Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Educating for Democracy

By Shawn Healy
As Illinois prepares to celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a president who gave his life for the furtherance of democracy in the United States, the McCormick Foundation‘s Freedom Museum, in partnership with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, hosts a conference to return civics to a central place in schools statewide. Coupled with President Obama’s historic inauguration and the unprecedented involvement of young people in the recent election, we believe this is the perfect time to capitalize on this excitement and channel this interest into a lifelong commitment to civic engagement.

“The McCormick Foundation’s mission is to ignite the spirit of service and prepare, enable and inspire individuals and organizations to become more actively engaged in their communities,” said Dave Anderson, executive director, Freedom Museum. “Reincorporating civics into the curricula of our elementary and secondary schools is vital to advancing our mission and sustaining democracy in Illinois and beyond.”

Public schools were created in America with the primary purpose of preparing children to participate constructively as adult citizens in our democracy. Recent school reform efforts have focused primarily on improving student achievement in reading, math and science. The result of this emphasis is that the historical function of the American public school—to educate students for democratic participation and citizenship—has been pushed aside. Like millions of their peers across the country, most Illinois high school students lack sufficient formal instruction and opportunities for the development of civic literary that enables democratic engagement.

This conference, held February 8-10 at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, is bringing together the public and private sectors--Illinois policymakers, state legislators, civic education leaders, researchers, teachers and students to create a civic blueprint for Illinois high schools so that no child is left behind in civic education. Confirmed attendees include Dr. Diana Hess, professor of education, University of Wisconsin; Dr. Joseph Kahne, professor of education, Mills College; Ted McConnell, executive director, National Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools; Jesse Ruiz, chairman, Illinois State Board of Education; and Judge Diane Wood, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

“Illinois has some outstanding examples of high schools committed to the civic mission of schools. Five high schools have already been recognized as Democracy Schools by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition," said Carolyn Pereira, chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and executive director, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. "These schools are determined to expand and improve their civic learning opportunities to all of their students. Our goal, along with the Freedom Museum, is to increase the number of Democracy Schools in Illinois, by working with the stakeholders to create policies so that all Illinois high schools will be 'Democracy Schools,'” Pereira said.


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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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