While a great deal of national attention is paid to the achievement gap plaguing our country’s public schools, equally important—although too often ignored—is the civic empowerment gap that continues to marginalize minority students. Public schools are failing students in this regard, and Harvard Associate Professor of Education Meira Levinson makes the case for reviving the civic mission of schools in order to close the empowerment gap in her most recent book, No Citizen Left Behind. “We have both the obligation and the capacity to help overcome the civic empowerment gap by what we do in schools and specifically what we do in schools that serve defective, segregated, nonwhite, often poor, urban student populations,” Levinson tells us.
Drawing from her own ethnographic research and teaching experience in the classroom, her book is an argument for the role of education in our democracy with implications for K-12 students, educators, and school administrators. While teaching at an all-Black middle school in Atlanta, Levinson realized that her students’ individual self-improvement would not necessarily enable them to overcome their historical marginalization. In order to overcome their civic empowerment gap, students must learn how to reshape power relationships through public, political, and civic action. “One crucial piece of an empowering education has to…be a civic education,” Levinson argues. “It has to be an education that explicitly teaches kids how to work with others—that they have to work with others, that it is in their best interest to work with others—to transform opportunities not only for themselves, but for their neighborhoods, for their communities, for the world as a whole.”
On October 3, 2012, Levinson visited the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to discuss No Citizen Left Behind with the Chicago community. You can watch the full interview on the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement’s (IPCE) YouTube page here.