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: high school students are not learning America’s founding principles because their teachers have not had the chance to study them 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, and Philadelphia. Taught by JMC faculty partners, programs are conducted with area institutions and align to regional teacher incentives and state and local civics requirements.

Thanks to a generous lead gift from the Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation, JMC launched a three-year Founding Civics pilot project in Chicago in 2016. The project demonstrated that JMC could substantially impact high school civic education in a given region through a coordinated array of programming offered through area institutions.

By 2019, the initiative developed 26 seminars and graduate courses for teachers led by 20+ professors from the JMC network. More than 200 teachers participated. In just three years, a survey of all Chicago-area government teachers showed that¬† use of Abraham Lincoln’s writings had increased by 46%, the Federalist Papers by 17%, and other writings of the Founders by 25%. The success of the pilot project has spurred ongoing support for Founding Civics programs in Chicago and inspired similar efforts in new regions across the country with support from local donors.

In 2018, JMC began a three-year partnership with Civic Spirit, a civics organization based in New York City, to develop summer institutes for teachers from area Jewish and Catholic schools. The 2019 institute focused on the challenge of citizenship in balancing principle and practice in the American political tradition. A third institute is in development for 2020. JMC is also supporting a graduate course for teachers this fall through City College of New York.

With a generous gift from John Lillard, the University of Virginia’s Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy held its first summer civics institute for high school teachers on “The American Political Tradition” this past year and will host the institute for a second year this summer. Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies continues a series of workshops for teachers on American political history.

Made possible by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, JMC introduced its first statewide initiative in Wisconsin. The inaugural program, “Civic Literacy and Citizenship,” was held in June 2019 in partnership with the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An array of programs are currently in development across the state.

JMC partnered with the National Constitution Center on two weeklong summer institutes for teachers in July 2019 on the separation of powers. 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.