Race, Equity, & Civics

Race and Voting in Seattle: Civics for All Voter Education Would Make a Difference!

A Seattle Times Nov. 3, 2018 article reported and asked: “Studies show less-affluent people and people of color around the country disproportionately decline to vote. Seattle’s south end has the highest percentage of residents making under $25,000 and the city’s highest concentration of people of color. What can make voting a regular part of people’s lives?”

Tandy Williams, the South End voter organizer highlighted in the article, explained that, “There’s not enough knowledge around voting in our community.”  The Civics for All K-12 mock election voter education program would directly meet and help solve this problem.  Long term increases in voter turnout would undoubtedly increase, perhaps dramatically.

Young people love politics and learning about the electoral process, interest which leads to heightened student engagement, critical thinking, and academic achievement.  After participating in the recent 2018 all school mock election at Ballard High School, in which students studied this year’s crop of initiatives in depth, an amazing 87% of students responded positively to the question: Do you think participating in this mock election will make you more likely and ready to vote in real elections when you turn 18?”  We can and we should give this hopeful and inspiring experience to ALL students in Seattle Public Schools!

This is why leading African-American local organizations like the Seattle-King Co. NAACP, the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators, and Tabor 100 have all endorsed the Civics for All Initiative.

The Latest Research Shows the Savage Inequities in Civics Education: The Inequities of the Civics Gap

1) Opportunities for civic learning and engagement are highly unequal. White, wealthy students are four to six times as likely as Hispanic or Black students from low-income households to exceed the “proficient” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics. Only 7 percent of students whose parents didn’t graduate from high school and who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch reached “proficient,” according to a Harvard University report on studies by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), October 10, 2013.

2)  “Only 2% of Seattle’s non-college-educated adults have any kind of civic leadership role, meaning that their voice is missing in the city’s neighborhoods. Seattle’s high school students who are not on a path to college need more education and encouragement to participate in civic life. ” This research from Seattle’s CityClub was cited in a letter of endorsement written to former SPS Superintendent Jose Banda by Peter Levine, the Director of CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) and Tuft’s University Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Civics for every student is a Core Democratic Principle & a Matter of Equity and Fairness

Teaching civics across the K-12 social studies curriculum helps ensure equitable education and consistency for all, especially new students and those who switch schools once or more.  This rationale has been used for other district wide initiatives like writing across the curriculum.  And universal mock elections study and voting are the most efficient way to guarantee efficient delivery of equitable civics education studies and experiences across schools.  And such studies are the silver bullet for struggling youth of color.

The Necessity of Civics Studies  in  the Context of Race Relations

Civics studies have provided the winning moral, intellectual, and political strategies in America’s anti-racism playbook for centuries. Civics lessons and civic awareness has played a venerable and essential role in the lives of endless generations who have sought equitable treatment under the laws for themselves and, tellingly, for others.

Race, equity, and civics are intertwined at the hips, especially in schools and classrooms where avenues for change and movement towards progress are sought. While it may be possible to lead a class of school children in a meaningful discussion about race and equity without discussing civics/politics, the absence of the clarifying frameworks offered by civics/politics makes forming meaningfully analytical and evaluative claims almost impossible.

If we want to give our students — and teachers — the best range of “tools” that the social studies offers to dissect, address, and fix race and equity problems in America, we must infuse civic knowledge and political analysis into All of our classrooms. If our schools are the nurseries of democracy then the study of democracy– e.g. civics — should be front and center in the scholarly search for freedom, justice, and equality which all citizens deserve.

Civics for All emphasis on equitable citizenship education for ALL students dovetails with the civic spirit of Mayor Ed Murray’s  recently penned Executive Order reaffirming the City’s commitment to the Race and Social Justice Initiative.

E Pluribus Unum — “From the multi-cultural many, the political one.”

University of Washington Education/Political Science Professor Walter Parker brilliantly summed up our nation’s creed some years ago with this “translation.” It highlights the notion of tolerance of diversity, with a concomitant urge for unity around the singular ideal of democracy— from the many, the one. The notion that in the one we can find and devise ways to get along, apart from our often vast cultural differences, is uniquely—and beautifully — American.


Research on the Civics Gap:

The research makes incontestable what we already know to be true: the persistent scourge of institutional racism, coupled with other factors, is still disenfranchising youth of color by denying them equal access to civic literacy in our public schools. How many more generations will our schools disenfranchise before we decide to address this shortcoming directly?

  1. The Civics Achievement Gap – by Maira Levinson of Harvard and CIRCLE.  Harvard Professor Meira Levinson‘s research shows that: there are there are significant gaps in students’ knowledge about government, based on their families’ socio-economic status. This civics gap, which parallels the achievement gap, starts as early as fourth grade, and continues into the eighth and twelfth grades. Levinson shows that African-American, Hispanic, and poor students attain significantly lower scores on the civics test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than White, Asian, and middle-class students.” 1 To read more…
  2. Democracy for Some–The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School; by Joseph Kahne and Ellen Middaugh, CIRCLE 2008“In our study of high school civic opportunities, we found that a student’s race and academic track, and a school’s average socioeconomic status (SES) determines the availability of the school-based civic learning opportunities that promote voting and broader forms of civic engagement. High school students attending higher SES schools, those who are college-bound, and white students get more of these opportunities than low-income students, those not heading to college, and students of color.”
  3. CIRCLE Working Paper 59: quick link to research from article immediately above, “Democracy for Some: The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School”
  4. Civic Engagement Among Minority Youth

Restorative Justice and the Civics for All Initiative

The Civics for All Initiative is in direct alignment with the burgeoning Restorative Justice movement in Seattle’s K-12 public schools.  Civics for All aligns directly with many of the crucial objectives of the restorative justice movement, e.g.: eliminating disproportionality in discipline, academic achievement, empowering student voice, etc.  Further, like restorative justice, Civics for All offers improved connections between students, schools, families, and the community.

Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell, who was the FIRST City Council member to support the Civics for All Initiative and later co-sponsored City Hall’s unanimous resolution of support for Civics for All, is the best example of a leader who senses the need to integrate ideals like community and justice with actual classroom instruction about democratic ideals like civic duty and civic voice.  Dozens of King County and state leaders, as well as other leading educators, have supported the Initiative because of its frontal assault on racial inequities, the same problems that restorative justice addresses.

Restorative Justice and Civics Education: A Fundamental Linkage

Both of these initiatives have been endorsed by leading Seattle education and civic voices, but to date the proposals have not been linked in terms of their essential connections.  And they should be.   The two concepts are fundamentally connected – you cannot have one without the other.  By intentionally integrating RJ into a civics context there are enormous academic and intellectual growth opportunities for our young people.  Using and framing RJ as an intentional opportunity for intellectual growth, as well as psycho-social growth, is paramount for our youth and for those parents and community members who might oppose RJ as too “non-school oriented.”

Both initiatives are inter-dependent: both seek to empower young people with problem solving strategies that apply not only to their personal lives and classroom experiences, but also to the their broader membership in the overlapping communities that make up our democratic society.

Finally, it should be noted that, while RJ is transformative and wonderful and many educators have used its principles for eons, it is a system mainly to react to school discipline problems, with some preventative features. Civics lessons however, prevent such problems in the first place via increased student engagement, etc.

Civics Connections: Linking Restorative Justice & the Common Core

Metacognitive reasoning and critical thinking around civics and race are staples in many Common Core curriculums. To help SPS students, especially historically marginalized youth, restore faith in the justness of our schools and our democracy they must see the connections between both.  Likewise, to elicit and cultivate the humanizing experience of giving students REAL VOICE and input in school discipline matters, we also need to contextualize and extend that experience into the real realm of student political voice; e.g. Civic’s for All’s annual mock elections.

In a democratic society, the vote is the ultimate expression of each citizen’s voice in a just society — when we choose NOT to teach students to exercise their voices both at school AND in our politics we are choosing to dis-empower them.  Together, these initiatives can end this pattern and give all of our children a voice in our society – see Seattle Times op-ed about 50,000 students voting.

Civics for All leadership hopes to plan and build bridges with the Restorative Justice movement in Seattle moving forward.  To help move this connection forward  please contact  Web Hutchins, Civics for All director at [email protected] .

Links to Restorative Justice:  Seattle Restorative Justice  , Seattle Times, definition of RJ,   RJ in Oakland Unified School District

“Civics Integrated Service-Learning Lessons” – A  Veritable Silver Bullet for At-Risk Students of Color

While Civics for All does not require service learning, it is hoped that a renewed emphasis on civics will increase the amount of time spent on service learning and PBL–project-based learning lessons. These instructional approaches have exceedingly high efficacy rates with at-risk students of color.

Research by the National Learn and Serve Clearinghouse and others shows that not only teens but also elementary school students make enormous affective and cognitive growth when applied civics/service learning lessons are used.

Gates Foundation funded study found that 83% of at-risk learners report increased interest in school when applied civics/service learning lessons are used. The linked Learn and Serve slide show is excellent.

Civics for All Provides Relevancy, via Media Literacy, That Helps Many Youth of Color Thrive

Media literacy is essential to democratic citizenship and helps struggling students get interested and find success.

Research by the Gates Foundation proves that millions of teenagers demand that school be made relevant to their lives or they will tune out.

Civics for All makes school relevant by leveraging connections between required course content and civics, politics, current events and media literacy.

The Necessity of Civics Studies  in the Context of Diverse Student Bodies

Civics can play a crucial role in cultivating a school environment where the civil rights of historically marginalized youth (LGBT, developmentally challenged, immigrants, bullying victims, etc.) are not only made visible but actually discussed. See Education Week on the relationship between anti-bullying bullying and civics for instance.

It is within the framework of civic discourse about ethical and political philosophy that we have the greatest freedom to safely engage students in crucial discussions about right and wrong as they relate to marginalized groups and individuals at school. In my experience, such work almost invariably leads to heightened civic virtue, greater tolerance and understanding amongst diverse students, and increased academic engagement for all.

In civics rich schools, students will likely gain awareness of crucial civil rights statutes that extend apart from the race-based bills, like the Title lX decision, the Washington state 2002 Safe Schools bill, which protects sexual minority youth in schools, and many others.