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Civics education is facing a crisis and Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, is finding innovative new ways to help.
In a three-day program on campus, the college’s Center for Constitutional Liberty helped teachers learn the role the founding documents play in issues America faces today — and how to share that knowledge with students.
“Benedictine was an exceptional host for this event. I will highly recommend future seminars to my peers,” one Kansas public school teacher said.
“As a rising first year teacher, I found this conference to be invaluable,” said a Missouri Catholic school teacher who attended.
In a 2018 survey, less than a third of Americans polled by Annenberg Public Policy Center could name all three branches of government, and half of Americans could name only one or none. Numbers improved during the pandemic, but today only nine states require a full year of U.S. government or civics, while 30 states require a half year and the other 11 states have no civics requirement.
The Center’s “Constitutional Conversations: Historical Tensions and Classroom Strategies,” in partnership with the Bill of Rights Institute, was designed to train public and private school 6-12 grade teachers to share the fundamental rights and responsibilities envisioned by the country’s founders.
Kevin Vance, director of Benedictine College’s Center for Constitutional Liberty, presented multiple sessions for the teachers before heading to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Center’s Board of Advisors and interns in the Center’s “B.C. in D.C.” program.
Vance focused on religious liberty, slavery and civil rights in his presentations. But more than the information given, the community formed at the event was important.
“Teachers were very grateful for the high quality professional development content we provided, and our lunch discussions about it were perhaps my biggest takeaway,” said Vance. “They described how teacher burnout is a big problem, even with the best teachers in the system, and the kind of content we were sharing gave them an opportunity to breathe new life into their curricula.”
The college created the Center for Constitutional Liberty as part of its Transforming Culture in America strategic plan. The Center’s mission is “to renew and advance understanding of the founding principles of the United States of America so that our nation’s unique experiment in self-government will inspire, inform and direct new generations of Americans.”
The event provided a $500 travel stipend to participants.
The program was a “Wonderful opportunity,” said Curtis Carter, a Wichita, Kansas, public school teacher pictured above (right). “I received so much,” he said, and “my students will as well.”
Cole Haugen, who teaches at Saint Therese School in Parkville, Mo., found the program just what is needed. His own “knowledge of the First Amendment and the Constitution has increased,” he said. And, for his classroom, he now has “valuable resources and strategies.”
Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters attended from Pittsburg, Kansas, and Wichita, where IHM sisters have been teaching at Bishop Carroll High for 39 years.
The college is planning a new conference for teachers of grades 3-8 scheduled for August 1-2 (Register here).