All posts by Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago

Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (CRFC) strengthens American democracy by providing elementary and secondary students with hands-on learning about the Constitution to prepare them for informed civic engagement. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, CRFC develops and delivers interactive programming, classroom-tested professional development, and problem-based curricula that address rights and responsibilities, law, and policy. CRFC was founded in 1974 as part of the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles and in 1990 became an independent 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Chicago. CRFC is nonpartisan and blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

Tell the U.S. Department of Education that You Support Federal Funding for Civic Education!

Dear Friends of Civic Learning and the Social Studies:

The U.S. Department of Education has invited the nation to submit comments and suggestions for priorities and definitions for the Department’s various discretionary (competitive) grant programs.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education published a list of supplemental priorities and definitions to be used in awarding discretionary (competitive) grants made by the Department. The Department is now proposing to repeal the 2010 priorities and definitions and replace them with new priorities.

This is an opportunity to recommend that the Department include Social Studies (which include civic learning, economics, geography, and history) as a supplemental priority in the Department’s discretionary grants.

Please use your own voice and your own words. You may wish to refer to the Campaign for the Civic Mission of the Schools’ “Civics Fact Sheet 2014” which provides data you can use in crafting your message as well as the to the announcement from the Department. Here also are some suggestions from the civic learning and social studies community:

  • Establish a separate Priority Area for the Social Studies similar to proposed Priority Seven for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics);
  • Fund innovative social studies projects that target under-served school populations (as outlined in the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2013 bill);
  • Supporting innovative social studies teacher professional development models that are replicable;
  • Implementing social studies projects that employ new technologies and delivery systems;
    Funding projects that encourage school/community partnerships that enhance students’ civic knowledge and skills;
  • Encouraging states to develop fewer, clearer, and higher standards of learning and curricular frameworks in the social studies.

If you believe that educating students to be prepared for civic life is essential to our democratic republic, please submit your comments/suggestions to the U.S. Department of Education here (there you will find a blue box saying ‘Comment Now’ in the upper right hand corner).

Please send a copy of your submission to We will collect and share submissions with other supporters of civic learning and the social studies.

The deadline for submitting comments/suggestions is: Thursday July 24, 2014. Please act today. Thank you for making your voice heard!

Click here to learn more.


The VOICE of the future…

An engaging day at CRFC’s Primary VOICE seminar

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend another one of CRFC’s hidden gems. Involving 20 primary grade Chicago Public School teachers, CRFC’s Primary VOICE fosters literacy and encourages civic learning through the use of children’s literature, with a curriculum that combines the development of reading skills and law-related education.

Martin Luther King Jr once famously said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This is true for all ages and especially important for children – as it helps form a foundation of understanding and acknowledging the philosophy of “I can.” The Primary VOICE 20 hour professional development program for primary grade teachers is designed in such a way, that it facilitates them to help increase in their kids – the understanding of governance, participation, responsibility, and conflict resolution.

At the meeting that took place last week, the teachers shared classroom experiences, discussed reading extensions, and shared and assessed student work. Sandra, a 3rd grade teacher says, “It was really great that the teachers themselves did the activities and discussions, instead of having someone just give us a textbook explanation. It has helped me understand the value and benefit of some of these core lessons. I had to think strategically, which means my students will have to as well.”

Sandra’s favorite part of the workshop was when CRFC staff analyzed a few selected children’s books, and obtained from them the lessons of equality, responsibility, conflict resolution and governance.

Celeste, a kindergarten teacher was particularly moved by the Candy Store – a story about a young child, facing and fighting racial prejudices. She says, “My kids come from different ethnic backgrounds, and oftentimes are unable to completely understand the cultural nuances of their classmates. Stories like these will resonate and develop an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding.”

While Rosa, a 3rd grade teacher, was deeply impacted with Amelia’s Road – a tale of a daughter of migrant farm workers, who dreams of a stable home. She reflects, “Many of my students come from broken homes, with separated or divorced parents. A story about a child their age, craving stability, and overcoming odds, penetrates their hearts – and the lesson learnt, stays on to serve a much higher purpose.”

Along with this, the teachers were also introduced to the State v. Wolf Mock Trial Program –Based on the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” State v. Wolf gives primary students the chance to participate in the jury system, with opportunities to practice important critical reading, listening, thinking, and deliberating skills.

All in all, this is a fantastic professional development session, hosted by CRFC and generously funded by Polk Bros. Foundation. Apart from the insightful learnings, teachers are also given CPDUs and a stipend, to be a part of this change-enabling literacy program.

Personally, I would recommend this program to every primary teacher in Illinois. Take time out of your summer for just 2 days – and see yourself empowered with the knowledge and acumen, to enlighten your students for the upcoming school year- and perhaps the rest of their lives!


20140218_184037 - CopyJuly 14, 2014

By Palak Shukla.

Ms. Shukla is CRFC’s Summer Marketing and Communications intern. She is originally from Mumbai, India has 3 years of experience in Communications. She is now studying Digital Media at Loyola University.

About Supporting Transgender Students: Best School Practices for Success

Today I went to a conference hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois about best school practices for supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming students within the educational system.

The first person to speak was Dr. Randi Ettner, a therapist and transgender specialist, who briefly summarized the difficulties of being a nonconforming student and the issues that arise in the school setting. It was followed by a personal account from a CPS student who gave a moving example authenticating the struggles that come with being a transgender or gender-nonconforming student in today’s school system. The rest of the conference was dedicated to the legal steps that can be taken to ensure that transgender and nonconforming students aren’t discriminated against and the steps school districts can take to ensure their legal rights.

The following link will take you to the ACLU’s webpage for the event, and supplies materials for supporting transgender students in schools:

Written by Colin Rathe, a rising senior at Illinois Wesleyan University and CRFC’s summer intern.  Views expressed are not necessarily those of CRFC.




Recently, I had the opportunity to attend one of CRFC’s educational and interactive events at Swift Elementary School, Chicago. The concept is a unique approach to understanding and setting the foundation of our country’s laws and justice system.

I’m sure each of us is aware of the story of the ‘Three Little Pigs’. I, for one, remember my grandmother reading it to me during bedtime. The big bad wolf “huffs and puffs and blows the house in”. I have acute memories of trepidation, followed by relief at the eventual thwarting of the wolf and the safety of the pigs. But what if, the story had a different ending? Even more so, what if the wolf had his own story to tell? In an adorable, yet incredibly insightful twist, the team at CRFC converted the fable into a court proceeding – State v. Wolf!

Ms. Fran and Mr. Stan Pig are the plaintiffs – filing the suit for destruction of property and possible intent to murder, against Mr. B.B. Wolf. Mr. B.B. Wolf, is exercising the right to retain an attorney, and is contesting the case, by claiming accidental and unintentional damage. The video proceeds like an actual court hearing, with opening and closing statements, and testimonies from both the defendant and the plaintiffs. The jury is also presented with facts and pictorial evidence, to sustain the claim of each party.

The best part about this video is that it was shown to Ms. Mary Howard’s second grade class at Swift Elementary School. There were 12 attorney volunteers from Baker & McKenzie LLP, Kraft Foods Global, Inc. and Schiff Hardin LLP, who sat down with the kids in groups of 3, to brainstorm the case, the facts presented and the evidence. The kids of course, were acting as jurors, deciding the fate of Mr. B.B Wolf.

And boy – was I bowled over by these witty little youngsters!

Seven out of the 10 groups, found Mr. B.B Wolf NOT GUILTY!! And the observations and discernments presented by each of the groups, makes you marvel at the intelligence and exposure of today’s youth. These 7 year-olds, argued and supported facts to sustain Mr. Wolf’s rights as a citizen. They pointed out certain baseless biases, which we as adults often overlook. They were ever-willing to give the defendant a second chance, and followed-up their decisions by intelligent insights. One child got up to point out that “there was no evidence that the wolf wanted to harm the pigs. He had many interactions with the pigs earlier, and if so desired, he could have harmed them earlier. Clearly he had a cold, which blew down the house of sticks. He is most certainly innocent”. Seeing their cherubic faces, blazing with intelligence and understanding, made me wish I had such brain-stimulating activities, when I was growing up.

This wonderful exercise reaffirmed my faith that the next generation is going to be brought up with fair, just and informed decisions. A line in the video says, “Just because one wolf is bad, doesn’t mean they all are”. This, to me, hits such a deep and profound nerve. This concept combats intolerance and irrational prejudices among young people. The volunteer attorneys were simply marvelous, explaining each point to their group, and never once offering a judgment – thus allowing the children to form an opinion for themselves. The munchkins, in their jackets and ties – all jurors for the day, performing their civic duty – were the cherry on the cake!

All in all, a simply fabulous experience! (One that made me realize, that kids today, are smarter than us!). I can’t wait for the next one!


 20140218_184037 - CopyJune 13, 2014

By Palak Shukla.

Ms. Shukla is CRFC’s Summer Marketing and Communications intern. She is originally from Mumbai, India has 3 years of experience in Communications. She is now studying Digital Media at Loyola University.

CRFC Was Born from the Struggle to Balance Liberty and Safety

The 1970’s were a time when the American people were struggling for a balance between liberty and safety—unfortunately, a perennial problem that continues today. Were young people willing and prepared to take an informed and responsible role and work together in resolving the tension?  Polls indicated that they were not and that the public had little confidence in the ability of the government do this either.

In February 1974 a small group of influential business, legal, and political leaders called together by James Brice, the Co-Chair of Arthur Andersen, listened to the Executive Director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles describe “Youth and the Administration of Justice,” a program designed to help high school students understand their rights and responsibilities under the law and participate constructively in our society. The curriculum called for teachers, law-related professionals, law enforcement, business, community leaders, and the students themselves to work together toward that end.

The question before the group was how to start a similar program in Chicago. The Illinois Law Enforcement Commission had guaranteed a small start-up grant to pilot the program in a few schools in metropolitan Chicago.  They were interested in supporting programs to prevent juvenile delinquency and were impressed by the underlying research on which “Youth and the Administration of Justice” was based.  (This research was confirmed in the 1980s by the Office Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the 1980’s based on CRFC’s work in Chicago and North Carolina.)

The group formed an advisory board* to oversee the project, and the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles hired me to run it based on the recommendation of the ABA’s Youth Education for Citizenship Committee.  I recruited high school teachers who were teaching Law in American Society—an elective offered in all CPS high schools in the 1970’s—to participate in a summer institute exposing them to the curricula and providing them with ways to involve attorneys, law-enforcement, the courts, elected officials, business and their students. At the conclusion of the institute, ten schools were selected to participate in a pilot Youth and the Administration of Justice project here in Chicago.   

The advisory board recruited resource people for the high school program. Teachers met monthly to get updates on the law, explore ways to teach about it, and discuss upcoming student workshops. Their students would chose a legal issue to explore, host a workshop at their school for teams from other schools, produce a newsletter featuring information about the issue, and teach others about the issue.

Our work in Chicago insured that when the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles applied for and received a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 1977, we became a highly regarded consultant to the project—to help others create what we were in the process of creating.

Although our early funding came from the state and national government interested in preventing delinquency, CRFC provided quality law-related opportunities for all students, not just the ones that were seen as “at risk.” The research indicated that students not only were more knowledgeable about the law but were much more likely to indicate they would use the law to resolve conflicts after they had had a semester of law-related education.

It worked. CRFC trained the teachers, provided resource people for classrooms and field-experiences, and either developed or identified a rich set of resources.

Why did it work?

  1. Teachers were well-prepared—they knew the law and were skilled in a variety of teaching techniques (students learn in different ways).
  2. There was a course dedicated to teaching about law and government that was interactive and included the active engagement of outside resource persons such as attorneys, police-officers, and government officials either in the classroom or as part of a field experience. 
  3. There was a rich set of resources (lessons, texts, supplemental material).

CRFC still does this and the need is still great. The American people continue to struggle to balance liberty and safety and have little confidence in our government. However, students (from widely diverse backgrounds) in CRFC programs are prepared to take an informed and responsible role and work together in resolving these tensions. Informed and engaged students who know their rights and responsibilities under the law are good for our democracy (and aren’t delinquent).

The primary purpose of public education was to prepare students for democratic life.  Public education seems to have forgotten its primary mission. Thankfully, CRFC has not.

* CRFC Life Director Stephen Schiller was one of the first members of the advisory board.


Carolyn Pereira founded the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago in 1974 and served as executive director until 2010. She retired in 2011 and is now a Life Director.

A Future History Teacher’s Perspective on the Importance of Deliberation in the Classroom


This post was written by Colin Rathe, CRFC’s summer intern. Colin is a rising senior at Illinois Wesleyan University.

I am a history major with a concentration in education, and have every intention of becoming a teacher at the secondary level. In my collegiate coursework, I have been introduced to many concepts and strategies that encourage social justice and student growth in the classroom. As a future educator, I am aware of some of the strengths and weaknesses of my viewpoints. On a positive note, I am up-to-date on the numerous teaching philosophies that educators promote and I am undoubtedly willing to put the necessary work in to construct meaningful lessons. Negatively, it is possible that I will implement strategies poorly due to lack of experience. This may mean that I will design an unrealistic or impractical lesson. What I hope can be taken away from this message is that I am thinking about how I can assist in student learning through engagement and deliberation; Furthermore, the importance of deliberation and discourse as a means of sparking student growth.

I think it is safe to say that a student learns most effectively when he/she is actively engaged with the material. The resulting question is how teachers and educators can promote this engagement in their allotted time sessions. One way in which to engage students is by presenting materials that force students to create their own interpretations and viewpoints. It is important that the materials given to the students make them think. In the discipline of history, it could be a primary source that forces the student to consider the main arguments, authenticity of the source and its creator, and what it may mean in a much larger context. Once students have been given the necessary resources and formulated responses, then it should become their objective to share their ideas. By sharing and explaining their own ideas as well as listening to others, students will be engaged in a discourse that helps construct a more meaningful discussion and engagement. If a student is not engaged and is only a bystander to the material being presented, then the student will not be reaching full potential.

The student who does actively engage with the material will not only grow as a learner, but also as a member of society. There will be content that is acquired through deliberation, but it also promotes liberationist qualities. When students begin reasoning for themselves they begin to find self-worth in their own ideologies. There will be differences in viewpoints among students, but that should be encouraged. No student is the same as another, and students need to discover their own ideas to become a better learner.


Views expressed in this article are not necessarily that of CRFC’s.

Target of ABC Project Students’ Anti-Smoking Project—Not Who You’d Expect


Haines Elementary School 6th-8th grade ABC Project Students point out the many cigarette butts that litter their school yard. Students are fed up with people smoking around their school. Not only are the students in this Chinatown neighborhood of Chicago sick of cigarette butts covering their school grounds, they are tired of walking out of the building and right into a cloud of cigarette smoke. The smokiest time of day around the building, according to the students, is right as school is dismissed every afternoon. The culprits, the students reveal, are parents and other adult relatives of Haines students picking up children from school.



Using the steps of the ABC Project, the students investigated relevant, existing rules in CPS. What students learned was that smoking is already not allowed on or around the school grounds and they realized that rather than pass a new rule, they needed to find a way to better enforce the existing one. After receiving the go-ahead from their school’s administration, the Haines ABC team attended a meeting of the school safety patrol squad. There they taught student volunteers polite ways to remind smoking adults to stay a distance from the school, or put their butts out. What happens if the smokers don’t listen to the patrol squad, you ask? That’s when they call in the school security guard, Mrs. Hunt. According to the students, you don’t want to mess with Ms. Hunt! To remind parents and students of the no smoking rule, students are using Infographics, a type of data visualization, to create signs that will be placed on school grounds and provide information about the negative effects of smoking and remind students and parents about the rule.

The Haines ABC team is also planning several activities that they hope will help prevent future smokers at their school. For the 5th-8th grade students at Haines, the ABC students are planning to hold an assembly in which smoking and its effects are the focus. For this, they’ll have a speaker from the Chinese Community Health Center talk to students. For the younger students, the ABC team will lead interactive lessons that help students learn the dangers of smoking, and they have a very engaging plan for doing this. Students will take part in grade-appropriate scavenger hunts in which the younger students search for clues—either ingredients of a cigarette (including Butane, Formaldehyde, and Tar) or the effects of smoking on the body (like lung disease, high blood pressure, bad breath) in order to win.

Using thoughtful and varied approaches to the problem at their school, the ABC students from Haines have learned that they can influence the way their school operates and parents behave, and know that they can serve as positive role models, for younger students—and adults!