Civics Education Programs Making a Difference This Constitution Day

As we approach Constitution Day, it’s worth exploring whether educators are prepared to teach students about the Constitution and its history in a manner that is accurate, effective and engaging. While it may not be widely known, numerous organizations spend their summers offering workshops and institutes to equip teachers with the resources to teach civics and American history during the school year.  

This effort should not go unnoticed, because civics, when effectively taught, promotes and preserves good citizenship. As teachers and students get back to work this fall in earnest, here’s a look back at some organizations that worked with educators over their break to ensure they’re well prepared to teach this important subject:   

Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (FFVF) hosted nearly 250 teachers across the United States this summer for one of their five week-long teacher programs and one traveling workshop. Their special guests and speakers included eminent scholars such as CherylAnne Amendola, Frederick Douglass descendant Kevin Douglass Greene, Dr. Joe Fornieri, Dr. Allen Guelzo, Mae Krier and Stephanie Townrow. Seminar topics included “Frederick Douglass: Legacy and Impact,” “Constitutional History,” “American Revolution South (Traveling Workshop),” “Medal of Honor Legacy: Cold War,” “Women in American History” and “Abraham Lincoln and His America.” 

Over the past 50 years, nearly 14,000 educators from around the world have enriched their knowledge and their classrooms through FFVF’s critically acclaimed and accredited seminars. 

The George Washington Teacher Institute Summer Residential Program at Mount Vernon offers educators an opportunity to attend a five-day immersive professional development program to learn more about George Washington and the 18th century world he lived in. Their format, with a different thematic focus for each program, allows educators to explore an 18th century subject that is most relevant to their classrooms. Participants learn from a variety of visiting and estate experts about how to bring the first president and his world to their 21st century students.  

Topics in 2023 included “Martha Washington and the Women of the 18th Century,” “The Great Experiment: George Washington and the Founding of the U.S. Government,” “Slavery in George Washington’s World,” “George Washington at War: From Soldier to Commander in Chief,” “George Washington and the Economy of a New Nation” and “Leadership and Legacy: Lessons from George Washington.” 

At the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History  (GLI), educators can choose from a variety of in-person and virtual summer professional development opportunities. These include 12 online teacher seminars, including “The Making of America,” a two-week National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute; The Gilder Lehrman Teacher Symposium, a five-day program at Gettysburg College “Statesmanship in American History,” hosted and funded by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University; “Reframing Lincoln Seminar: Myth, Memory,” “Changing Narratives; United States Foreign Policy, 1898 to Present” and “The Making of America: Colonial Era to Reconstruction.” 

The National Constitution Center (NCC), located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers in-person and online resources to educators across the country and “serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate.” It hosts over 160 educators from across the country for its series of summer institutes, which bring together top educators and ideologically diverse constitutional scholars.  

Over the course of week-long in-person sessions and three-day virtual sessions, participants work with content experts during these programs to deepen their knowledge of constitutional topics and their historical contexts and modern understandings. During the summer institutes, educators discover and develop ways to make content relevant to their students. Educators leave having gained new content knowledge, teaching tools, classroom-ready resources and skills for improving constitutional literacy. 

NCC’s approach has three main components: (1) building a historical foundation through storytelling of the Constitution’s founding and exploring how courts have interpreted it over time; (2) learning how to interpret the Constitution like a constitutional lawyer by asking what the government constitutionally may not do, not what it should do and (3) developing the skills of civil dialogue and reflection. Programs are open to educators working with grades 5 – 12 at public, charter, independent, parochial and other schools. Topics in 2023 included “Constitutional Conversations and Civil Dialogue” and “Principles of the American Revolution.” 

The Jack Miller Center (JMC) has continued to grow its resources for K-12 teachers, offering 24 teacher education programs across nine states this summer, which included graduate courses in Illinois and Massachusetts, symposiums in Florida and Wisconsin, a summer institute in Texas and workshops in Virginia. JMC’s faculty partners covered topics such as the American Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Amendment and Frederick Douglass. See this comprehensive list of the Summer 2023 seminars to learn more about the topics covered, locations (frequently university campuses) and faculty who partnered with JMC.  

Due to the generosity of donors, FFVF, GLI, NCC and JMC all provide scholarships to participants to remove the financial barriers of attendance. All these programs adjust their offerings each year to ensure they provide content that is particularly relevant to the needs of educators and their classrooms. They are currently in the process of making these adjustments for next year, so announcements of Summer 2024 offerings are imminent.  

 The vital work of these civics organizations does not stop when the school year begins. They continue to provide support to educators through lesson plans, weekend workshops, online seminars and even MA programs during the year. If you walk into a classroom and see an educator effectively and engagingly teaching civics, you may learn their approach was impacted by one of these programs, many of which are hoping to reach more teachers in the critical effort to prepare the next generation of citizens. 

If you are interested in learning more about these initiatives, please contact the Programs team at [email protected]. 

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