Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the founder of iCivics, said, “The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned by each new generation.” It is the continuing mission of the iCivics organization and its current Chief Executive Officer, Louise Dubé, to ensure that future generations of Americans receive meaningful, high-quality, non-partisan civics education through the 145,000 educators and 9 million students in all 50 states served through this free-to-the-public program.
Civics education is a cornerstone of learning in the United States. It is the curriculum mortar that helps to hold our democracy together. Students learn the principles of collaboration to form a more perfect union from a very early age in the school system. As they advance in other skills, so should their skills in civics responsibilities and their participatory understanding of the rights and healthy influence within a democratic society. By the time a young person is of voting age in America, we hope that they feel capable of being actively engaged in the formation of societal order. Our nation’s continuation and ongoing commitment to its founding principles depends on the learnings of each successive generation.
A Fortunate Civics Homework Introduction
Louise and I discussed her background as a lawyer versed in technology and holding an MBA, her dual role as a parent, and how, ultimately, a discussion with her son one evening over his iCivics homework in fourth grade led to her introduction to the organization’s critical mission. Louise was impressed by her son’s interest in the game, which focused on putting the student at the center of a political run for the White House.
Her son seemed invested and empowered by the process. Having already spent years in education technology, she decided to pay closer attention to the organization. As time went by, she ultimately met with the outgoing Executive Director, Jeff Curley, years after her initial introduction to the organization through her son’s homework. As it turned out, iCivics was looking for an optimal replacement in leadership to direct the organization going forward. This was when Louise had the noteworthy experience of meeting for dinner with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to discuss the position. Fortunately for both, they would have the opportunity for many more meetings over the next few years as Louise joined the organization. Ultimately, Justice O’Connor would leave iCivics due to health concerns, but the legacy she left behind continues to progress and live on.
The Unfortunate Side Effect of Narrowed Educational Focus
Louise noted her concern for a narrowed national educational focus, leaving civics behind as a top priority. She stated that she is concerned that we have perhaps become so focused on job preparation in education that we have forgotten to also focus on teaching the community aspects of democracy and what it means to be a healthy participant in a democratic society. She also mentioned that she has concerns for democracy worldwide, as many countries seem to be facing similar problems of reprioritization.
Louise proposed that we need to revitalize the focus on how to build bridges between varying mindsets to derive solutions. We must focus on directing children towards being the kind of neighbor you’d like to live near in a democratic society. She stated that these are the situations discussed and instilled through Civics lessons taught in the iCivics free-to-public programs.
Avoiding the Dismantling of Institutions
One mistake that Louise noted many people participating in democracy make is incorrectly assuming that it is not working when there are problems or conflicts. Democracy, in essence, is work. It is the work of making society function despite conflicts of opinions and goals. The only constant is change, the creation of the system in which you get a voice. However, Louise noted that for democracy to function appropriately, it requires input from ongoing generations. Current younger generations have not had historically high numbers in participation, such as voting or sharing their voice. iCivics hopes to change those numbers.
Building Partnerships and Bridges for Future Civics Leaders
iCivics is growing and expanding their partnerships, Louise stated. One of their recent partnerships is with Nickelodeon and Paramount through a program called Well Versed. It includes catchy songs to engage the young mind to stay active in community civics. Their programs are adapted to state standards, focus on historical relationships to civics, and build educational participation through student-focused activities. Problem-solving is a crucial aspect of education, as realistic problems are put in front of the student for participatory consideration.
Another focus for iCivics is teaching digital literacy and fact-checking. Through the CivXNow project of iCivics, Louise notes a 350-organization participating coalition across the spectrum of political parties. Through all this work that Louise and iCivics do, there is a theme of investment for the future and lifting the world to make it a better place.
Supporting the Ongoing Work with iCivics
If you want to bring these ideas to your local school board or school superintendent, Louise suggested going to Civixnow.org and clicking on the Current State Policies map at State Policy – CivXNow. There is a listing of Civics requirements and standards by each state. She then encouraged people to stay active in the topic of civics education in their local area, as well as nationally.
As we were wrapping up the interview, Louise spoke to the need for Americans and persons seeking democratic ideals worldwide to continue to try. She again remembered Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and promoted the value of continuing to try. We both noted the importance of lifting ourselves to the challenges of democracy and continuing this most essential work.