Education Groups Join in Campaign for Civic Renewal

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A diverse coalition of education groups this week will launch a campaign to help form the next generation of good citizens.

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Representing about 40 organizations, the new Partnering Initiative on Education and Civil Society will begin an effort to ensure that teaching good citizenship isn't lost in the nation's drive for high academic standards and marketable-skills training.

Although a growing number of groups nationwide are working to help students become active citizens, their efforts have resembled more a thousand points of light than a unified call for civic renewal, organizers said.

"This is the first time all of the major education associations have come around this issue," said Susan Stroud, the counselor to former U.S. Sen. Harris L. Wofford, who heads the federally funded Corporation for National Service.

"Some groups have worked with service learning or educating for social justice, but now they have a collective voice on this issue."

The Corporation for National Service, which administers the Clinton administration's AmeriCorps, National Senior Service Corps, and Learn and Serve America, which makes grants to schools and colleges for service learning projects, convened the groups with the help of the Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends, headed by Jeremy Rifkin.

The author of The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, Mr. Rifkin has advocated that schools teach more about the importance of the nonprofit sector and civic participation.

"So much attention has been placed on the technology--that's the revolution everyone's talking about," Mr. Rifkin said. "But what interests us is this other quiet revolution that's taking place."

The coalition includes the country's two largest teachers' unions, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Council of Chief State School Officers, several higher education organizations, and the U.S. Department of Education. Together, they planned to announce a seven-point declaration of principles in Washington early this week.

School to Community

The organizing groups have pledged to support: making service learning an integral part of academic programs; promoting character education; teaching the historical legacy of civil society; allowing students more input in designing their own learning experiences; forging more partnerships between schools and businesses, community organizations, and colleges; giving parents and students more say in policies affecting their schools; and finding the resources to accomplish these goals.

"I think we've lost what is really an American tradition about educating for civic courage and civic involvement in democratic life," said Don Ernst, the director of government relations for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, another group taking part. "This is not just about service education. It's about deepening active citizen involvement in a democratic society."

The coalition plans to organize a series of regional meetings by the fall to showcase model programs in schools and communities across the country. Organizers of the initiative said they hope eventually to reach every district in the country.

"As we talk about citizen development, it's essential that people see education and schools as a pivotal part of that and not create these artificial distinctions between what goes on in the school and in the community," said Jim Kohlmoos, a deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the Department of Education.

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