Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Barbara Franco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), recently discussed the importance of citizen training with Pennsylvania’s First Lady, Judge Marjorie O.Rendell, and Richard Stengel, president and chief executive officer of the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia. Judge Rendell is active in promoting citizenship education through the Pennsylvania Coalition for Representative Democracy (PennCORD), a consortium of more than forty educational, advocacy, and governmental organizations committed to improving civic learning in the Commonwealth’s schools. The mission of the National Constitution Center is increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution, its history, and its contemporary relevance.” As the Common wealth’s official history agency, the PHMC provides educational programming at its twenty-five historic sites and museums throughout the Keystone State that make up the popular and well-traveled Pennsylvania Trail of History®, including The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The State Museum has recently completed a master plan for its architectural and programmatic renewal that includes a new focus on citizenship education.

More than a half-century ago, the PHMC’s annual report for 1950 eloquently articulated the need for understanding history as a building block of citizenship and love of country.

We need in our Nation and in our Commonwealth, as never before, a new appreciation and understanding of our heritage. The danger of being deprived of the cherished institutions that constitute the American way of life is very real and imminent. Understanding must rest upon a greater diffusion of popular knowledge about our history and the historic roots of our development and progress. A deeper love of our country and appreciation of our heritage should rest upon the firm bedrock of love of state and community. This naturally translates itself into love of country and understanding of all our national ideals and aspirations as Americans.

Today, the conversation about citizenship – what it means to Americans and how it will be learned by future generations – ­continues. Because democracy was forged at Philadelphia’s venerable State House (now Independence Hall), Pennsylvanians have a special responsibility to make certain that all Americans know and appreciate the meaning of citizenship, not only as it was conceived in the eighteenth century, but as it is practiced in the twenty-first century – and beyond.


Defining Citizenship

Barbara Franco (BF) There are a lot of different terms used to define citizenship – democracy, character, service. What words do you use?

Marjorie O. Rendell (MOR) I talk a lot about civic engagement as one of the core components of citizenship, of people being involved in their communities. It’s challenging though, because “citizenship” conjures up a different image from what we’re really trying to convey – that it is who we are and our core identity, having been born in the United States.

BF Perhaps citizenship has come to mean something too specific, like naturalization or receiving citizenship papers; you’re a citizen because it’s where you live as a legal status rather than possessing broader meaning.

Richard Stengel (RS) We can redefine the way we think about who we are about character, about civic engagement. The tests that the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [formerly the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)] give represent a very basic, legal conception of what citizenship involves. We want people to think about personal identity, civic engagement, and character as part of citizenship.

MOR New citizens understand and value what we have more than we do. If you look out on a group of newly naturalized citizens, you see the joy on their faces. That’s because we’ve got something very special. While people come for jobs, or economic reasons, they also come for freedom, rights, and responsibilities.

BF We’ve talked about national citizenship, but citizenship begins at the state level. The Constitution establishes an individual’s relationship with the federal government, through the states. State constitutions are also an important part of the framework of government.

MOR It’s so interesting to see what powers are reserved in the Constitution for the states and what powers the states don’t have at all. In 1792, if you were a Pennsylvanian, and not a Virginian, that meant something. Sometimes it takes the courts to remind us, because we still have the federal court system, we have the state court system and there are certain things the federal government just cannot do. We sometimes forget that we are the United States of America. We’re brought together through this legal compact.

RS The states were the powers, and the debate was about whether the big states would have too much power at the expense of the smaller states. The revolutionary thing about the Constitution was the united part. Only six weeks before the constitution was signed, the last draft people saw read, “We, the people of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia,” etcetera, and it was only when Gouverneur Morris edited the final version in the last couple of weeks that we got to “We the people of the United States of America.” That was a revolu­tionary change in those few words.


Educating the Next Generation

BF There is much discussion about citizenship training in educational circles. How great is the problem of citizenship education?

MOR A recent public opinion poll indicated that, although 75 percent of the older generation feels that we need to pay attention to government, only 54 percent of the younger generation believes that it’s something that should concern them. We are seeing a decline in awareness and appreciation of citizenship and knowledge about government. I remember when we had civics books in school and learned the basics.

RS If we look at the leading indicators of citizenship, the single highest act of citizenship that Americans must perform is voting, apart from paying their taxes, of course. You see a decline in the number of young people in the eighteen to twenty-four age group voting. It did spike up a little bit in the 2004 election. Voting had spiked up in 1992, but less than 50 percent participation is not a good sign. Over time we’ve realized that the best indicator for whether people vote is an interest in politics and whether their parents voted. If young people are not voting, then the next generation and their children will also be disengaged. The point of our democracy is that you have to be engaged. It’s a special obligation on us as Americans, as citizens in a republic, to be involved.

BF Paying taxes is one of the basic responsibilities of being a citizen, yet many people regard taxes as a burden. We often speak about citizenship in terms of rights, but there are also responsibilities. What are our responsibilities as citizens?

RS There is not a consensus of opinion about what are the actual building blocks of citizenship. It varies and has changed through American history. Judge Rendell and I are involved with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools [a long-term effort to renew and elevate civic learning in the nation’s schools] through Penn­CORD and trying to establish what are the requirements of citizenship that everybody needs to know about and satisfy.

MOR As I speak to various groups, I talk about the five Rs – the reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, but also the rights and responsibilities. You cannot talk about rights without talking about responsibilities. People don’t ask me, “What are your rights?” Everybody knows their rights. People ask me, “What are your responsibilities?,” as if this is a new concept. We have taxes, voting, jury duty, obeying laws, public service, and moral behavior. But we are not teaching our children to think in these terms. It’s all about rights and so little emphasis is placed on responsibilities.


Citizenship and the Media

BF Some recent articles about citizenship education claim the media’s role as the major source of information about government contributes to the erosion of people’s sense of citizenship. They point to the fact that because people are tuning in and watching pundits talk, they are less actively engaged in their own conversations, debates, and discussions and have become observers of the process rather than participants.

RS This is a real paradox, because the general view of the media is less positive now than it has ever been in the last thirty to forty years. Yet, I would argue the media is better than it’s been any time in our lifetime, and there’s more information available. What only a privileged elite group had three or four decades ago is now available to every citizen. It’s much easier, frankly, to be a citizen who is civically engaged now than it has ever been because more information is available.

MOR Information is available, but I worry that people are not taking advantage of it. People use sound bites as their knowledge. They are latching on to an editorialized version and adopting it as their own without taking on the responsibility of really understanding the facts.

RS That’s the educational issue we need to address. The Civic Mission of Schools suggests that one way to get kids civically involved is to talk about contemporary issues, and relate it to founding documents – the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence – and then the court system.


The Role of History

BF We all agree that it is important for people to understand and analyze current information. But what role does understanding history play in building strong citizenship skills? Richard alluded earlier to the fact that our idea of citizenship continues to evolve and change, reflect­ing current issues and circumstances. How do you see the relationship between history and citizenship?

MOR History is huge. Telling people what our forefathers went through, what they risked for us, is part of what everyone needs to understand. Reading the Constitution and thinking about what caused them to put different concepts in the Constitution is fascinating and helps youngsters appreciate the fact that our constitution is a model for the world. Why? Because we put together a document that works.

We are a nation of law, and that is special. We obey law. We have a first amendment that means something. We have a fourth amendment that means something. It’s fascinating to truly understand what we possess as a result of our history. You cannot talk about citizenship without talking about history.

RS Historical illiteracy in our country doesn’t allow people to use what happened before to understand what’s happening today. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes, and if you don’t know what happened before, it’s hard to evaluate what’s going on now. In a fundamental way, one of the responsibilities of citizenship is to understand American history, and our primary documents and how they came to be.

MOR When you realize it’s about the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it’s profound in and of itself. I perform a lot of naturalizations here in Philadelphia and every citizen who is born here should be required to attend a naturalization ceremony and see how special citizenship is.

RS Those men who pledged their lives and their sacred honor to create a Constitution that is universal and has stood the test of time also created something which is greatly flawed. They tolerated slavery. Women were not emancipated. You had to be a property owner. The eighteenth-century model was an aristocratic, gentlemanly model of citizenship.

One of the things we talk about in citizenship education is how that document changed over the course of two hundred years and through great sacrifice we have expanded the circle of liberty and walked the path from exclusion to inclusion. That’s the story we need to learn and celebrate.


Heroes as Inspiration

BF Role models and heroes seem to play a part in the link between history and citizenship. There is tremendous interest right now in biographies of the founding fathers as rediscovered heroes. Do you think this new interest comes from a hunger to better understand the past and ourselves? David McCullough’s award-winning biography of John Adams and David Hackett Fisher’s recent book, Washington’s Crossing, have shed new light on our early history and provided insights into the attributes of our national heroes.

MOR It’s a positive trend, definitely. Historic heroes are vying for the public’s attention with contemporary heroes like Michael Jordan and other sports and entertainment figures, but we’re still learning lessons from them. Ben Franklin’s three hundredth birthday is coming up and we’re going to keep celebrating heroes from the past, as well as the present.

RS There is a hunger for knowledge about the founding period in general. There’s an appetite for knowledge about people whose success is not simply financial, athletic, or in the realm of celebrity publicity. There’s also a modern reason for why people are looking at citizenship, about civic engagement, and public service. Even sports heroes make a much greater effort to be civically engaged, to do public service as part of being a celebrity. It’s great if they also help kids understand what civic engagement and citizenship mean.

BF Here in Pennsylvania we have so many people who are heroes because of what they have done to change things for the better. The upcoming Benjamin Franklin celebration certainly is an opportunity to talk about his many contributions. We also have William Penn, whose political ideals were a precursor to the Constitutional structure we enjoy today.

RS Ben Franklin was, in many ways, the first celebrity in the eighteenth century who approximates what we think of as a celebrity figure today. In so many ways­ – as a person and as a celebrity in his own right – he created the DNA of what it means to be an American. Think of all the things that he stood for: doing well by doing good, community service, inventiveness, entrepreneurialism. These still feel so much like modern characteristics, and he is in many ways a contemporary hero. He’s the founder who still winks at us, somebody said.


Citizenship and Identity

MOR One of the things we’re doing at PermCORD is teaching children early on about who they are and that citizenship is part of core identity. These youngsters want to be somebody. If we can teach them that what makes them special is not the kind of car or the house or the latest video game they have, but it’s that they have rights and responsibilities as American citizens.

BF It is disturbing to think about people who are giving up on politics, who are giving up on taking part in civic engagement because they don’t think they have power. Empowering young people to see that as citizens they have the capacity to do anything that people in the past have done.

RS There is a real challenge to teach kids in a new way so they feel they are stakeholders and they can accomplish something, that their vote or their role in community is meaningful. We can’t teach the same way we did in the 1950s. If we communicate to kids that being a citizen is a matter of philanthropy rather than self-interest, that’s not a bad thing.

There’s nothing wrong with a self-­interested citizenship in which people understand that you have rights because you also have responsibilities. If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, you don’t really have the rights. We need to teach young students that there is something in it for them. There’s some­thing in it for all of us. We’re all stakeholders and we all benefit.

MOR It is troubling that people are deciding to leave public life and not run for public office. The void in citizenship has created confusion between the idea of politics and the idea of government, democracy, and participatory activity. People are turned oH by politics and, therefore, think the idea of civics and citizenship is too controversial because we haven’t taught them the difference. We need to educate youngsters to think critically and to understand that citizenship isn’t partisanship. Maybe because there’s so much discord now, youngsters don’t understand the first amendment, and think that our rights shouldn’t be as broad as they actually are in the Constitution.


Democracy Requires Discourse and Compromise

BF Do you think that party loyalty and party politics have replaced the idea of citizenship?

MOR It’s one reason why citizenship is not taught as much as it should be. It’s difficult for a teacher to start a discussion when he or she is not sure where the discussion will lead and whether or not he or she’s going to receive a call from parents complaining that something controversial is being taught. The Civic Mission of Schools is attempting to provide teachers with content that has proven to be valuable, relevant, interesting – and taught inherently from the way we were taught. But it’s not simple.

BF One of the ingredients of citizenship in a successful democracy is open discourse. A New York Times article last year made the point that when people stop talking to each other the results are often disastrous. The article used the War of the Roses in England as an example of what happened when two factions could no longer talk to each other. It ended in war, and, of course. It also happened here in the 1860s with our own Civil War.

RS One of the points of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is to encourage teachers to talk about contemporary issues. Citizenship education helps get at the red-blue nation myth. I call it a myth because it’s not quite true in the way people think it is. It’s not a United States of red and blue; it’s a nation of purple. The Constitution teaches that you can have open discourse and you can disagree about things. The Constitution was the creation of people disagreeing in fundamental ways about principles and that’s how they created this extraordinary document.

BF Perhaps one of Franklin’s greatest contributions was a government based on compromise. The Constitution was about compromise and that’s what our democracy embodies.

RS Benjamin Franklin gave his most beautiful speech on September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution was signed. It was only two paragraphs long, and he said, “This document is not the worst, but I’m not sure it’s not the best, and compromise created it, and let us all doubt our own infallibility and vote for it.” Compromise, not polarity, is the American way.


Teaching Citizenship

BF Can democracy and citizenship be taught or is it something you learn through experience?

MOR The basic principles can be taught. You have to start at kindergarten. There’s a school in the mid-state that has developed a curriculum which includes kindergarten classes. The children understand what a flag is; it stands for who you are. You can learn early on about responsibility and authority. It’s progressive, but you must start early.

BF I’ve had conversations with educators who argue that young children can’t understand history. If you listen to kids in kindergarten, as well as in first and second grades, the biggest issue for them is power and powerlessness because they are smaller or younger in the family pecking order. They’ re constantly jostling for power with schoolmates and siblings, and if we talk about systems of government in terms of power, they do understand.

RS One of the recommendations of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is simulation of government practices of elections in the classroom. The founders created a system that controlled power by dividing it. It was all about power, and when kids write their own constitution, it helps get them involved. It makes them say, “I understand how these things happen, and I understand what role I have.”

MOR An elementary school in eastern Pennsylvania has received awards for its efforts in citizenship education. One of the teachers told me that they learn about power, privacy, and responsibility very early. The school has a diverse population, not a high socioeconomic scale at all, and these youngsters are learning because the principal said this is the way we’re going to teach, not just citizenship as an abstract idea. They frame the whole curriculum with understanding things like responsibility and privacy, and give the children an understanding of who they are at the outset. The school has found that discipline has improved as well as performance in other subjects. We’re onto something. Everyone should be taught to understand and value of who they are and how they fit in.

Citizenship education has a chance to have great impact because we’re trying to take projects that have worked and replicate them for use by every teacher across the Commonwealth within a defined period of time. We’re going to train teachers. So often, there’s funding and interest for a new program, but rarely is there a focus on how to actually get these programs into every classroom. We need to make certain that every child in the Commonwealth will receive citizenship education.


A New Role For Museums

BF Museums play an important role in encouraging family educational experiences. When 1 meet with other state history museum directors from around the country, our discussions include the mission of history museums and how we serve the public. A number of history museums are beginning to look seriously at their role in presenting history as one of the essential tools of citizenship.

RS The conception of a museum has certainly changed. A history museum is a fairly modern concept. The traditional idea of a document or an artifact – or an icon under glass – is what people thought of as a museum. Now, history museums have taken a leaf out of the science museum’s book, and have become much more participatory. You learn through doing and interacting and that places a higher burden and responsibility on history museums.

MOR It’s a sign of the times because there is so much competition for people’s time. If history museums believe that they have a role to play to inform, then they also need to attract people. They need to be something different from what they were forty years ago.

BF History museums need to consider to what extent they can be safe places for public discourse, and how they can encourage people to interact with each other. Whether it’s through technology, in person, or simply by being in a public space, a museum can allow visitors to consider difficult ideas and have the kind of extended conversation that isn’t possible in the media.


Getting Involved

BF Being a citizen is more than just relating to politics and government, but also includes your relationship to the community at all levels. You mentioned people being hungry for ways to partici­pate in civic life. Are there ways that people in the public, the people who are reading Pennsylvania Heritage, can become more involved in supporting citizenship education?

RS We identified in PennCORD that student participation in their communities increased through collaboration between the schools and those communities. Teachers should invite outside speakers to come into their classrooms. People can also call the school and offer to come and talk about city government or town council. It’s a two-way street. We want schools to become more receptive to the outside world and the people in commu­nities need to step up and get more involved with schools.

MOR I wrote an op-ed piece at the end of the last school year encouraging parents to engage their children over the summer. Go to ExplorePAhistory.com or visit the “Civics and Citizenship” section on my website. Tell your youngsters about the Fourth of July. It’s not just fireworks. There’s a reason we celebrate. Talk to them about it. Take a day trip.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve got Gettysburg National Military Park, the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Valley Forge, Washington Crossing Historic Park, the National Constitution Center, The State Museum, and historic sites and museums along the Trail of History. We have so much that parents can do with their children. Parents are taking their children on educational trips more than they used to. It used to be that a vacation meant going to the shore, the river, or the mountains, but parents now want to take informational learning trips with their kids. We have more resources and opportunities as pa.rents to influence our children’s education than ever before.



Travel Tips

Opened with great fanfare on July, 4 2003, the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, is the world’s first (and only) museum dedicated to honoring and explaining the United States Constitution through more than one hundred interactive and multimedia exhibits, as well as with objects, artifacts, and documents.

The exhibit experience guides visitors through important events in the nation’s history and shows museum-goers how important the Constitution is today as it was nearly two hundred and twenty years ago. The tour begins with an exciting multimedia presentation featuring a live actor, film, and video presentation, orienting visitors to the major themes of the Constitution from 1787 to the present day. Families enjoy interactive exhibits that illustrate the significant role the Constitution has played throughout history. Visitors of all ages can vote for their favorite president, take the Presidential Oath of Office, assume a seat of a Supreme Court Justice, and honor the service people who have fought for and defended the Constitution. They also have the opportunity to take an active role as a citizen by e­mailing elected officials and watching up-to-the-minute constitutional issues unfold.

The National Constitution Center also conducts extensive programming, including lectures, panel discussions, seminars, and film presentations. The center is Located on Independence Mall in the historic heart of Philadelphia. To plan a visit, go to the National Constitution Center website.

Independence Mall is also home to the State House – now Independence Hall – ­where delegates to the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and where, eleven years later, secret deliberations and hard compromises resulted in a new frame of government to hold the fledgling country together – the United States Constitution.

Members of Federal Convention convened in May 1787 in the Assembly Room of the State House to redress the deficiencies of the current government under the Articles of Confederation. Many delegates believed that a strong national government was needed to replace the weak central government that existed under the Articles. They worked tirelessly through the warm summer months, writing, editing, and reviewing a host of proposals, drafts, and resolutions. On September 17, the final day of the Constitutional Convention, all members present (with the exception of dissenters Elbridge Gerry, George Mason, and Edmund Randolph) signed an engrossed copy of the Constitution prepared by Jacob Shallus, assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly.

Independence National Historical Park welcomes visitors to examine Independence Hall and its famous Assembly Room, as well as several dozen buildings and structures that comprise the “birthplace of liberty.” For information, visit the Independence National Historical Park website.

Visitors’ itineraries for central Pennsylvania should include tours of The State Museum of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Capitol, located in Harris­burg’s center-city Capitol Complex. Visitors to the magnificent State Capitol – ­which is marking its centennial this year – can see democracy in action, as well as stroll the hallowed halls which are highly ornamented with murals and works of art chronicling more than three centuries of lawmaking and citizenship in the Commonwealth. A writer for the New York Times described the State Capitol as “grand, even awesome at moments, but it is also a working building, accessible to citizens … a building that connects with the reality of daily life.”

Located opposite the State Capitol, The State Museum of Pennsylvania invites visitors of all ages to explore four floors of long-term and changing exhibits that showcase the Keystone State’s history, culture, and art – from archaeology to zoology! In the museum’s majestic Memorial Hall, an exhibit succinctly interprets early documents associated with the Commonwealth’s history, including the Charter granted to William Penn by England’s King Charles Il in 1681, the First Frame of Government (1682), the Charter of William and Mary (1695), and the Constitution of 1776. To plan a visit to the museum, go to the State Museum of Pennsylvania website.


For Further Reading

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1966.

Collie, Christopher, and James Lincoln Collier. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York: Random House, 1986.

Dautrich, Paul E. To Form A More Perfect Union: The Federal Constitution in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1986.

Fisher, David Hackett. Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Garraty, John A., ed. Quarrels That Have Changed the Constitution. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

Kammen, Michael. A Machine That Would Go Of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Lutz, Donald S. Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Murphy, Paul L. The Constitution in Crisis Times, 1918-1969. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Peck, Robert S. We the People: The Constitution in American Life. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987.

Smith, Page. The Constitution: A Documentary and Narrative History. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1980.


Marjorie O. Rendell, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received her Juris doctor degree from the Villanova University School of Law in 1973. She practiced law in Philadelphia for twenty years, specializing in bankruptcy law and commercial litigation. Inducted as a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1994, she was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the third Circuit in 1997. Judge Rendell is the chair of the United States Judicial Conference Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System and serves on several Third Circuit committees. She serves on a number of boards of legal, civic, charitable, educational, and arts organizations, and is the recipient of many awards and honors. As First Lady of the Commonwealth, Judge Rendell promotes the Keystone State’s rich history and heritage, a subject in which she is deeply interested.


Richard Stengel is a graduate of Princeton University. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied English and history at Christ Church College, Oxford. He joined the National Constitution Center as president and chief executive officer in 1994. He previously served as national editor for Time magazine, where he was responsible for all domestic, Washington, D. C., and political news. Throughout his career, he has cultivated an interest in politics and the mechanics of American democracy, and has taught at the university level and served as a network political commentator. In addition to writing for Time for twenty years, he also has written for many national publications. With Nelson Mandela, he collaborated on the former South African president’s best-selling autobiography, Long Road to Freedom (1993) and served as associate producer of Mandela (1995), nominated for an Academy Award for a documentary in 1996 He is the author of You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery (2000) and January Sun: One Day, Three Lives, A South African Town (1990).


Barbara Franco is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Cooperstown (New York) Graduate Program in Museum Studies. She has worked in the museum and history communities since 1966, when she began her career as curator of decorative arts at the Munson-­Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York, and then as curator, exhibits coordinator, and assistant director at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts, upon its opening in 1975. From 1990 to 1995, she served 11s assistant director for museums at the Minnesota Historical Society, responsible for educational programs, exhibitions, and collections in a new history center that opened in 1992. From 1995 to 2003, she served as president and chief executive officer of the Historical Society of Washington, D. C., where she played an active role in promoting community history; and heritage tourism. She became executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in February 2004.