For nearly 15 years, I’ve worked with funders, movement leaders, and policymakers who are dedicated to creating positive change on a systemic scale, to continue the Founding Fathers’ vision of a more perfect union. I’ve seen Democrats and Republicans who disagree in many other areas come together and pass major legislation on some pretty challenging issues and have seen real acts of courage from policymakers and public officials on both sides of the aisle. It’s been inspiring, but sadly, that kind of cooperation is becoming rarer and rarer.
It’s easy to point to this particular moment of time and point blame, particularly over the last few years. But that would be unfair. The reality is, the United States has faced the twin challenges of a decline in trust in institutions over the last 50 years coupled with increasing polarization. All of that has culminated in where we are today, during a pandemic, where our response to COVID-19 has fallen on partisan lines.
Our young people are watching. Seeking guidance from elected officials, their teachers, and parents on how to engage with their peers and navigate these unprecedented times. They no longer have the benefit of a public square. A safe space to have conversations with differing views while also sharing a commitment to our collective wellbeing. That’s not healthy for the long-term, both for their own development and for the strength and resiliency of the country.
So, how do we recover over the long-term? Just as the damage was not caused overnight, repairing that damage will require time and investment. That’s why I’m excited about the 50x2026 campaign launching today. Using public policy as the lever, 50x2026 aims to reduce polarization and rebuild trust in institutions by returning civics education to classrooms. We need to equip the next generations of Americans with core civic knowledge but also ensure they have safe spaces in the classroom to ask questions, engage, debate, disagree, and cooperate, which is what policymakers have implemented in Massachusetts, Illinois, and, most recently, through a pilot in Utah this spring.
Today, Generation Citizen, together with a broad coalition of organizations including Rock the Vote, the Anti-Defamation League, the YMCA’s Youth and Government program, the Brennan Center for Justice, the League of United Latin American Citizens, among others seek to reverse these trends. These organizations join a diverse, bipartisan advisory board well-versed in policymaking, governing, and education to recommit ourselves to advancing civics education for young people
These collective voices and visions will help rebuild the national conversation and drive real change. The campaign aims to inspire policymakers in all 50 states to elevate civics education requirements through state legislative action by 2026, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Over the last two years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how we build a stronger foundation for our country. Like-minded thinkers have been pursuing these goals for far longer, including the team at Generation Citizen, as well as many other incredible, passionate civics education advocates, at organizations like iCivics and Mikva Challenge.
Civics education receded from the classroom several decades ago to make room for new and important emphasis on subjects such as STEM.
But this shift has come with enormous consequences, including a lack of commitment and investment from funders and policymakers in civics.
To policymakers who have been decrying rising partisanship and declining trust in government, now is the time to start investing in the next generation of citizens, and we welcome the conversation.
To organizations interested in getting involved, we are eager to engage.
To funders who are seeking to solve these intractable problems, your investments are needed to help this movement scale quickly.
A campaign to help push 50 states to action by 2026. It’s an audacious goal but the future of our nation can’t afford for us not to try. It is our young people who will lead us back to the public square and put us back on a path toward a more perfect union.