Just days before the nation celebrated the 240th birthday of the United States of America, the Wheatley Institution and the BYU Public School Partnership took a group of educators to Philadelphia in the inaugural summer seminar of the Civic Education Project. Participants toured Independence Hall, Valley Forge, museums, and historical monuments while learning and discussing the Founding Fathers and the fundamental principles of the American founding. Gary Seastrand, BYU Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling (CITES) explained that these tours brought to life the history of the United States. “As we visited the multiple venues, there was a clear and significant reality of the power of the people who created our great nation. Sharing the venues and thinking with other educators who shared similar values was extraordinary.”
Emily Reynolds, Assistant Director of the Wheatley Institution, stated the purpose of the experience. “The hope is that the important ideas that drove the American Founding—and that make our form of government possible—can find their way into many more aspects of K-12 public school education. Public schools have a vital role in helping to create a public, citizens who not only share a body of accumulated human knowledge and wisdom, but who also understand the importance of sacrifice for the common good, genuine collaborative compromise, voluntary obedience to the unenforceable, and other aspects of civic virtue.”
Educators were taught by Professors Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University; Ralph Hancock, BYU Professor of Political Science; and Paul Wangemann, Visiting Associate Teaching Professor; as they addressed these core ideas on civic virtue with an eye to helping students become civically minded citizens.
“In the Brigham Young University-Public School Partnership, we underscore our work with shared commitments,” said Seastrand, “One of those commitments is Civic Preparation and Engagement.” Seastrand further explained that public schools are responsible for preparing students to become honorable citizens. “The opportunity to study the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia and come to a deeper understanding of their dedication to civic virtue and the welfare of a great nation intensified my thinking on the importance of our shared commitment to build citizens through schooling.”
James Judd, Director of Human Resources from the Wasatch County School District, explained that within his district some have lost sight of the big picture of teacher development. “These ideas matter because they permeate every aspect of American life. When we, as a nation, lose focus of the virtues needed to sustain our American form of democracy, the bedrock that makes the whole system function falls apart. We cannot hold true to the constitution and our rule of law without understanding the necessary virtues used to create it.” The experience provided materials and resources for him to convey these ideas to educators in his district.
Educators “must become a stronger voice,” said Judd, “for the preparation of the next generation of citizens who possess civic virtue and are willing and anxious to engage in building stronger communities and a stronger nation.” The conference combined with the powerful sites that embody our nation’s founding provided a rich foundation of knowledge for those in attendance. Educators will now be able to return and articulate those experiences and ideas to encourage improved civic education. This year’s trip to Philadelphia was only first in what is intended to become an ongoing program that will involve many teachers and other important historical locations.