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Sumners Foundation Awards Texas Wesleyan $34K for “Democracy Matters”

01.13.2023 | By: Texas Wesleyan University
Professor of history at Texas Wesleyan University

Remember the School House Rock videos that taught you anything from what conjunctions are to how bills work on Capitol Hill? Thanks to a grant that Dr. Christopher Ohan secured from the Sumners Foundation, Texas Wesleyan will be producing a series of videos that will be “School House Rock for the TikTok generation.”

Ohan proposed the video series during a “Shark Tank” like presentation on a marathon day of project proposals put on by the foundation, which was looking to award over $200K in grants for projects that promote democracy.

“The hard part wasn’t seven and a half minutes of a pitch — it was what to pitch,” Ohan said.

Seeking advice from colleagues and students, he came up with the idea for “Democracy Matters” that could be used in area high schools to teach students about specific themes in American democracy. 

“Today’s students learn differently than we did,” Ohan said. “These won’t be your parent’s Alistair Cooke videos! Rather, the 10–12-minute videos will be fast-paced, highly engaging, relevant and entertaining.” 

The first episode will be titled “We the People: Democracy over Despotism” and introduce the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. By explaining who is adopting, why it is being adopted and what is being adopted, this first episode will show that the U.S. Constitution is ideologically linked to aspects of the European Enlightenment, but that it is based on a unique experience of the North American British colonists in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Subsequent episodes will be thematic as well as historical. “Demokratia and the Gadfly” will look at history’s first direct democracy in Athens and explain the connections to America’s representative democracy, with a bridge to the First Amendment via the role of the critic, or gadfly. Another episode, “Cunning, Ambitious, and Unprincipled Men,” will play on George Washington’s words in 1796 about those belonging to political parties and examine the development of the early political party system in the U.S. “A More Perfect Union” will explore the relationship of the civil rights struggles in the US to democracy. 

“At this time when our democracy seems to be in peril, we must make a contentious effort to equip high school teachers with quality resources so that they can reach young people and help develop an informed and engaged citizenry, especially,” he said.

Ohan is working with a team comprised of current Sumners Scholars, colleagues and Texas Wesleyan alumni, many of whom are in the secondary classroom, to generate content. He will work with Texas Wesleyan’s communications team to produce and publish the videos. The first episodes will be available to social studies/government teachers beginning in fall 2023 with more episodes by the spring 2024 term.

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