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January 04, 2022 HUMAN RIGHTS

Civil Rights Civics Institute—A Valuable Classroom Tool

by Catherine E. Hawke

The recently launched Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Civil Rights Civics Institute (CRCI) is a valuable classroom tool for teachers and a wonderful resource for the general public as well. The CRCI presents a series of brief videos and essays in which lawyers and legal scholars answer legal questions presented by students from across the country. Whether learning in person, virtually, or in a hybrid format, the CRCI resources provide students with an opportunity to learn directly from legal experts who virtually visit their classrooms to offer timely, real-world answers to legal questions. Educators can easily use the videos in various ways, including as discussion prompts or as options for student-based inquiries.

As CRSJ, we strive to educate both lawyers and the public about related law and policy so everyone can more effectively participate in our democracy.

As CRSJ, we strive to educate both lawyers and the public about related law and policy so everyone can more effectively participate in our democracy.

CRCI resources address a wide variety of legal issues—from free speech and free press to education to national security to the rights of immigrants. For example, in one video, ABA CRSJ Native American Concerns Committee Vice Chair Heather Torres responded to a question from an Oklahoma high school student who asked, “Many schools use Native American mascots. What are my rights as an Indigenous student addressing this?” In answering the question, Torres noted how this question fits within federal, state, local, and tribal legal systems. She also described the work of student and tribal activists in advocating for change. Along the way, Torres highlighted Supreme Court precedent and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outline the varied legal complexities in these issues. It provides a great point of departure for student inquiry.

CRCI is being launched at an important moment, which coincides with a strong national movement to improve civic education. Over the past year, a consortium of civic education organizations (which includes the ABA as a member) released the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Roadmap. The Roadmap emerged from an “extensive collaboration among over 300 academics, historians, political scientists, K–12 educators, district and state administrators, civics providers, students, and others from across the country,” and it provides “a framework for a truly national and cross-state conversation about civic learning, to focus educator attention and effort in order to build broad, highly effective communities of practice.” The CRCI is another tool to advance this important mission. Many of the CRCI focus questions sit within EAD Roadmap themes, including, but not limited to, “A New Government and Constitution” and “We the People.” The CRCI resources offer students valuable assistance in answering many EAD thematic questions, such as “What are rights?” and “What are the responsibilities and opportunities of citizenship and civic agency in America’s constitutional democracy?” More information on the Roadmap and supporting report can be found here.

Meanwhile, legislation is currently pending in Congress to expand and improve civic education. The Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA) calls for an investment of $1 billion over five years to support civic education. This legislation has bipartisan sponsorship and a strong national campaign behind it. The American Bar Association squarely supports both of these efforts—the Roadmap and the CSDA. At the 2021 ABA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates adopted Resolution 21A606, which made support for the federal legislation and implementation of the EAD Roadmap official ABA policy. 

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Catherine E. Hawke

Associate Director, ABA Division for Public Education; Editor, ABA Supreme Court PREVIEW

Catherine E. Hawke is the associate director of the ABA Division for Public Education and the editor of the ABA Supreme Court PREVIEW. She has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.