Unique Civic Education Programs for Young Americans
Several organizations run excellent civic education programs for America’s youth, though short-term programs often lack follow-up alumni activities, peer education take-home materials, education materials for parents or the adults who run the programs, or other connections to next steps in a student’s development. Please contact the Roundtable if you are interested in helping an organization here extend its efforts and impact.
The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America (Scouts BSA), two separate organizations each with roughly two million youth members, provide civic education through citizenship badges. Girl Scouts offers Citizen Badges at all six Girl Scout levels through the G.I.R.L. Agenda (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-Taker, Leader), with a dual focus on civic knowledge and civic engagement. Girl Scout Juniors, for example, earn the Inside Government badge by learning how government works and finding ways to be involved in civil society. Boy Scouts of America offers six civics-focused Merit Badges including American Heritage, Citizenship in the Community, and Citizenship in the Nation. The guide for each badge identifies educational resources to develop knowledge and requirements to apply that knowledge. American Heritage, for instance, requires Boy Scouts to read and discuss the importance of the Declaration of Independence and interview people about what America means to them.
In Boys State, run by the American Legion, about 20,000 high school juniors each year learn how state and local government works by simulating all three branches of government, electing one another to office and passing and evaluating legislation. The best participants go on to Boys Nation. Similarly, the American Legion Auxiliary runs Girls State and Girls Nation for about 20,000 juniors. The American Legion also runs a student oratorical contest whose winners give ten-minute orations on aspects of the Constitution. The YMCA Youth and Government program similarly engages thousands of teens nationwide in model government.
For National History Day, started in 1974 at Case Western Reserve University and now funded substantially by the National Endowment for the Humanities, more than half a million middle and high school students and more than 30,000 teachers engage in a year-long American history program. Students develop creative projects, then engage in local and national contests. Performance contestants can perform in the roles of historical figures, replicating their historical dress and diction.
The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge has reached more than 5 million students since its founding in 1949 by E.F. Hutton, Don Belding, Kenneth Wells, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. On 75 acres of uniquely hallowed ground, it provides students and teachers with immersive, multi-day educational experiences in the history, ideals, and continuing relevance of the American Founding. In 2019 these programs will educate 2,600 students and 440 teachers.
The Harlan Institute brings elite law school experiences into the high school classroom, focusing on the Constitution, Supreme Court cases, and the American justice system. The Virtual Supreme Court competition runs at a high level of sophistication in partnership with The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource): teams research cutting-edge constitutional law, write appellate briefs, argue against students in different states, and give oral arguments. About 50 top students compete each year. ConSource provides an invaluable Constitutional Index.
The Case Method Project at Harvard Business School helps high school and college students dive deeply into 22 key decision points in the history of American democracy. Using insights from the case method pedagogy of HBS, Professor David Moss developed a college course in History of American Democracy in a format that expanded to high schools in 2014 and is now used in more than 150 schools across 250 classrooms.
Civic Spirit promotes comprehensive civic education among diverse faith-based schools by providing teachers with intensive professional development and students with core knowledge, skills, and foundational texts that help them understand and appreciate American political freedom, feel a sense of belonging in their community and country, and cultivate civic virtues. Civic Spirit has worked with more than 50 educators and has reached 5,000 students since its founding in 2018 as a project of Hillel International.
The New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, founded in 1804 by eleven prominent citizens of New York, houses more than four million artifacts and reaches about 200,000 students annually. Its new Academy for American Democracy, piloted to thousands of sixth graders and their teachers, educates about the foundations of democracy since classical Greece. Its Citizenship Project helps green card holders prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam.
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
New York, NY
Annual Expenditures: $100 million
Boy Scouts (National Boy Scouts of America Council)
Annual Expenditures: $300 million
Annual Expenditures: $75 million
American Legion Auxiliary
Annual Expenditures: $9 million
National History Day
College Park, MD
Annual Expenditures: $3 million
Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge
Valley Forge, PA
Annual Expenditures: $2.7 million
Annual Expenditures: $15,000
Josh Blackman (email@example.com)
Annual Expenditures: $200,000
New York, NY
Annual Expenditures: $550,000
New-York Historical Society
New York, NY
President and CEO: Louise Mirrer