Founding Civics Initiative

Helping high school teachers provide the best civic education for their students

Founding Civics

Founding Civics aims to ensure our nation’s high school students receive a much-needed foundation in the history and principles that formed our nation—a foundation that will prepare them for their responsibilities as citizens.

Founding Civics provides innovative educational programs and resources to help high school teachers engage young students in the central questions of American civic life.

Through seminars, graduate courses, and summer programs led by scholars of American history and political thought, Founding Civics helps teachers deepen their understanding of the central texts and ideas of the American Founding.

Each of the programs brings together professors and teachers to develop curricula for the high school classroom that frame contemporary civic engagement within the broader tradition of American political thought and action.

The Founding Civics Initiative was launched in Chicago with a generous lead gift from The Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation. New initiatives are now underway in New York, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Launched early 2016 in Chicago with a lead gift from The Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation, HLM Founding Civics is a three-year project to provide an array of educational programs and resources for Chicagoland teachers. The programs help teachers integrate documents and ideas of the Founding into their civics curriculum so that students can connect them to current political issues and learn how to think critically about the principles that will guide their participation in civic life.

Working with institutions—including Lake Forest College, University of Chicago, Roosevelt University and the Newberry Library in Chicago along with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia—the Initiative offers professional development and graduate courses along with high-quality course materials for American history, government and civics teachers.

Taught by JMC faculty partners, courses supported by Founding Civics enrich teacher education in our nation’s founding documents and ideas and help teachers draw connections to contemporary debates about government institutions and controversial political issues to teach to their students.

Newberry Library and University of Chicago Summer Civics Program

Working in partnership with the Newberry Library, the University Chicago Graham School, and the Montesquieu Forum at Roosevelt, JMC is supporing a series of professional development seminars for high school teachers.

Each seminar is free for high school teachers selected to participate, who will receive:

  • 25 hours of professional development credit
  • breakfast and lunch each day, plus a special group dinner
  • a bound volume of primary source readings, sent in advance of the seminar

Week 1 | What the Founders Read: The Philosophical Influences on the American Founding
July 9-13, 2018, at the University of Chicago Graham School

In this five-day sequence at the University of Chicago’s Graham School, teachers will engage in guided close readings and detailed discussions of the major philosophical texts that shaped the political worldview of the founding generation. Readings will include Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Shakespeare, among others. In addition, this week will include a special session on pedagogy led by a scholar from the National Archives. An immersive grappling with the big ideas that the Founders wrestled with provides an essential foundation to understanding the government they created.

Click here for more information about week 1.

Week 2 | The Principles of America’s Founding
July 16-20, 2018, at the Newberry Library

In this 5-day sequence, high school teachers will pursue an exciting inquiry into the Founders’ political philosophy. Lectures, discussions, and workshops will bring to life the fundamental arguments of the Founding, which continue to animate our political life. Readings will include core AP Government texts such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. We will also examine closely the thought of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and the musically celebrated Alexander Hamilton. Participation promises invaluable preparation for civics, American history, and government classes.

Esteemed college faculty from around the nation, led by the seminar organizer Svetozar Minkov of Roosevelt University, will guide Chicagoland teachers in analyzing and interpreting the crucial documents of the Founding era. Exploration of rare materials from the Newberry collection and a session held at the Art Institute of Chicago will round out the week.

Click here for more information about week 2.

Week 3 | The Unwritten Constitution: The Evolution of the Congress and Presidency
July 23-27, 2018, at the University of Chicago’s Graham School

In this five-day sequence at the University of Chicago’s Graham School, teachers will study the history and evolution of the American Government. The Founders set into place the basic structures of government, and subsequent generations of political leaders shaped its future forms. Topics to be covered include the Presidency and the Administrative State, Congressional War Powers, the Appropriations Process, and the Press.

Click here for more information about week 3.

Separate applications are required for the Chicago program (weeks 1 & 3) and the Newberry program (week 2). Candidates may apply to as many as they wish, although spaces is limited.

Click here to apply to the Chicago program (weeks 1 & 3).

Click here to apply to  Newberry Library program (week 2).

Federalism, Republicanism, and the U.S. Constitution

The ADEF is a program of the American Democracy Forum in partnership with the UW-Madison School of Education. It offers 7th-12th grade teachers the opportunity to gather in person and online to discuss primary text readings, hear from scholarly experts, and plan new curriculum on key themes in American political thought, American government, and American history.

ADEF is offered at no cost to teachers, including the cost of tuition for two graduate credits, reimbursement for substitute teacher coverage, lodging, transportation, and meals.

Participants in the 2018-2019 American Democracy Educators’ Forum will:

  • discuss principles and practice of American democracy with leading scholars and faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and beyond
  • participate in 4 face-to-face meetings (2 days in August, 1 day in Dec., 1 day in April) and various online content throughout the school year
  • incorporate and highlight the theme of “Federalism, Republicanism, and the U.S. Constitution” into curriculum
  • become part of a professional learning community that will inform and enhance current educational practices
  • earn two credits from UW-Madison

In 2018-2019 the theme will be Federalism, Republicanism, and the U.S. Constitution.

From the ADEF: The American idea of federalism—that power is divided between the national and state governments—is deeply intertwined with ideas of republicanism in the history of American Political Thought.  At the time of the writing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, central questions concerned whether a true republic was possible on the national scale of the United States and, conversely, whether the new Constitution’s federal system would preserve true republican government in the state.  Debates about federalism, that is, hinged on the very idea of a republic and so followed on a tradition of republican thought dating back to the ancients.

Our ADEF sessions will draw on that tradition, with readings from the Greeks and Romans; Machiavelli and Rousseau; and, of course, the federalists and anti-federalists.  We’ll use this historical and theoretical material as a backdrop for considering the provisions of the Constitution that spell out the relation between national and state governments and for considering ongoing debates about the nature of American federalism.

Click here for more information.

Click here to apply.


As part of the HLM Founding Civics Initiative, Lake Forest College is offering graduate courses for high school teachers through their Master of Liberal Studies Program. The next available course will take place during the summer of 2018.

  • Classes are on Fridays in June and July.
  • Class meetings are on campus at Lake Forest College
  • Full tuition grants for working high school teachers thanks to the support of the Jack Miller Center
  • The course carries 4 semester hours of graduate credit or 60 PD hours.
  • four face-to-face meetings (and the balance of the work on-line)
  • Teachers may take a Civics seminar as a stand-alone course or matriculate into the MLS program
  • Ideal for American history, government, or civics teachers, given the new State of Illinois Civics requirement.

Summer 2018 Course: Iconic Supreme Court Cases

Course description: American political and legal history is filled with important and influential Supreme Court cases that have dramatically shaped our constitutional tradition. In this course, we will carefully examine a number of iconic cases, such as Marbury v. Madison, Dred Scott v. Sanford, Roe v. Wade, and Obergefell v Hodges  (to name just a few), with an eye towards understanding their continuing legacies and significance. In addition to analyzing these cases on their own terms, we will also rely on them to illuminate broader questions concerning the proper role of the Supreme Court in our democracy.


Friday, June 15, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Friday, June 29, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Friday, July 27, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Friday, August 3, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Presentations of class projects on Friday, August 3, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Click here for more information.

Click here for registration form.

For more information, call 847-735-5083 or email Carol Gayle, Associate Director of the MLS program, (

In 2010, JMC sponsored the first of three High School Teachers’ Academies in partnership with the Montesquieu Forum, our partner program at Roosevelt University. Each one-week program of seminars lectures and workshops brought together 20 Chicagoland teachers to deepen their knowledge of texts and documents central to the formation of the U.S. and its institutions. The programs were well-received and set the stage for a full-scale effort at the high-school level.