In the News

Reimagining Civic Education for the Digital Age

By Frederick Hess for Education Next
July 29, 2020

Justice O’Connor and video games may seem an odd couple, but she bought in.

Louise Dubé is the executive director of iCivics, a digital platform that provides civics education resources for middle and high school students. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009 with the goal of reimagining civics education, iCivics today reaches more than 7 million students in all 50 states. Dubé has led iCivics since 2014. Prior to iCivics, she was the managing director of digital learning at WGBH, a PBS station in Boston. I’m co-chairing a task force that is working to implement the NEH and U.S. DOE-funded “Roadmap for Excellence in Civics Education” coordinated by iCivics.

Rick Hess: What is iCivics?

Louise Dubé: In short, iCivics is the largest digital civic education provider in the country. Our mission is to reimagine civic education for civic strength.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded the organization in 2009 with the goal of transforming civic education and making it accessible to every student in America. We do this by creating educational video games and digital lessons that teach the fundamentals of how American democracy and its institutions work. Over the past decade, we’ve developed 16 interactive games that simulate everything from how to run for president to how to run a local county government to how to accurately understand today’s complicated media—as well as hundreds of digital lesson plans for teachers. All of this is free to use and completely nonpartisan. iCivics is currently used by more than 120,000 educators and 7.5 million students each year. Recently, due to Covid-19, our new registrations are up 120 percent.

In 2017, we realized that no matter how much we grew, we would not fulfill the vision of Justice O’Connor unless the country made a fundamental change in how civic education was viewed and made it a priority to educate students for American democracy. So we founded CivXNow, a coalition of 132 civic education providers, presidential libraries, after-school programs, philanthropic leaders, researchers, and others who are working to re-establish civic education as a priority in K-12 schools.

Hess: How did iCivics get started?
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Dubé: During the latter part of her career, Justice O’Connor became increasingly aware that Americans simply did not understand how our system of government works and was concerned that this would lead to civic disengagement. She realized that civics had been deprioritized from schools since the 1960s, and it was still by and large taught the way it had been during the 1950s. It wasn’t designed for today’s students. When she retired in 2006, she made it her mission to solve this problem and researched different avenues with a small group of confidants, most of them her former clerks.

They thought about interactive books, and even started a website with civic-lesson plans, but it didn’t work. She then had a meeting with James Gee, a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University who is widely considered the godfather of game-based learning. Over the course of a 45-minute meeting, Gee introduced her to educational games and why they are so effective. For instance, instead of a teacher telling a student about the process of running a campaign, we can simulate the experience of polling, raising funds, and picking a platform—and it can be fun. Justice O’Connor and video games may seem an odd couple, but she bought in. Ten years and 16 games later, we’re certain she made the right decision.

Hess: What’s your philosophy for trying to do this work?

Dubé: To me, building the civic strength of the United States is perhaps the most essential thing we can do in the current time. Our future depends on the resilience and civic bonds we build. Right now, these bonds are frayed and under severe stress, which is understandable in a nation as diverse and complex as ours—the oldest democracy in the world. Schools have a critical role to play, as a significant point of aggregation. We seek to educate and to find common, yet substantial, ground from which to evolve our constitutional democracy. Our goal must be to educate FOR civic agency and to build commitment to our nation. For us at iCivics, that means that our instructional materials need to lead to a greater and deeper understanding of our system of government and a commitment to be involved in civic life.

We also have a duty to support every student. This is part of our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We must tell the full story of our country: the great achievements and the ugly histories. Guided by Justice Sotomayor, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort making all of our new games ELL accessible. But we also know that games won’t work for every student. It’s up to us as a field to create opportunities—whether it’s simulations or research projects or case studies or civic projects—that bring civics to life and show students that civics isn’t just a piece of a social studies curriculum but a way to solve the challenges they and their communities face.

Hess: What’s involved in synthesizing and building out the knowledge base of civic education?

Dubé: In many ways, the challenges to building the civic-knowledge base in our country are no different from the challenges to education more broadly: How do you ensure that instruction is provided with purpose and yields deeper learning? Can students recall facts or can they notice patterns, make connections, develop skills that will remain with them over the course of their civic lives? This struggle is one we have in every discipline.

I think there is broad agreement about what students need to know but less about how to get there. We need a shift in the pedagogical approach, which needs to be developed in partnership with educators. As an illustration, you can teach myriad historical facts that populate the current state standards, such as the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Tea Act, and have a student never connect any of these to the main arguments in the Declaration of Independence. We need to make explicit the goals of instruction. Historical context and depth of knowledge are incredibly important. And that requires a different conversation from whether knowledge is more important than action. Knowledge without understanding is not useful. Action without knowledge is dangerous. Depth of understanding matters, as does how this understanding applies today. That is long-term and difficult work, but it is critical.

Hess: Last year, your organization was the recipient of a major National Endowment for the Humanities grant to assess the state of teaching of American history, civics, and government in K-12 education. Can you talk a bit about how you’re approaching that work?

Dubé: The NEH and the U.S. Department of Education are funding a project that we’re calling “Educating for American Democracy; A Roadmap for Excellence in Civics Education.” Our goal is to create a new instructional direction for history and civics for today’s learners, with the explicit purpose to bind students to our constitutional democracy.

While iCivics is the grantee organization, the project was designed as a deep collaboration with Arizona State, Harvard, and Tufts universities. This truly is a project of the collective. Many different voices, across political viewpoints, are joining to create a “Roadmap” that schools can use. The project calls for two convenings, one at Louisiana State University and one at Arizona State University, where more than 100 scholars and practitioners in history, political science, and education will discuss how to integrate history and civics education in America’s K-12 schools. Once the “Roadmap” is complete, we will present a written report at a large convening in Washington. The “Roadmap” will highlight how to integrate history and civics instruction by grade band; contain seven themes across history, political science and civics and directly address the challenges still present in our nation; suggest approaches for teaching the “Roadmap”; illustrate the “Roadmap” across various instructional contexts; and lay out action steps for how to move instruction in this direction.

Hess: You’ve been at the helm of iCivics for nearly six years. What’s surprised you about the work in that time and what have you learned that you didn’t know going in?

Dubé: Civic education was getting little attention when I came. The field operated with almost no funding, tepid demand from teachers, and little innovation. Much of that has changed. The field is undergoing a transformation in leadership and a rethinking about how diversity and equity must be addressed. I believe there is more innovation now and more demand from educators. There are still enormous challenges in diversity, equity, and inclusion that need to be addressed.

The protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd shed light on just how far we still need to go in order to create a truly equitable civic education. It’s not just about access and inclusion. It’s about realizing that we have been teaching civics primarily from one perspective, that of the white male. We need to make sure that we are teaching civics from the perspective of all Americans, and that means giving better historical context to what we are teaching so that we no longer gloss over systemic racism, but give students the tools to address it.

Beyond that, I don’t think I understood how difficult the funding challenges would be nor how difficult it would be to make the case. Even though it is essentially a public responsibility, the government barely funds civic education. The STEM field had a Sputnik moment, and our country rallied to increase resources and support the field. We have made tremendous progress in STEM as a result. But STEM will not thrive without a functioning democracy. While you’re correct that the field is getting more attention, it has not had an infusion of resources to match that need. The deterioration of the conditions of our constitutional democracy took decades. The scale of what needs to happen is substantial, and this is a long-term project. We need to build support in the funding community for such a long-term investment, and show how it will pay off. That is proving the most difficult part of our work.

Hess: I frequently feel like a lot of the interest around civic education is largely a product of the fact that many funders and advocates were horrified by the election of Donald Trump. Is this a fair assessment? Either way, what are the implications of this for the future of this work?

Dubé: Some advocates were spurred by the election of Donald Trump certainly, but many of us in the field have been concerned about the marginalization of civics since long before the 2016 election. We were, and continue to be, concerned about the lack of faith in democracy as a system of government among young people worldwide. Democracy is messy at all times. But over many years, some of our institutions have become corroded, and in many cases no longer reflect the values they were built to secure. Add to that a digital commons that amplifies the extremes, and you have a recipe for deteriorating civic resilience. The lead up to the 2016 election, its aftermath, and the current political arena demonstrate very starkly just how polarized our country is and how much work we need to do in order to re-establish positive civil discourse. Wherever the impetus is coming from, we are seeing increased interest in shoring up civil discourse, building civic knowledge, and developing civic agency in young people. I find that incredibly rewarding.

Hess: There’s a lot of bipartisan support when it comes to civics education, but it often seems facile—a mile wide and an inch deep. It can feel like there are substantial disagreements over what we want students to learn but that it’s tough to surface or address these in constructive ways. Is that fair? How do you see us dealing with these tensions?

Dubé: I agree with you. We need to provide the spaces for people who come from diverse perspectives to have what will be difficult conversations. If people come to the issue of civics education as a way to get a “win” for their political point of view, they have come to the wrong field.

There is energy in civics education at the state level. You can see that in the fact that last legislative session, state governments across the country heard more than 80 bills on civic education, many with unanimous bipartisan support. We know from surveys that civic education has a great deal of support among the population and that it is getting attention from governors across the political spectrum. But you’re right to point out that it means different things to different people. There are often disagreements about what civic education legislation should and could look like. There are debates over certain topics such as the Immigration and Naturalization test and action civics. And there are differing ideas about logistics such as how to fund legislation and how much a state can mandate over individual school districts. These debates need to be resolved locally.

Hess: OK, last question. What’s one big thing that would make a big difference for civics education?

Dubé: We need to take civic education seriously and see it as a requirement for our unique democracy. If we were able to achieve that, we would see changes in policy and in practice that would pay off. The resources needed to make this a reality are substantial, but they are not unrealistic. People—from parents to educators to people in positions of power—need to commit themselves to the importance of sustaining our constitutional democracy by educating every generation. That is going to mean a lot of things need to be done differently from how we do them now. The path we are on now is very dangerous.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an executive editor of Education Next.

An 1869 Poem Written by Kathleen O’Mara

A poem written in 1869 by Kathleen O’Mara:

And people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And they rested
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened
More deeply
Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
The earth also began to heal
And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead
And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.

Selma Helped Define John Lewis’s Life. In Death, He Returned One Last Time.

By Rick Rojas for The New York Times
July 26, 2020

The body of John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, more than a half century after he helped change American history there.

SELMA, Ala. — On a different Sunday in Selma, this one more than five decades ago, John Lewis was a 25-year-old activist wearing a long tan coat and carrying a backpack, helping to marshal hundreds of demonstrators across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were bombarded by clouds of tear gas and swarmed by state troopers wielding clubs, one of which fractured Mr. Lewis’s skull.

Mr. Lewis, who died on July 17, was carried by a horse-drawn caisson on Sunday across the bridge one last time. He was surrounded by mourners drawn to what felt like sacred ground. They were there to bid farewell to Mr. Lewis, who became a guiding force in the civil rights movement in no small part because of his role in the march for the right to vote on March 7, 1965.

“It’s as significant as the Battle of Gettysburg in the history of this country,” said Ralph Williams, who had traveled 100 miles from Jasper, Ala., with his family. “But only one side had weapons in this battle.”

Selma was a stop in the valedictory pilgrimage retracing the arc of his life. The trek started on Saturday in Troy, the Alabama town near the cotton farm where he was raised, and continues this week onto Washington, where he served in Congress, and Atlanta, which became his home.

But the tribute in Selma did not simply mark Mr. Lewis’s final trip to a place he had embraced as a wellspring of renewal and inspiration, drawing him back year after year. It was also a tacit acknowledgment, tinged with sadness but also satisfaction, that the generation that had steered the civil rights fight in the 1960s was now past its twilight and another one was emerging to pilot the movement through its latest iteration.

“It is the young among us in Alabama and across this nation who can heal what we have failed to heal in our lifetimes, no matter how hard John tried,” Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, a Democrat, said during a memorial service on Saturday night, contending that Mr. Lewis had been heartened by the younger activists leading the Black Lives Matter effort.

“He confidently looked around and said, ‘All is well,’” Mr. Jones said. “It is time for the torch to be passed. It is time for me to let go.”

In Washington, his colleagues will surely trumpet his legislative achievements and the degree to which he was viewed as the conscience of Congress. In Atlanta, with his funeral scheduled on Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, pastors and elected officials will try to synthesize the totality of his life and work.

But this final journey through Alabama has been about Mr. Lewis’s origin story.

“This is where it all started for him,” Hydreca Lewis-Brewster, one of his nieces, said after a Saturday morning service in Troy, where a crowd of hundreds filed past his coffin to pay their respects.

During the service, his family, local officials and pastors talked about his enduring connection to a town of roughly 19,000 people about an hour southeast of Montgomery, the state capital.

Many invoked Mr. Lewis’s message of “good trouble,” a belief that change can be propelled by a willingness to rebel against an oppressive system, even in the face of steep consequences.

“Good trouble allowed John to cross bridges blockaded by legalized lynchmen who were inspired by the false notion of racial supremacy,” said the Rev. Darryl Caldwell, the pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in the tiny town of Banks, just outside Troy.

“Thank you, father of all mercy, for John,” he went on, “who wore the mantle of good trouble and did not flinch in the face of fear when confronted by deputized demons who intended to discourage, deny and ultimately destroy the just course of John Robert Lewis.”

Henry Lewis, one of his brothers, who goes by Grant, remembered standing near his brother as he was sworn into Congress. Mr. Lewis looked in his direction and gave him a thumbs up. Later, Grant asked his brother what he had meant with the gesture. “This is a long way from the cotton fields of Alabama,” Mr. Lewis told him.

Mr. Lewis was rooted in a community that has been shaped by an inheritance of trauma, handed down through generations of slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement, yet just as much by a deep pride in the movement that rose up in defiance of that oppression.

He had been a link binding the legacy of the past to the protests of the present. His death was book ended by that of C.T. Vivian, another civil rights leader and associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who died on July 17, and that of Charles Evers, who died on July 22 and was a pioneering figure in Mississippi who stepped up after the 1963 assassination of his brother Medgar.

“If we don’t carry on,” said the Rev. Dr. Jacquelyn L. Lancaster-Denson, a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Alabama, “he got in good trouble for nothing.”

The services drew many who had only fleeting interactions with Mr. Lewis, if they had ever met him at all, but nevertheless felt a bond with him.

“He always made you feel like you were somebody,” said Pasay Davidson, a fourth-grade teacher from Ozark, Ala.

Sharon Calkins-Tucker identified with him, she said, because she was also outspoken. “Without us,” she said, “nothing would get out and nothing would ever change.”

The hearse left Troy and traversed a winding route of country roads to Selma, a city of nearly 18,000 west of Montgomery on the Alabama River. It passed rows of modest family homes and churches but also evidence that time had not been charitable, like the industrial ruins and collapsing houses being swallowed by nature.

Political and civil rights leaders gathered with his family on Saturday night at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church — the starting point for the protest — walking from Selma to Montgomery.

“We in Selma were blessed to know John intimately,” said Representative Terri A. Sewell, a Democrat whose congressional district includes Selma, adding that the community had walked “in his footsteps year after year after year.”

On the street in front of the church were charter buses that had been packed with church groups from Georgia and satellite trucks from national news organizations. A line of people waiting to see his body snaked down the street.

Up the block, a group of men pitched a tent on the sidewalk for a fish fry, just as they have every Saturday for a few weeks. They started doing it as a way to fill the time left empty by coronavirus lockdowns, and on Saturday, they stayed long after dark, unspooling the world’s problems as they usually do.

They described the frustration that comes with living in a city that, for outsiders, was a living museum of one of its darkest days. It was also surreal, they said, to see the bridge, long taken for granted as a piece of the local landscape, becoming a marker of such important history.

“We went across that bridge 30 times a day and it didn’t mean anything,” said one of the men, an 82-year-old who only gave his first name, Artie. He said he had grown up in Selma, left for New York City for four decades, then returned home.

The men acknowledged the progress they said the bloodshed in Selma helped bring about: securing voting rights and creating more economic and educational opportunity. Yet they noted the biases that remain difficult to scrub away.

“The faces and the names have changed, but the game is still the game,” said a man who gave his name as Roy, and who moved to Selma from Montgomery 12 years ago.

Still, the bridge, which crosses the Alabama River and is named for a Confederate Army commander who later served in the U.S. Senate, carries enormous significance.

The bloodstained march had left an indelible impression on Mr. Lewis. At Comic-Con in San Diego in 2016, he led children on a march through the convention center, cosplaying himself, with a jacket similar to the one he wore in 1965 and a backpack with an apple, an orange, a toothbrush and books, like he had then.

He returned to the city regularly. “We come to Selma to be renewed,” he said at a 50th anniversary event in 2015. “We come to be inspired.”

And in March, after he learned he had pancreatic cancer, a crowd engulfed him on the bridge, and they hushed to hear him speak. “I thought I was going to die on this bridge,” he said.

“Go out there,” he told them in his raspy voice. “Speak up, speak out! Get in the way, get in good trouble! Necessary trouble! And help redeem the soul of America.”

For the final visit on Sunday, a crowd had assembled for him yet again. Some had marched with him or were related to him, and many more had only known him from a distance.

“It’s an incomparable legacy,” said Donta Williams, who had traveled from Jasper with her father, Mr. Williams, and the rest of her family, who all wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “good trouble.”

Waiting on the other side of the bridge was a contingent of law enforcement officers, including the successors of the Alabama state troopers Mr. Lewis had faced in 1965. But this time, they stood at attention as the caisson approached, there to usher Mr. Lewis along as he made his way to Montgomery.

16% of U.S. museums say they risk closing forever in a prolonged pandemic

By Deborah Vankin for the LA Times
July 22, 2020

One in every six American museums faces “significant risk” of closing permanently because of financial duress exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to survey results released Wednesday by the American Alliance of Museums.

Of 648 museum directors who answered a survey question about the threat of permanent closure, 16% said there was significant risk that operations would cease within 16 months if coronavirus-related closures continued and institutions could not find financial relief.

Endowments and other financial reserves are often not large enough to keep museums afloat very long. Of 521 museums that responded to a survey question about operating reserves, only 1 in 3 said it had reserves that would last a year or more. The majority — 56% — said reserves would last six months or less.

“It’s mind-boggling,” American Alliance of Museums President Laura Lott said in an interview. “For hundreds of years, museums have been there to collect, preserve, interpret and share what our culture determines is important for future generations to be able to experience and be inspired by and learn from. And the prospect of [so much] of that going away is really devastating to a culture.”

The federal Paycheck Protection Program, Lott said, has been a lifeline for many museums during the last few months.

“Congress is considering another reiteration of it in the latter half of this year, but as it stands right now, that funding runs out for many museums this summer,” she said. “I fully expect we’ll see another round of layoffs and furloughs and potential closures as a result of struggles many of us thought would be better by now.”

California museums have been living in limbo for months. Every major museum in the state closed in mid-March and watched the health crisis unfold while awaiting guidance from government and health officials. In mid-May, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave so-called “outdoor museums” and open-air galleries the green light to reopen, but L.A. County, which was still experiencing high COVID-19 case counts, put the kibosh on those plans.

On June 12, L.A. County allowed all museums, outdoor and otherwise, to reopen. Some did so right away. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino reopened to members June 17, and the Petersen Automotive Museum opened to the public June 19. Others, such as the Getty Museum, the Hammer Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, were more cautious, targeting their reopenings for later in summer or fall. Still others, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, didn’t offer timelines at all.

Then on July 1, as COVID-19 infections continued to climb, Newsom ordered indoor venues including museums to close again. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has warned of an imminent second stay-at-home order, which would keep museums here closed for the foreseeable future.

“This is similar to museums around the country,” Lott said. “Like any business, it’s impossible to create and stick to a plan, to communicate with constituents — visitors, staff, board members, governing authorities — having the [reopening] date repeatedly pulled back. There are costs associated with that.”

The AAM survey was conducted by New Hampshire-based Dynamic Benchmarking and included small, midsize and large museums from around the U.S., including art museums, historical societies, science museums, aquariums and botanical gardens. Sixty-two percent of respondents had annual operating expenses of $1 million or less.

Permanent museum closures leave not only a cultural void but also an economic vacuum. According to the alliance’s 2018 “Museums as Economic Engines” report, museums are responsible for 726,000 salaried and contracted jobs annually. In the AAM survey, 243 museums reported laying off or furloughing at least 20% of their staff.

In response to a survey question about workforce employment, only 50% of respondents said they expect to reopen with the same number of staffers as before the pandemic.

“The effects on local economies, jobs and tourism is devastating in and of itself,” Lott said.

The alliance, a nonprofit accreditation and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., released the survey results with a call for governments and private donors to fill museums’ funding gaps. Among the arguments: 75% of surveyed museums said that while schools were closed during the pandemic, they were providing digital learning tools to children, parents and teachers — resources such as virtual tours, lesson plans and online events in which children could speak with scientists or artists or work on crafts. These have been critical resources at a time when students need them the most, Lott said.

“There’s an equity issue,” she added. “The parents who have the resources will find tutors, paid educational resources online and other enrichment opportunities for their kids. But museums serve the masses. Where will the rest of the students get all that if schools are closed and a good portion of museums are closed permanently?”

Even for museums that can ride out the pandemic, Lott said, the long-term prognosis is bleak.

“As they reopen we’ll see reduction in services, educational programming, the new exhibits they’re able to mount,” she said. “I just think all of that will be on austerity budgets.”

Museums, she said, can play a vital role in our national recovery.

“In terms of our mental health, museums have always been places of respite — but only if they are here to be able to provide that recovery.”

After Finding No Evidence Hat Was Abe Lincoln’s, Illinois Historian Is Out Of A Job

By Tony Arnold for WBEZ
July 17, 2020

Just months after authoring a critical report that raised further questions about the provenance of a multimillion dollar stovepipe hat purported to have been owned by President Abraham Lincoln, Illinois’ state historian is out of a job.

A spokesman for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum told WBEZ that Dr. Samuel Wheeler is no longer employed at the ALPLM, where his title was state historian, director of research and collections.

The circumstances of Wheeler’s departure, however, remain unclear. The spokesman declined further comment on whether Wheeler left on his own or whether he was forced out. Wheeler did not respond to WBEZ’s requests for comment. Wheeler’s departure was first reported in the Illinois Times.

The stunning turn of events comes after Wheeler was asked by the former executive director to study the history of the Lincoln hat in August of 2018. His report, which Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration released in December, shows an exhaustive — but still fruitless — effort to tie the hat to Lincoln.

Trustee Kathryn Harris said she sits on a committee of the ALPLM’s board that is investigating the provenance of the hat, which had recently given Wheeler the go-ahead to contact historical textile experts to give further scrutiny to the hat. She hoped that the results of that investigation would finally put to rest the scandal of whether the hat ever belonged to Lincoln.

She was stunned when she says Wheeler called to tell her he was out of a job and had been escorted out of the building — right after a regular board meeting had adjourned where the matter had not come up.

“I can’t get my head around why this was not told to us at the board meeting. The board was caught unawares,” Harris told WBEZ. “And that to me is not good. I thought the whole thing was unprofessional. It appears sinister and any other negative words you might want to attach to the action.”

While Wheeler concluded more study on the hat is warranted, his findings pour an even heavier dose of skepticism on a hat purchased by a private foundation from West Coast collector Louise Taper for display at the ALPLM. The hat was once appraised at $6.5 million.In the report, Wheeler focused on a history of double-dealing, conflicts of interest and a neglect of basic due-diligence in studying the hat’s provenance before its purchase.

He also slammed a “weaponization” of the hat during years of friction between the museum and the not-for-profit that acquired it on behalf of the museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. The hat was the cornerstone of a $25 million haul of Lincoln artifacts in 2007 by the foundation — just as the newly-opened, state-run museum was looking to establish itself as a can’t-miss Illinois tourism destination and a nationally respected institution. At the time of the hat’s purchase, Taper sat on the foundation’s board of directors. Wheeler’s report also found the hat isn’t in Lincoln’s size.

Last year, Pritzker fired the ALPLM’s executive director, Alan Lowe, after Lowe loaned a copy of the Gettysburg Address to conservative commentator Glenn Beck for $50,000, in violation of ALPLM policy. Mercury One, Beck’s right-leaning nonprofit, put the rare artifact on display for three days at its office in Texas as part of a “pop-up” museum in June 2018.

On Thursday, board member Harris further complimented Wheeler’s work, saying she’d heard of no complaints of his performance. She said she couldn’t say whether Wheeler’s departure was related to his report.

“When people say we’re going to go in a different direction, that means nothing,” she said. “It’s words strung together that don’t mean diddly squat.”

Barack Obama: John Lewis ‘Risked His Life’ So This Nation Could ‘Live Up To Its Promise’

for Huffpost

The civil rights icon gave us our “marching orders,” the former president wrote in a moving tribute to his friend.

Rep. John Lewis battled tirelessly for civil rights inspired by a faith that humanity yearns to do what’s right, former President Barack Obama wrote in a moving tribute to his friend on Friday.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” Obama wrote after Lewis’ death from pancreatic cancer. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

He “embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change — understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well,” added Obama, who in 2011 awarded the congressman the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And though he was exceptional, Lewis always believed that everyone could do exactly what he did, Obama recalled.

“He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect,” Obama wrote.

“And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.”

Obama said that after he became an Illinois senator, he told Lewis he was standing “on his shoulders” because of the congressman’s struggles for civil rights.

“When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made,” Obama noted.

Lewis and Obama last shared a public forum with activists helping to organize Black Lives Matter marches in the wake of the brutal police killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis.

“He could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office,” Obama wrote. “I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children.”

“Thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders,” the former president wrote.

Read Obama’s entire statement honoring Lewis here.

iCivic’s “Race to Ratify” Game Helps Students Understand the U.S. Constitution

In Race to Ratify, a game in the iCivics library, the U.S. Constitution has just been written and signed, and states are contemplating its ratification. Race to Ratify covers the platforms of the federalists and the anti-federalists in this debate. Players act as pamphleteers and travel around the 13 U.S. states to interview people and learn their stances on ratification, along with some good arguments for and against. The characters that players interview are based on real-life people of the time and include farmers, officials, enslaved people, businesspeople, and statesmen. As players hold their interviews, they acquire argument tokens, such as Solving a Known Problem, that contain ideas they can use in interviews or when composing persuasive pamphlets. Once a token is earned, players drag it to the federalist or anti-federalist side of the screen for easy access later. Students can view their interview transcripts at any time to refresh their memory.

After initial interviews, the first state holds its convention to decide on the issue of ratification. At that point, players need to pick a side — federalist or anti-federalist — and create a persuasive pamphlet. In the pamphlets, students compose up to three articles by choosing previously earned argument tokens that support the side they have chosen. No actual writing is necessary, however. The game then evaluates how persuasive their arguments are, and players set up their printing press where it can do the most good — that is, near states that need convincing to vote for the player’s chosen side. To provide some challenge, there’s a rival pamphleteer supporting the other side. By the end of the game, players will need to have swayed enough states to pass the overall ratification. Once nine states ratify the new Constitution, it goes into effect for those states. But if just five reject it, the whole thing is rejected and they have to start over.

How Can I Teach with This Tool?

While Race to Ratify is an excellent learning experience all on its own, teachers can make the lesson much more complete by taking advantage of the resources available on the iCivics website. These include a teacher’s guide filled with activities, corresponding PowerPoint slides, a game guide, and a document entitled The History Files that includes additional activity ideas, a ratification timeline, a glossary, a biographical sketch worksheet, in-depth research for each character in the game, and a list of additional resources.

Unlike some of the other iCivics games, Race to Ratify isn’t fast-paced, so students can take their time. Delve into the attitudes on both the federalist and anti-federalist sides at the time the U.S. Constitution was written. Start with the activities called Ye Olde Social Media and Before the Constitution. Then play the game as a class, or assign it to individuals or groups of students. Afterward, tackle as many of the follow-up activities as time allows, and consider holding a class discussion to draw parallels between the federalist and anti-federalist arguments and our political issues of today, as well as comparing the publishing of pamphlets to today’s social media influencers. Poll your students to see which side they chose and why. They can then write their own persuasive pamphlets to try to convince the rest of the class to join their side.

Immersing students in the human side of history — allowing them to see what it was like to live during this time and why people formed the opinions and stances they did — brings history to life and helps students realize that these people weren’t all that different from people today. Their debates may have been on different topics and their methods of communication were different, but they still fought for many of the same issues relevant today.

Is It Good for Learning?

Race to Ratify is a rich learning experience with an enjoyable story and a lot of player agency and critical thinking. The game will keep students’ interest, and get them engaging material they might not have expected to find interesting. They may even want to play it more than once, to uncover some of the arguments that their storyline didn’t address the first time. Paired with the rich teacher resources, Race to Ratify helps students learn the differing positions of the federalists and anti-federalists and the ratification process for the U.S. Constitution. Students simulate exactly what was going on in political debate at the time, and the game draws attention to different articles of the Constitution and their effect on government and representation. Advantages and disadvantages of the Constitution are discussed, including how these relate to taxation, slavery, and the branches of government. Students also learn about a few actual historical people who held a variety of opinions and perspectives, lived in different regions, and came from different socioeconomic classes. At the end of the game, students unpack how the game’s version of events differed from what really happened during the ratification years.

As students work their way through the game, they’ll expand their vocabulary with era- and context-specific words that are highlighted in the text. Students can click on the words to see the glossary entries for them. They can also play the game with one of two game modes: Historical or Free Play. In the former, the starting conditions are identical to how they really were in the fall of 1787; in the latter, the game randomly changes the starting conditions and convention order.

While it’s an effective game, there’s a little room for improvement. Sometimes interview options are worded in a silly fashion, undermining the difficulty of answer choice. This doesn’t prevent students from learning about the topic, but it seems to be a missed opportunity for practicing crucial critical thinking skills. There’s also a lack of audio to accompany the written text, which might make it a no-go for some students.

Read the 5-Star review of iCivic’s “Race to Ratify” Game on Common Sense >>