Spotlight: Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA)

When did your organization launch and why?

Schools should support a school climate that promotes the skills, knowledge and experiences of democratic participation, not be barriers to it. The Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA) supports the important role that k12 schools can play to create cultures that support and promote election engagement and educate for equitable voting. Schools are sites where young people are exposed to a range of influences on their likelihood of engagement, and we want to enable schools to have a positive impact that supports youth voices. Young people’s pathways to participation are diverse and schools can reach a broad population of youth in ways that can close decades-long gaps in voter participation, which exist among youth even at the youngest ages. 

TFDA formally began back in 2015 as an effort to engage more k12 civic education organizations and voter engagement groups in conversation together, rather than in silos (we are not a separate c3, but a working group of organizations). TFDA is made up of 12 national organizations and coordinated by CIRCLE, which is part of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. 

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

We make sure that people know non-partisan education for informed and equitable voting is possible, and provide 6 areas that we think are critical to doing so in a high quality way (it includes media literacy!). 

In the 2019-2020 year, the Alliance is focused on helping to close gaps in the what schools have the capacity for, including:

  • Increased awareness among school and district leaders the high-quality resources that exist and frameworks for integrating these resources into existing school learning goals
    • This will include targeted opportunities for school district staff to receive support and make commitments to building district support 
  • More of the public and more parents are exposed to messages that nonpartisan teaching about elections and voting is possible
  • More teachers are able to integrate areas of civic learning (including media literacy!) and voter registration.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Schools should support a school climate that promotes the skills, knowledge and experiences of democratic participation, not be barriers to it. Many barriers to youth voting begin before youth reach 18, and 11,000 young people turn 18 every day. We need ‘all hands on deck’ to help schools build action plans that engage administrators, students, teachers and communities. This will close access gaps among youth by supporting local team in schools to find the right resources and tools for their community – during 2020 and as a basis for years to come. 

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

As a group of organizations that believe non-partisan educational experiences should inform and promote democratic participation, we believe it’s critical for high quality teaching about elections and voting to include 6 key, broad areas. 

We provide a checklist for school and district leaders to use as a basic set of steps to develop an action plan that is tailored to the assets, resources and constraints that they have. 

We also have collaboratively developed a Self-Assessment Matrix for teachers, schools and districts to think through where they are and where they can go. 

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy? Why is media literacy important to your organization?

Media literacy is one of the 6 core areas we believe is important for high quality teaching about elections and voting. This is an emerging area to develop ways that media literacy can be integrated with other core elements like voter registration, action civics, etc. Media are one source of influence and construct young people’s framework for understanding an election, what issues are/aren’t being covered, and why they may/may not want to vote. Therefore, it’s critical for young people to be able to analyze, interpret, influence and create media as part of their pathway to democratic participation and having an impact on issues they care about.   

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

Please visit and promote www.teachingfordemocracy.org !The Alliance is hosting a district staff workshop on October 29th in Washington, DC, and keep an eye out for virtual conversations this fall that make the case for this work. 

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