Maryam Judar, Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center
Elementary & Secondary Education Committee
Testimony in support of H.B. 2428
March 6, 2013
The Citizen Advocacy Center submits this letter to the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee in support of the Task Force on Civic Education described in H.B. 2428.
The Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) is an award winning, non-profit, non-partisan, community-based, legal organization. Its mission is to “Build Democracy for the 21st Century.” Since 1994, community lawyers have worked to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. The Center motivates individuals and community groups to seek systemic solutions to issues of public concern and works to improve democratic protocols in local and state government to ensure optimal public participation in the democratic process.
The Center believes that a healthy democracy relies on a balance between government accessibility, accountability, and transparency on one side and citizen participation that is informed, active, effective, and sustained on the other. A democracy is only as strong as its participants. Many of the concerned community members throughout Illinois who contact the Center for assistance have little idea how to navigate the government decision-making process, or even to identify the appropriate government body that is key in solving a problem of public concern.
Thus, an integral component of our work is civic education. The Civic Empowerment Zone is the Center’s youth civic education program and provides resources to fill the gap in civic education at our public schools and promotes the idea that civic education is a learned skill. Just like other subjects such as reading, math, art, and science, civic skills must be practiced regularly in order to develop proficiency and confidence.
The task is enormous. While some schools shine in imparting civic education to their entire student bodies, most have relegated few resources to social studies and civics in order to meet national standards in other subjects. Through our work with schools in the collar counties and suburban Cook County, the Center has learned that our school districts, school administrators, and teachers are ill equipped and without solid legislative direction to implement stronger civic education programs in their schools. In light of Illinois’ recent adoption of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts & Literacy in History/ Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects, the time to evaluate what is the status of civic education in Illinois through a Task Force on Civic Education is now.