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The Haefner Award

Watch Dr. John Haefner on video explaining "civic education" and this Award
 -- as well as two half-hour programs in the "Education Exchange" series on the Iowa City cable education channel
(with thanks to Gregory Johnson and for the June 6, 2002, taping, editing and uploading).

Who is Dr. John Haefner?

Who is eligible to enter The Haefner Award contest?

What do I have to do?

Who do I talk to if I want more information, or know I want to enter?

What is the purpose of the Award?

What do you get if you win?

Where does the money come from?

Where can I get more information about "civic education"?

Any student in 9th through 12th grade in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) is eligible to enter The Haefner Award annual competition.

The Award is designed to motivate and recognize social studies students with an interest in civic education and public policy issues who can identify social problems and needs, exhibit excellent research and writing skills, create a vision for change, design an effective strategy to bring it about, and then endeavor to execute that strategy. Although students may submit projects for consideration that are unrelated to their formal studies, it is expected that usually the projects would be a part of the regular social studies curriculum -- for which the student would receive a grade and academic credit as well as the opportunity to enter the project for this Award.

Entries consist of (1) a paper of at least 8-10 pages that demonstrates the applicant's research and writing ability, (2) a separate action plan designed to bring about improvement, and (3) a report of his or her attempts to implement the plan.

Normally the student's focus would be on a local issue that might involve, say, the ICCSD School Board or Administration, Iowa City City Council, or Johnson County Board of Supervisors; but if a state, national or global project can be designed in such a way that a student can have a meaningful impact on a problem's resolution, or if the focus involves an institution other than a governmental unit, that is also acceptable.

Ideally, the solution would be one that -- while a common sense, logical "no brainer" to a thoughtful citizen -- is being met with intransigence on the part of a governmental or corporate "establishment" for one reason or another (usually unrelated to the merits). The challenge, then, is the creation of a strategy that will force the establishment into doing the right thing that it should have done in the first place.

A student's ultimate success in bringing about the desired change, while relevant in evaluating the submissions, is not a decisive factor. That is, a more difficult strategy, involving a more intransigent establishment, with higher stakes, will probably be ranked higher (on this factor) even though ultimately unsuccessful, than one that, while "successful," involved a less controversial problem much more easily resolved.

In the event an entry meets the standards of the judges and an Award is presented, as of 2002-2003 it will consist of a check for $200 and an appropriate wall plaque. The Award is funded from an endowed Haefner Fund first created by former ICCSD School Board member Nicholas Johnson (1998-2001) that is administered by the ICCSD Foundation.

Contributions to the Fund are solicited. Please contact the Foundation or Nicholas Johnson (

Students wishing to obtain more information or submit entries should contact their social studies teacher, or Helen Finken, District Social Studies Coordinator (, or Nicholas Johnson ( Teachers wishing more information can review Ms. Finken's e-mail to ICCSD social studies teachers in June 2002.

Students (and social studies teachers) who would like to know more about the "civic education" curriculum on which this Award is based may wish to begin by reading Dr. Haefner's piece entitled "Swan Song of an Old School Teacher" and watching the video of his explanation (referred to at the top of this page). They may then want to take a look at the Web sites of the National Council for Social Studies ( (see especially the NCSS "Standards and Position Statements," "II. Ten Thematic Strands in Social Studies" and its reference to "Civic Ideals and Practices," and "Essential Characteristics of a Citizenship Education Program" with its emphasis on "civic participation") and the Center for Civic Education ( in its entirety.

Dr. John Haefner is former President, National Council for Social Studies, and an emeritus professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Iowa College of Education. For much of his professional life he was head of the social studies department at the College's experimental school, University High School in Iowa City. As such he was much beloved and admired both by his students (of whom Nicholas Johnson was one) and his colleagues nationally.

ICCSD Social Studies Coordinator Helen Finken's E-Mail
to District Social Studies Teachers
June 2002

Dear High School Social Studies Teachers:

Please invite a student who has completed a civic education, social/political action project in a class or club to submit their project for
consideration for The Haefner Award.

To be considered, their initial submission need only consist of a short overview of their project (2-3 pages).  The paper should include:

1.  A description of the school, local, state, national or international problem they worked to improve: its causes and effects and its current situation. (2 paragraphs)

2. The research they did to learn more about the problem: interviews, surveys, reading, etc.  (2-3 paragraphs) They should attach a copy of the research paper, essay or other academic writing they did as part of this assignment or project (if any).

3. Their ideas on how to improve the problem. (2 paragraphs)

4. Their action plan, a description of the actions they took (alone, or by organizing or otherwise working with others), and its results.

5. A reflection of what they learned as a result of their project. (1-2 paragraphs)

The students may be 9-12th graders. Send the papers to Helen Finken by Monday, June 3, at the CAO. Former school board member Nick Johnson, who created this award, will choose finalists to interview. If a student is interviewed, he or she may take additional documents to the interview from people they worked with in the community, etc.

If an awardee is chosen this year he or she will receive $200 and a plaque. It will be given at an appropriate time (such as at a city council or school board meeting). It is hoped the student will also have the opportunity to meet Dr. John Haefner in whose honor this award is given. Dr. Haefner is a Professor Emeritus of Social Studies Education who champions civic education.

Please contact Helen Finken if you have questions regarding the award procedure.