Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Civic Education Advancement Act

By Shawn Healy
The Civic Education Advancement Act, or HB-2787, will be called by Rep. Will Davis today in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee within the Illinois House of Representatives. Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Smith and Rep. Suzanne Bassi have signed on as co-sponsors. A summary of the fact sheet that accompanies the legislation follows. Full disclosure: I am a member of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, and Carolyn Pereira, our chair, will testify on the legislation's behalf.

Civic Education and participation is a fundamental element of a healthy democracy, and schools are in need of support to identify civic learning opportunities and to implement new strategies to prepare and sustain high quality citizenship among their student body.

Civic Education Advancement Act, HB 2787

· Sponsor: Representative William Davis (D-Chicago)

· The legislation creates a Civic Education Trust Fund in the State Treasury and authorizes regional superintendents of schools to award grants ($250-$3,000) for professional development to public high schools that choose to fill out the Civic Audit.

· The Civic Audit form and its findings are to be designed, updated, and processed by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and its members.

A Bankruptcy of Civic Knowledge

In the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test of United States history, more students scored below "basic" in history than in any other subject tested, including mathematics, science, and reading: 33% in grade 4 scored below basic; 36% in grade 8; and 57% in grade 12.

On the last NAEP civics assessment only 15% of 4th-graders were able to name two services that the government provides; just 6% of 8th-graders could describe two advantages of having a constitution; only 9% of 12th-graders could list two ways a democratic society benefits from citizen participation.

The long-term effect of neglecting this part of public education is apparent in a recent survey by the American Bar Association that revealed only 52% of adults were able to identify the three branches of government. In Illinois few schools teach about the courts. Textbooks often only give a paragraph or two to the third branch.

The last NAEP civics assessment produced scores for 12th graders below basic for 27% of Whites, 58% of African Americans, 56% of Hispanics, 34% of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 56% of American Indians and showed that disadvantaged students were least likely to have strong civic learning experiences in school.

The Civic Audit

The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition has developed the “Civic Audit for Illinois High Schools.” The Audit, when completed, will provide teachers and principals a blueprint to better understand how current curriculum, service learning and extracurricular activities are (and are not) providing civic learning experiences for their students.

The Audit is a self-guided assessment tool that evaluates a school in six parts:

1. Formal instruction in U.S. government, history, law and democracy using interactive methods and opportunities to apply learning to “real life” situations.

2. Discussion of current events that students view as important to their lives; discussion puts formal civic instruction in context of current political and social conditions.

3. Service Learning

4. Extra-Curricular Activities

5. Student Voice in School Governance

6. Simulations of democratic processes and procedures


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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