Founding Civics Initiative

Bringing the best thinkers and ideas in the American political tradition to high school classrooms.

Founding Civics

The JMC Founding Civics Initiative responds to a fundamental problem: our nation’s civics teachers have not had the chance to study America’s founding principles in depth.

Founding Civics introduces graduate courses and professional development for teachers that deepen their understanding of foundational texts and ideas in the American political tradition and help them develop curricula for their classrooms.

The initiative was launched in Chicago in 2016 with a generous lead gift from The Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation. It now has expanded to New York City, Virginia, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, and Florida. Taught by JMC faculty partners, programs are conducted with area institutions and align to regional teacher incentives and state and local civics requirements.

Chicago serves as the model for all our regional efforts. Through a combination of graduate courses, summer seminars, and one-day events, our programs are leading to stronger civics instruction in the region. In just three years, surveys of all Chicago-area government teachers found that their use of Abraham Lincoln’s writings had increased by 46%, the Federalist Papers by 17%, and other writings of the Founders by 25%.

Programming continued this year with a Spring 2020 graduate course for teachers at Lake Forest College and two summer programs in partnership with the University of Chicago Graham School and Newberry Library.

Since 2016, JMC has sponsored more than 29 seminars and graduate courses for teachers led by 20+ professors from our network. More than 220 teachers have participated.

2020 marked the third year of JMC’s partnership with New York City-based Civic Spirit. This year’s online institute centers on civic belonging in the American political experience. Partner professors Roosevelt Montás, Andrew Delbanco, and Susan McWilliams Barndt are leading the scholar sessions. Leveraging the online format, teachers from religious schools in Pennsylvania and Texas were able to join this year’s institute with those from New York City and New Jersey.

In addition to the summer institute, JMC is offering a unique online graduate course, specifically designed for teachers through the City College of New York this fall with Professor Daniel DiSalvo titled Confronting the Constitution.

In June, the Founding Civics Initiative held its second summer institute with the University of Virginia on the American political tradition. Lynn Uzzell led teachers in discussions on topics from social contract theory to American social and political movements.

In July, Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies hosted a series of webinars for teachers that focused on women in American political history.

Our second program in partnership with the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been postponed due to COVID-19 but will go forward in Summer 2021. Graduate courses for teachers are currently in development at UW-Madison, which will likely begin in Summer 2021. Additional programming for teachers is also expected through UW-Eau Claire in 2021.

In July 2019, JMC partnered with the National Constitution Center on two weeklong summer institutes for teachers. JMC sessions featured discussions on the development of the idea of separation of powers in the western intellectual tradition through key selections from thinkers including Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, John Adams, and James Madison. JMC is currently developing a series of graduate courses for teachers in the Philadelphia area.

In July, JMC kicked off a major initiative in Florida with four half-day virtual seminars led by JMC partner professors Peter Myers, Andrew Trees, and Lynn Uzzell. Over the course of the next two years, JMC and two other prominent civics organizations will offer over 190 programs for nearly 7,000 secondary school teachers across the state. Florida is a national leader in civic education, and we look forward to creating opportunities to connect teachers with scholars from our national network.