The Five Freedoms Project

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5 Things You Can Do: Democratic Practices

1. Read Revolutionizing America’s Schools

America has never really been a fully functioning democracy, and there are now signs of further public retreat from the very concept of democracy. In this book, noted scholar Carl Glickman organizes a series of essays around the central tenets, practices, and issues of democracy and education. The essays address the following questions:

  1. Why do we have public education in America?
  2. What is its purpose? and
  3. How do we make the practice of educating congruent with achieving these aims?

To learn more, click here.

 

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2. Measure Your Community’s Civic Index

Launched by Public Education Network (PEN) and funded by MetLife Foundation, this online Civic Index measures public attitudes toward education, and assesses ten categories of community support that have been determined by the public and experts to be critical factors outside the school for supporting and sustaining quality public schools.

The research-based index was developed over the past several years in consultation with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland and a range of other social scientists and national experts drawn from more than 30 national organizations.

To learn more, click here.

 

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3. Make Respect an Essential Value at Your School

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and a national authority on religious liberty, believes a deeper understanding of the First Amendment’s five freedoms can help schools find common ground on the issues that most deeply divide them, and create more respectful learning cultures. “We have found,” he says, “that where communities are committed to coming together in the spirit of the First Amendment, consensus is reached, new policies are drafted, and significant changes take place in the classroom.”

At the heart of that spirit is a framework for balanced, “civil friction” Haynes calls the “Three R’s”:
  • Rights: The First Amendment’s guarantee to protect freedom of conscience is a precious, fundamental and inalienable right for all. Every effort should be made in public schools to protect the consciences of all people.
  • Responsibilities: Central to the notion of the common good is the recognition that the First Amendment’s five freedoms (religion, speech, press, assembly, petition) are universal rights joined to a universal duty to respect the rights of others. Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.
  • Respect: Conflict and debate are vital to democracy. Yet if controversies about freedom in schools are to reflect the highest wisdom of the First Amendment and advance the best interest of the nation, how we debate, and not only what we debate, is critical.

 

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4. Help Students Take Action on What Matters Most to Them

Public Achievement is a youth civic engagement initiative focused on the most basic concepts of citizenship, democracy and public work. Public Achievement draws on the talents and desires of ordinary people to build a better world and to create a different kind of politics.

Public Achievement’s work is anchored on a few core ideas:

Everybody can do citizen work

There are no prequalifications; all people, regardless of age, nationality, sex, religion, income, education ... are citizens and can be powerful public actors.

Citizenship isn’t easy

Democracy is messy, often frustrating, but when you work hard with others, you can accomplish extraordinary things.

We learn by doing

The most important lessons of democracy come from doing public work; from finding ways to cooperate with people who are different and may disagree. When we solve problems together, we all learn from each other. This is the kind of politics that everyone can do, not just politicians.

To learn more about Public Achievement, click here.

5. Focus on (Civic) Responsibilities and (Individual) Rights

In his autobiography The Long Haul, Highlander Folk School founder Myles Horton recounts the following story:

“Many years ago Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, who was the president of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and a cofounder of SCLC, and I initiated a petition defending Robert Shelton, then head of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama, for not giving his list of contributors and members to the FBI. We got hundreds of signatures saying that the FBI had no right to force him to do that.

Our help certainly wasn’t appreciated by Shelton or the Klan. In fact, when Shelton was questioned publicly about it, he said he didn’t ask us to help, didn’t accept that kind of support and wished to hell we’d kept out of it. He said it was none of our business, and that if he had to build support like us, he’d rather not have any. The press asked me what my reaction was, and I said that we didn’t support Shelton for his benefit. We did it because we believe in the principle of freedom of expression. It could be us next time.

The FBI had already demanded Highlander’s list and I’d refused to give it to them. That’s the principle: if King and Shuttlesworth and I defended it for ourselves, then we had to defend it for our enemies. The Klan was our enemy – hell, there’s nobody who was a worse enemy to the three of us than that guy – but it was a matter of principle.”

Have something further to say about this idea? Click here to Get on Your Soapbox and share your voice on the Five Freedoms Network.

 

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