“Furthering the American experiment in self-government – ‘the last best hope on earth,’ as Abraham Lincoln said – begins in the classroom,” says Jack Miller Center president Michael Andrews. JMC works with professors and civic institutions on college campuses to reinvigorate the study of “America’s founding principles and history, an education vital to thoughtful and engaged citizenship.”
The Chicago-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Jack Miller founded the Center in 2004 because he recognized that the “profound lack” of civic knowledge among Americans “threatens the future of our nation,” Andrews says. No one was taking action that matched the seriousness of the crisis.
Andrews observes that “students want to engage in thoughtful discussion about the history and principles underlying their country,” but colleges and universities are “cutting resources” and “neglecting vital fields and topics.” And schools “too often become places where free speech is restricted by administrators, faculty and students.”
In light of these problems, JMC has developed a network of professors committed not to indoctrination but to teaching the American political tradition. With support from donors, JMC helps grow civic institutions on college campuses, hosts national programs such as lectures and panels, and develops programs for K-12 teachers.
“The best way to improve civic education in America,” Andrews argues, “is to support those educators who believe in an honest, straightforward, unbiased engagement with the ideals underlying our system of government.”
The Center’s network consists of nearly 1,000 JMC Fellows who teach at over 300 college campuses. JMC aims “to increase their influence on campus by helping them build programs to reach not only those students in their classes, but students across campus and people in the community beyond.” More than 1 million undergraduate students have taken part in JMC sponsored programs.
And JMC understands that restoring civic education is a bipartisan effort: it works “with educational institutions and instructors all around our country, not just the few who side with a particular party,” Andrews says.
To continue building its network, the Center hosts myriad programs such as its summer institutes, which feature notable scholars such as James Ceaser and Wilfred M. McClay speaking on American political thought. Additionally, JMC works to help young professors find open positions and, in some instances, to create new positions.
The Center also partners with civic institutions (or helps found new ones) to help strengthen civic education among students. Its network of partner programs includes more than 80 regional institutions such as The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and the Constitutional Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame.
JMC directly sponsors Constitution Day lectures, speaker series, debates, new courses, student activities, and the peer-reviewed “American Political Thought” journal. Its yearly Lincoln Symposium gives professors the opportunity to receive feedback on articles prior to submitting them for publication, and its Jefferson Seminar Series features interdisciplinary discussions that focus on the ideas and institutions that defined the American Founding.
Recently, JMC supported the creation of a new blog, The Constitutionalist. Led by Benjamin A. Kleinerman, a JMC Board member and Professor of Political Science at Baylor University, the portal features a bipartisan group of scholars from multiple disciplines who discuss how civil society and civic norms help sustain political constitutions.
As many students remain remote learners, JMC’s COVID-19 resource portal offers a First Amendment library, lectures, and an archive that includes videos, curriculum on the Bill of Rights, pages that explore specific topics in American history, sample syllabi, and essays. Andrews says that JMC’s resources give “students the opportunity to see why learning about their own country is so important.”
In K-12 education, the JMC Founding Civics Initiative gives high school teachers in Chicago, New York City, Virginia, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, and Florida the opportunity to take graduate level courses and participate in professional development workshops taught by JMC Fellows.
Andrews urges parents to stay involved in their children’s education, suggesting that they examine the curriculum being taught in colleges, high schools, and grade schools. “The principles guiding our experiment in self-government,” he maintains, “are the property of all of us.”
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.