While teaching at an all-Black middle school in Atlanta, Meira Levinson realized that students’ individual self-improvement would not necessarily enable them to overcome their profound marginalization within American society. This is because of a civic empowerment gap that is as shameful and antidemocratic as the academic achievement gap targeted by No Child Left Behind. No Citizen Left Behind argues that students must be taught how to upend and reshape power relationships directly, through political and civic action. Drawing on political theory, empirical research, and her own on-the-ground experience, Levinson shows how de facto segregated urban schools can and must be at the center of this struggle.
Recovering the civic purposes of public schools will take more than tweaking the curriculum. Levinson calls on schools to remake civic education. Schools should teach collective action, openly discuss the racialized dimensions of citizenship, and provoke students by engaging their passions against contemporary injustices. Students must also have frequent opportunities to take civic and political action, including within the school itself. To build a truly egalitarian society, we must reject myths of civic sameness and empower all young people to raise their diverse voices. Levinson’s account challenges not just educators but all who care about justice, diversity, or democracy.
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About the Author
Meira Levinson is Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, following eight years as a teacher in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 4: “Let Us Now Praise…?” Rethinking Heroes and Role Models in an Egalitarian Age
It is July 2009, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is in the process of drafting new social studies curriculum standards to guide teaching, testing, and textbook selection for the next decade. Although the standards themselves are being written by a team of educators and community members, the Texas State Board of Education has appointed an additional six “experts” to guide the writing team. These experts include four university professors, as well as two founders and presidents of Christian organizations. Each “expert” has been asked to start by reviewing the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum in social studies, which was written in the 1990s. In their reviews, the two heads of Christian organizations take an emphatic stand on many of the historical figures included and excluded from the curriculum. Anne Hutchinson, Cesar Chavez, and Thurgood Marshall, among others, come under challenge.
Peter Marshall, founder and president of Peter Marshall Ministries in Massachusetts, explains that “Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of” such “significant colonial leaders” as William Penn, John Smith, or Roger Williams. “She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn’t accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.” Similarly, he challenges the curriculum standard asking students to “‘Identify significant individuals such as Cesar Chavez and Benjamin Franklin who modeled active participation in the democratic process.’ To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous,” Marshall explains. “Chavez is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.” In his curriculum review, Marshall also opposes the inclusion of Thurgood Marshall as not a “strong enough example” of someone who has “impacted American history.” Brown v. Board of Education, argued and won by Thurgood Marshall in front of the U.S. Supreme Court he would later join as an associate justice, seems not to count as historically significant in Peter Marshall’s worldview.
David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, an organization dedicated to “Presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on our moral, religious, and constitutional heritage,” concurs with Marshall’s assessment of both Hutchinson and Chavez. In his written assessment under the section heading “Heroes of History,” Barton acknowledges that Hutchinson, who co-founded Rhode Island and argued on behalf of women’s equality and against Native American slavery, is a “historic figure.” But he also challenges her status as a “significant colonial leader.” He is more directly incensed about Chavez’ inclusion: “Cesar Chavez may be a choice representing diversity but he certainly lacks the stature, impact, and overall contributions of so many others; and his open affiliation with Saul Alinsky’s movements certainly makes dubious that he is a praiseworthy to be heralded to students as someone ‘who modeled active participation in the democratic process.’” Barton is clearly challenging the democratic character of Chavez’ union organizing via the United Farm Workers and of Rules for Radicals author Saul Alinsky’s community organizing.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Kurt Cobain versus Master P 1
1 The Civic Empowerment Gap 23
2 "At School I Talk Straight": Race Talk and Civic Empowerment 60
3 "You Have the Right to Struggle": Constructing Historical Counternarrative 99
4 Rethinking Heroes and Role Models 138
5 How to Soar in a World You've Never Seen: Making Citizenship Visible in Schools 167
6 The Case for Action Civics 210
7 Democracy, Accountability, and Education 250
Epilogue: Standing Up, Talking Back 289
What People are Saying About This
Brilliant. No Citizen Left Behind is must reading for anyone concerned with the reform of civic education in America. An inspiration for both scholars and practitioners.
Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and co-author of American Grace
A landmark book that should influence teachers of all subjects in American schools while providing an important model for scholars.
Peter Levine, Tufts University
A must-read for anyone who cares to see young people from all backgrounds grow into self-confident and efficacious citizens.
Danielle S. Allen, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
A very sophisticated and lively argument, backed by wonderful tales from school, for what it might mean if we really educated for democracy. An important contribution to a field dominated by clichés.
Deborah Meier, co-author of Playing for Keeps