

Silver: In a physical space, there’s a limit to how many people we can accommodate at one time. But there’s no limit online. For really well-known speakers, we’re getting audiences in the thousands; in our auditoriums, we could have hundreds. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Stacey Abrams are some speakers that have drawn huge audiences. And, while our broadcasts and podcasts have always made it possible for people to listen to our programs after the fact, now they can watch the live streams from anywhere in the world. We’re also finding that programs on our website are getting more traffic than they did in the past. We record every one, and we post a lot of them as videos on our site. That’s not new, actually. But it seems that now, with the pandemic continuing, and people living more of their lives online, viewership for our programs is having a longer life than it used to; sometimes the audience for the recorded version is exponentially larger than for the live stream. We’re also seeing a demand for past programs that are relevant to current issues. We put together playlists for topics such as racial justice and COVID-related health topics. So people are looking to previous speakers to help them understand and think about the present; it’s putting current events into a broader context.

Q: How will this inform how the Commonwealth Club does programming in the future?

Silver: We were already talking about increasing our online presence when the pandemic hit. And, as an educator, I knew that we’d have to make more use of digital media if we really wanted to reach students and younger audiences. But we also had a good model with our in-person programming, so we didn’t necessarily feel the urgency that we did when we suddenly had to close our building. Now that we’ve seen the impact and reach that we can have online, we’re talking more about how we can build on that, even after we go back to physical programs. Luckily, we—or, actually, my colleagues, since I didn’t work here yet—had the foresight to build in some really good digital capacity when they renovated the building. So our AV and media teams have been able to experiment with new ways to produce and distribute our programs that I’m not sure we would have done if we hadn’t had to rethink things so radically over the past few months. In June, we were able to serve as the live stream production source for Global Pride—a 24-hour event that was watched by 57 million people. We had no idea we could have that kind of an impact!

The events of the past few months have also prompted us to renew our commitment to equity and social justice and, especially, against racism. We’re re-evaluating our organization and our programs, and taking an honest look at the changes we need to make to be sure that we meet our mission. The Club has always been about civil rights and social justice, so this isn’t completely new, but we’re prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion even more strongly in all of the topics we consider for programs, the speakers we invite, and the audiences we reach out to, and this will have a long-lasting effect.

Q: You were hired eight months ago to in essence help the organization strengthen its historic mission in civics, and build out its civic education program. Can you talk about that?

Silver: The Commonwealth Club has always been a civic organization and an educational organization at heart. But it has never really focused on young people. Over the past few years, strategic discussions among our staff and Board of Governors kept coming back to what the Club needed to do to meet our mission of promoting civic engagement and civil dialogue, especially in an era of increasing polarization and political divisiveness. They understood that civic engagement begins in youth, so it became increasingly evident that one of the most important things we could do would be to incorporate civics education for youth into our work.

Q: So what does that civic education look like from the Commonwealth Club's perspective?

Silver: Right now it's still taking shape. It’s a mix of building on our strengths, expanding our education network, understanding where the need is, and inventing new ways to meet those needs. I’ve created a framework that we’re calling “Creating Citizens,” which includes different types of programs, some of which have already begun, and others which we’ll do in the future. The foundation for all of them is the Club’s strength in civil discourse. The age group I’m focusing on is K-12, but with the understanding that that doesn’t just mean students, and it doesn’t even mean just school-age, because kids live and learn in a larger context. We’ll be including teachers, parents, community members who work with youth, and students older and younger than K-12 in ways that are relevant to that core age group. 

Q: What types of programming will this include?

Silver: There will be different formats. We’ll continue to do “traditional” programs, with adult speakers addressing mostly adult audiences, but the topics will be about issues related to youth and civic learning. We’ve done a few of those already. Our first was in May, focusing on how the pandemic could be used as a unique moment in history, to foster civic awareness in students. And we just did another one that explored ways to keep Gen Z politically and civically engaged.

We’re also developing programs that will help students practice and model civil dialogue skills. We’ve begun a series of “Youth Talks,” interactive conversations about issues that are important to youth and their communities. Our most recent Youth Talk focused on the issue of school reopenings during the pandemic. We found out from students that they feel like no one is listening to them: they’re scared, confused, and feel like they have no way to influence policies that affect their daily lives. This is especially true for students from low-income communities and other populations that are typically marginalized or excluded from civic conversations. So we brought students together with education leaders to ask questions, express their concerns, and speak and listen respectfully to each other. It was surprisingly powerful, for the adults as well as the students, and also for people who watched the program online. We’ll be doing more of these in the future.

Q: What other types of programming are you considering to engage young people?

Silver: We’ve been experimenting with ways to bring young people together with some of our speakers. During one Youth Talks, we learned that one of the students had taken a course at UC Berkeley last semester with Robert Reich, who just happened to be scheduled for a program with us. We always include time for audience questions, so we invited the student to pre-record a video of himself asking a question for Mr. Reich, and we showed it as part of the program. Both of them were thrilled: Mr. Reich was genuinely pleased to hear from a student, and the student was really interested in the response to his question.

We also have an interesting idea to collect personal narratives from civic leaders—kind of an archive of civic oral histories—and I’d like to involve students in that. I’d like to train them as interviewers, transcribers, even to tell their own civic stories. This could be a great opportunity for young people to meet and learn directly from people who have made civic engagement a focus of their lives. 

Q: Why did The Commonwealth Club join CivXNow?

Silver: We absolutely believe in the mission and vision of CivXNow and we wanted to be able to contribute. We recognize the members of the Coalition as leaders in the field, but we know that no organization, no matter how strong, can solve the crisis in civics education alone. We’re strong believers in the power of collaboration and wanted to be a part of a network that would allow us to leverage the Club’s strengths and compliment others’ to meet our shared goals. We are extremely happy with how the networking and relationship-building is going. We’ve been honored to have Louise Dubé, Amber Coleman-Mortley, and Scott Warren as speakers recently, and I’ve been learning so much from other Coalition members I’ve talked with. As a relative newcomer to the world of civics education, we feel really fortunate to be able to learn from and contribute to the Coalition.

Q: And in September or October, the Commonwealth Club is working with CivXNow to create a Student Summit. Tell us about that.

Silver: The Student Summit on Civics was a true blend of ideas. It started in conversations with Louise Dubé and Patricia Leslie-Brown. Both of them talked about CivXNow’s goal to influence people’s mindsets, to make people really care about civics education and to see it as essential and important. That clicked with my own thinking about using the Commonwealth Club’s national platform to spread awareness of civics education and elevate youth voices. When Louise, Patricia, and Amber proposed the idea of the Summit, it seemed a perfect opportunity to collaborate.

The goal is to have student leaders share their perspectives on civics education, why it’s important, what changes are needed to make it more relevant for today’s young people, and how it can fuel a healthy democracy. We’ve selected four amazing students from the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship program as speakers. They all have powerful voices, and together they represent a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, so it will be a very rich discussion. The panel will be moderated by a journalist who’s knowledgeable about issues in education and young people’s lives. They’ll be covering questions such as what, if anything, from school has prepared students for this historic moment (and what they wish they had learned); what they see as barriers to civic engagement in communities; the role social media plays as a force for social change; and students’ experiences with the recent protests against racial injustice.

I think it’s important to say the role of programs like this is to raise as many questions as it answers. We don’t want to shy away from difficult, thorny issues. Students are ready for change; they have a voice; we want to encourage them to use it. To me, this is a perfect example of the kind of civil discourse that is central to the Commonwealth Club’s mission and that we want to promote for our students.

Q: Why is youth voice so important right now?

Silver: Adults, policymakers, educators, parents, politicians—we’re all making so many decisions on a daily basis that affect young people's lives. Yet we're not asking about how they’re doing or trusting them to participate in the decision making process. The core of a democracy is that everybody is a decision maker. Everybody is a participant. If we want this democracy of ours to survive and to thrive, we absolutely have to ensure that all citizens have access to information about how it works and that they understand their roles, their rights, and their responsibilities as citizens. There is no “them” in a democracy. It's only we. We can't use an old model in which we say to kids, "You just hang out. We'll do this for you. And then when you're older, you can have some power in what happens to you." I think so much has changed in the world and it's changing so fast, we have to make young people aware and let them get involved. They have a voice. They're using their voice. Adults have to listen to them and to learn from them. We have to allow the world to change. We have to let youth know from the very beginning that they are the future of this democratic experience of ours and to give them the power and the tools to learn how to lead it.
Mark Your Calendar - Upcoming Events

Find out more about upcoming events hosted by Coalition members!

Student Summit on Civics
Commonwealth Club, in partnership with CivXNow, will be presenting a webinar in September or October highlighting the need for student voice and civic education during these unprecedented times. Join 2020 Equity in Civics Youth Fellows A’Niya Bankston (CA), Matthew Green (PA), Marcus McNeill (MA), and Viren Mehta (CA) for a moderated, student-led discussion on the issues that are most important to this generation and their solutions moving forward.

Meeting the Moment: Renewing Democracy through Civic Learning
New Hampshire Institute for Civics Education, in partnership with the Warren B. Rudman Center at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, presents a William W. Treat Lecture to celebrate Constitution Day featuring CivXNow Advisory Council members, Louise Dube and Ted McConnell. 

Thursday, September 17th, 2020 | 5:15pm to 6:30pm ET

Check out more events from the William T. Treat Lecture series here!
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 135 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.
Utah Civic Engagement Pilot Program Becomes Law

On March 30, 2020, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law HB 334, which creates a three-year civic engagement pilot program to evaluate the benefits of and methods for implementing a civic engagement project requirement for high school graduation. At the time of its passage, HB 344 set a new standard for experiential civic learning pilots by providing more than $400,000 in funding, including operational costs handled at the state-level, for teacher professional development, evaluation design, and district support to implement project-based civics and service learning in at least three participating districts, or local educational agencies (LEAs). The law, specifically, advances civic and character education by:
  • Implementing a three-year civic engagement pilot program, intended to evaluate the benefits of, and methods for, implementing a civic engagement project requirement for high school graduation
  • Selecting participating LEAs from diverse geographic areas, with varying student population sizes
  • Providing support for teacher training and professional development
  • Requiring the Utah State Board of Education to report the pilot program’s results to the Education Interim Committee
Following the onset of COVID-19, many states, including Utah, experienced adverse appropriations environments due to a challenging economic climate. Given those realities, the state has creatively aligned resources with legislative intent, in part, by convening a statewide professional development convening, the Participatory Civics conference, in which CivXNow State Policy Task Force Co-Chairs, Andrew Wilkes and Shawn Healy, participated.
The Utah law builds on the legislative achievements of states like Illinois, Massachusetts, and Florida by ensuring that students—in districts of varying sizes and regions of the state—can receive a project-based civic education, including service learning, that prepares them for cornerstone activities of our democracy such as voting, serving on juries, and community service.
HB 334 continues Utah’s trajectory towards ensuring all its students are prepared for lifelong civic engagement through hands-on civic learning that builds on and speaks to the lived experiences of young people, their families, and communities. By codifying a multi-year civic engagement pilot program into law, Utah has established a national reference point for other states looking to identify bold, scalable approaches to project-based civics. Additionally, it provides an example of a state incorporating civics projects into its portfolio of civics education strategies, as recommended in the CivXNow State Policy Menu for state and local policymakers.
A huge thanks goes to the Utah Civics Coalition—comprised of teachers, district leaders, history providers, and civic education stakeholders from across the state of Utah—for partnering with lawmakers to make HB 334 a reality.
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.


Louise Dubé
Executive Director
iCivics, Inc.
Cambridge, MA