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January 04, 2022 HUMAN RIGHTS

The State of Civic Education in America

by Beth K. Whittenbury

As the current chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice (CRSJ), I’m pleased to bring you this issue of Human Rights Magazine, “The State of Civic Education in America,” which aligns with our Section’s theme this bar year: “Unity through Civic Literacy.” This theme illustrates our belief that much of the divisiveness rampant in our nation will cease when citizens better understand our democratic government. To that end, we’ve established the Civil Rights Civics Institute (CRCI), which provides students, teachers, and the general public answers to questions about civil rights submitted to us from around the nation. We solicited questions from students around the nation, focusing on youth from traditionally underserved communities. We received over 170 questions, which we are now working to answer. If you would like to help us with this outreach project, please contact our volunteer member handling the logistics, Linda Herr.

With the launch of the Civil Rights Civics Institute, CRSJ supports longstanding attempts by the ABA to support & advance civic education in America.

With the launch of the Civil Rights Civics Institute, CRSJ supports longstanding attempts by the ABA to support & advance civic education in America.


With the launch of the Civil Rights Civics Institute, CRSJ supports longstanding attempts by the ABA to support and advance civic education in America. From Past ABA President Michael Greco’s 2005–07 ABA Commission on Civic Education and Separation of Powers led by Honorary Co-Chairs Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and chaired by Robert Rawson to past ABA President Steve Zack’s 2010 Commission on Civic Education in the Nation’s Schools, the ABA has offered multiple roadmaps for improving American civics education. I proudly served as a commissioner of then ABA President Linda Klein’s 2016 Commission on the Lawyer’s Role in Assuring Every Child’s Right to a High-Quality Education, chaired by current ABA President Reginald Turner. Of course, the ABA’s ongoing Division for Public Education provides reliable information about the law and legal issues, including resources and programs for educators, students, journalists, legal professionals, opinion leaders, and the public to advance understanding of the law and its role in society.

The ABA joins a cadre of efforts to improve and provide civic education. In this issue, you’ll read about recent litigation efforts to ensure the right to a quality civic education. You’ll learn about the role libraries play in advancing civic education. You’ll explore the effect that journalism, traditional media, and social media have on the public’s understanding of democracy and its actions. You’ll learn about how virtual teaching affected our youth during the stay-at-home days of the pandemic, among many other important and relevant subjects.

The ABA House of Delegates has long supported the principle of public education and the importance of civic literacy by passing many policy resolutions to that effect in the last several years. You will see a piece in this edition explaining the most recent such policy resolution adopted at the 2021 ABA Annual Meeting this past August. In August 2020, the House passed Resolution 300B, which urged federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and private sector entities to promote digital literacy, civic education, and public awareness to build societal resilience to domestic and foreign malign disinformation operations. In August 2017, the House passed Resolution 117B, which urged all governments to develop and implement age-appropriate curricula designed to instill in students a sense of the personal responsibility to cast informed votes and teach them how to educate themselves regarding candidates and issues in elections. In August 2010, the House passed Resolution 110, which encouraged lawyers to consider it part of their fundamental responsibility to ensure that all students experience high-quality civic learning, including the study of law, government, and history. These are just a smattering of ABA policy resolutions in support of civics education.

In addition, CRSJ spearheaded an effort to determine how American citizens define a quality education. The Section accomplished this by convening diverse focus groups around the nation and compiling their answers to identify common themes. Ultimately, 10 different aspects emerged as determinative of a quality education. You can find the results of this study in The Education Bill of Rights: A Summary of Findings from the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice Section’s Education Focus Groups.

This issue of Human Rights Magazine will bring you up to date on current attempts to encourage civic education in America. All of our authors remain dedicated to this principle. We hope you enjoy this issue.

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Beth. K. Whittenbury

Chair, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice

Beth K. Whittenbury is the 2021-22 Chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and, as such, founded the Section’s Civil Rights Civics Institute. In her day job, she focuses on removing harassment and discrimination from the workplace through training, assessments, coaching, and investigations.