Case Method Project at Harvard Business School

The Case Method Project: Revitalizing the Civic Promise of Education

Lead Organization

Case Method Project at Harvard Business School

Boston, Massachusetts, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

The performance of American democracy over recent decades has generated significant unease, both in the U.S. and globally. Healthy democracy depends on citizens engaging in constructive and inclusive deliberation on matters of public concern. Yet Americans are increasingly polarized politically, with decreased capacity for civic dialogue and diminished faith in democracy itself. At the Case Method Project, we have come upon a powerful pedagogical tool – backed by extensive data – that promises to counter these worrying trends: We are bringing Harvard-style case discussions on the history of American democracy to high schools and public venues across the country. We have seen everyone from at-risk students to senior Congressional staff thrive in the case method environment. Ideal training for the skills of citizenship, the case method invites Americans to reengage with one another and models the kind of public deliberation at the heart of a robust and well-functioning democracy.

Problem Statement

Addressing humanity’s most urgent social, economic, and environmental problems requires the meaningful discourse and collective buy-in that can be found only in a robust and well-functioning democracy. To the extent that the United States is a bellwether democracy globally, its performance over the past two decades provides cause for concern. A number of indicators suggest that Americans are increasingly divided by party and political affiliation, that they seem to have more and more difficulty engaging in constructive conversations over issues of public concern, and that their commitment to the democracy, faith in the democracy, and faith in each other has declined.A healthy democracy depends on citizens who not only have the knowledge and skills necessary for deliberative decision-making, but who are also fundamentally committed to the deliberative process itself. Yet these capacities and commitments are not innate; they must be taught in our schools, modeled in our public forums, and continually practiced in a way that includes the voices of everyone, from the most marginalized to the most powerful. Unfortunately, simply announcing or advocating these priorities is not enough. What educators, activists, and civic leaders need—and currently lack—are concrete means for embedding them in the public mind and imagination: a consistent method that is teachable, replicable, flexible, and scalable, and that can engage everyone from adolescent students to professional politicians in national conversations that are substantive, respectful, and authentic.

Solution Overview

Over the five-year grant, we plan to dramatically scale the Case Method Project’s operations—recruiting, training and supporting thousands of educators nationwide to teach history, civics, and economics by the case method, while also continuing to work with educators, nonprofits, and political bodies to host public case discussions and dedicated sessions for lawmakers. The case method is a highly-effective pedagogical tool that presents participants with compelling stories about key historical decisions. Participants are asked to put themselves in the shoes of decision-makers consider what they themselves would have done. They must deliberate, work together to define unstructured problems, synthesize their positions, and defend these positions with evidence. In bringing the case method to over one million students and to public venues across the country over the next five years, we have the potential to create a sea-change in the way Americans understand their role as citizens. Mounting evidence indicates that our case-based approach not only significantly improves educational outcomes—including factual recall, critical thinking, and evidence-based reasoning—but also fosters key democratic dispositions, such as empathy for diverse viewpoints and faith in democracy itself.Most importantly, case-based discussions around key moments in the history of American democracy—for high school students, the general public, and elected representatives alike—are a powerful (and scalable) way to immerse Americans in the nation’s history and allow them to reengage with each other in thoughtful and non-threatening deliberation on questions of vital significance to our democracy.

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Project Funders

  • Valhalla Charitable Foundation

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