March 03, 2023

Educator's Voice XV: Sustaining Democracy through Civics Education

Source: NYSUT Research and Educational Services
educator's voice

In this issue...

Sustaining Democracy through Civics Education is focused on practices designed to help students become more informed, engaged citizens in our unique participatory democracy. Authors encourage other educators to identify and tackle tough civic issues in their classrooms, and to help students better understand democratic ideas by critically examining our nation’s governing systems. These bold and timely approaches represent practices in K–12 classrooms and in higher education.

Early career educators explore racial justice issues and employ innovative pedagogy, while students work toward the Seal of Civic Readiness, learn about voting rights, propose new reforms and take part in a climate change initiative. From the mobilization of underrepresented voters, to role-playing and student-led debates, this volume offers educators a range of activities that will inspire, engage and help students to deepen their awareness of who we are as a nation.

A Letter from the Executive Vice President

Dear Colleagues,

Civics education, now more than ever, is vital to sustaining the democratic structures that are inherently part of this nation’s fabric and that set us apart from so many other countries. And as a relatively new democracy, it’s reasonable to question and to re-examine our democratic ideals over time. We know that educators are right out front when it comes to helping students navigate the abundance of new ideas, opinions, and sometimes conflicting information before them. Students graduating into a knowledge-based society are learning to parse information, verify facts, understand sources, and examine a given topic from multiple points of view. These skills lend directly to understanding the meaning of our country’s democratic foundations of free speech and the conduct of a civil society.

Civics education is an important catalyst and can ensure that students leave school as engaged, active and prepared citizens. Critical to this mission is the creation of safe spaces for dialogue that foster the exchange of ideas and provide opportunities to pose questions. This can be both an exciting and a daunting task as an overemphasis on testing in math and English language arts has inadvertently diminished the importance of subjects like social studies and civics. So we have to find ways to creatively weave civics education into the fabric of our schools and curricula.

We’re excited to present this timely edition of Educator’s Voice on civics education. The practices described in this volume are aimed at sustaining democracy through educational activities that put history into action and create opportunities for students to gain firsthand experience with active citizenry. We hope you find inspiration here as you work to usher in the next generation of empowered Americans.


Jolene DiBrango
Executive Vice President, NYSUT

Creating a Brave Space for the Civics Classroom

The Seal of Civic Readiness is a new pathway to graduation from the New York State Education Department that welcomes students to participate in the role of citizen in a democracy. Oceanside educators piloted this new pathway with a goal of empowering students to follow the issue they feel most passionate about and influencing political power brokers to address these issues.

Jennifer Wolfe, Oceanside Federation of Teachers
Kiera Ward, Oceanside School District

Empowering Early Career Educators for Racial Justice

Three small city school districts joined a research-practice partnership to pilot professional development for new teachers and their mentors exploring the historical roots of racism, their own social and racial identities, and strategies for improving their relationships with diverse students. In examining their underlying beliefs and assumptions, teachers were empowered to not only advocate for their students but also prepare them to participate in democratic decision-making processes.

Kathryn Schiller, United University Professions–Albany
Rita Floess, Albany Public School Teachers Association
Beth Horning, University at Albany, Graduate Student Employee Union

Mobilizing Young Voters for Democracy

Two early career teachers and their teacher education professor discuss ways of using role play and current events in the classroom in order to increase student awareness of democratic principles as well as advocating young voter enfranchisement.

Kerri Mulqueen, Atmosphere Academy Public Charter Schools
David Beaver, Rye Neck Union Free School District
Katina Cokinos, Bayport-Bluepoint Teachers Association

Fostering Civic Engagement through an Inquiry on Climate Change

Dismal voter turnout among New York’s youngest voting-age citizenry suggests that we need to rethink civics education — starting in the elementary grades. Student-driven community projects are a natural fit. Elementary educators in Onteora were able to achieve high student engagement around climate change inquiry and recycling initiatives. 

Karen Hadley, Onteora Teachers Association