Rendells, Arcadia launch civic-education effort

Judge Marjorie O. Rendell and her husband, former Gov. Ed Rendell, at announcement of a program to boost civic education through the National Constitution Center and Arcadia University. Story, B2.
Judge Marjorie O. Rendell and her husband, former Gov. Ed Rendell, at announcement of a program to boost civic education through the National Constitution Center and Arcadia University. Story, B2. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 23, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Former Gov. Ed Rendell and his wife, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, are launching a program with Arcadia University and the National Constitution Center to boost citizen engagement in the democratic process - in part by getting young people interested early.

At a morning news conference at the Constitution Center, the Rendells announced the formation of the Rendell Center for Citizenship and Civics at Arcadia.

Ed Rendell cited a poll conducted before the Constitution Center opened in 2003 that he said showed "high school students were remarkably uninformed about our system of government."

He also said he had long believed one of the biggest challenges facing the nation "is lack of citizen engagement and participation."

The Rendells' appearing together in public was unusual. They announced in 2011 that they were separating after 40 years of marriage but would "remain friends and continue to be active in our community, sometimes together, sometimes separately."

They said Thursday that the center would include three program areas: curriculum development for K-12 students to help promotion of civic education and active citizenship; professional development for educators; and community and campus engagement with a regular slate of events at Arcadia and the Constitution Center.

The Rendell Center, which will have an office at Arcadia's campus in Glenside, will be funded by Arcadia and the Constitution Center, Ed Rendell said. He said he would also raise funds for the center.

He said that when he was elected governor in 2002, his wife made clear "the major thing she wanted to accomplish was to bring civics education into the schools in Pennsylvania throughout the length and the breadth of the commonwealth."

He linked the center's origins to a group she coordinated, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Representative Democracy. That organization, which included the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Constitution Center, was committed to implementing civic engagement efforts in every Pennsylvania school, he said.

Marjorie Rendell, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, said the center's first project was underway: an essay contest started in October for fourth and fifth graders from the five-county Philadelphia area.

The students were asked to write an essay or produce a video project addressing this question: "The Constitution requires that a person running for president must be a natural citizen, meaning they were born in this country. Do you think this should be changed?"

"The essays were amazing," Marjorie Rendell said. "The future generation does have their own ideas and has the ability to express them. We need to hear more from them, and that is the whole idea behind this contest."

She said 10 finalists, chosen from 150 entries, would each receive a "civics library" of books on the topic. The winner gets a grand prize of $1,000 to be used toward a program that promotes civic learning among students. Three runners-up each receive a $500 check for the same purpose.

"I am very excited about this," Ed Rendell said. "It's something I want to do for the rest of my life and continue to lead this effort with Judge Rendell."


vclark@phillynews.com

215-854-5717

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