Schools and Cities

Education is one of the key civil rights struggles of our era, and urban schools need to do more to bridge the ‘civic empowerment gaps’ between students.

How and what we teach children will determine how they engage in civic life for the rest of their life. It’s time to rethink the role of civic education in our cities. This goes way beyond tweaking the curriculum. It means upending the curriculum altogether. It’s about teaching students about power, justice and the need for collective action, and their role in improving their lives and society.

We’re talking with Professor Meira Levinson about her teaching and research. Meira’s work draws on eight years of teaching in urban public schools in Atlanta and Boston. Educational disadvantage was a reality for many minority or disadvantaged students in these schools. Meira suggests that urban schools in some America cities are suffering from a ‘civic empowerment gap’, an achievement gap that was targeted by a 2001 government act known as No Child Left Behind.

For Meria, ethics matter! She is commitment to grounding her research in teaching practice and her experience as a public school teacher. In her recent book, Justice in Schools, Meira combines philosophical analysis and school-based case studies to illuminate the complex dimensions of evaluating, achieving, and teaching justice in schools. Academics play a key role, she argues, in rigorous cross-fertilisation of scholarship, policy and practice.


Professor Meira Levinson is a normative political philosopher who writes about civic education, multiculturalism, youth empowerment and educational ethics. Levinson argues that education is the civil rights struggle of our era, and that schools need to do much more than bridge now widely recognised achievement gaps; rather, they need to upend curricula and redefine civic education to address the civic empowerment gap. Real civic education, according to Levinson, teaches students about power, justice and the need for collective action, as well as how they can have a role in improving their own lives and society.

Her most recent books include the co-edited Making Civics Count (Harvard Education Press, 2012) and No Citizen Left Behind (Harvard University Press, 2012). Supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, Levinson’s newest project is on justice in schools and combines philosophical analysis with school-based case studies. Levinson spent eight years teaching in public schools in Atlanta and Boston, has a background in political philosophy, and is a Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Democratic Experiment Series

This is episode II of The Democratic Experiment series. This series is a partnership between City Road and The Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. The Sydney Policy Lab exists to break down the barriers between researchers, policymakers, campaigners and the community at large. At the Sydney Policy Lab people of all backgrounds are coming together to strengthen our democracy, reduce spiralling inequality and help to empower communities to shape their own future.

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