Strengthening Civic Learning in the Commonwealth: Generation Citizen’s Presentation for the Public Forum

Working Group for Civic Learning

Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

January 22, 2015

Millbury Memorial Jr/Sr High School


Thank you for this opportunity to present to the Working Group for Civic Learning.  My name is Leila Quinn and I am the Massachusetts Advocacy Manager for Generation Citizen, or “GC.”  We are a national non-profit that envisions a country of young people working as active and effective citizens to collectively rebuild our American democracy.  GC works to ensure that every student in the US receives an effective action civics education. We do this by directly engaging schools in action civics while simultaneously building the demand for the concept across the country.

Just as when one takes a driver’s education class to practice behind the wheel, our youth need the opportunity to practice essential civic skills before their eighteenth birthday, so that they can be at the helm of their civic responsibilities as adults.  Gone are the days of rote memorization without practical application.  Action civics provides skill practice, essential knowledge, and motivates students to make change.

In project-based learning, students think critically, collaborate, and become the generation defining new social movements.  Action civics thrives on our students’ diversity: all opinions and backgrounds are valued.  The local focus provides students with real paths to affect change at the municipal and state level, and provides opportunities to see how government affects their everyday lives.

An idea recently taken hold in several states to revive civics education is to have students pass the U.S. citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school.  It is important to assess learning, though we must be sure that the quality of civics instruction improves along with the assessments, via teacher training and materials.  We must not regard a simple test as the main solution to democratic apathy.

The same applies where there are added required courses.  While important to investigate key historical documents, understand our constitutional protections, and why certain power structures exist, it is even more important that students interact with the decision-makers in their communities, and pull the levers for change themselves.

The people of Massachusetts have historically been movement leaders, and we in this room can be the shining example of implementing action civics in our schools.  This is our chance lead the nation in fostering a population of young people who build social movements, express eloquent political opinions, and make headlines with their groundbreaking work.

Reviving civics education and restoring a healthy democracy will require a variety of best practices.  Community-based action civics is the innovation that Massachusetts can lead.  This Working Group and public forum are the perfect foundation for bringing action civics education to every student in the commonwealth and we look forward to what is to come.  Thank you.


Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.

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