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Inspired Ideas

Design Challenges for Civics and History Educators

By Peter Levine, Professor and Associate Dean in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life

A Crisis in Civic Life

The American people are badly polarized. Political scientist Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues write: “Democrats and Republicans both say that the other party’s members are hypocritical, selfish, and closed-minded, and they are unwilling to socialize across party lines, or even to partner with opponents in a variety of other activities.” Their article was published well before the 2020 election, which has surely made things worse.

A Consensus Roadmap

However, consensus is possible. In 2019, during the Trump Administration, two federal agencies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, funded an ideologically, philosophically, and demographically diverse team to write a “Roadmap” for teaching American history and civics. As a member of that team, I can report that we spent thousands of hours deliberating what and how to teach until we reached a consensus that satisfies all of us.

The Design Challenges

In addition to extensive advice about what and how to teach, we also name five “Design Challenges.” These are built-in tensions that confront history and civic education.

The Good and the Bad

Here is one example. Design Challenge 4 asks, “How can we offer an account of U.S. constitutional democracy that is simultaneously honest about the past without falling into cynicism, and appreciative of the founding without tipping into adulation?”

Works Cited

The Origins and Consequences of Affective Polarization in the United States Shanto Iyengar, Yphtach Lelkes, Matthew Levendusky, Neil Malhotra, Sean J. Westwood. Annual Review of Political Science 2019 22:1, 129–146



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