Margaret Stimmann Branson, Associate Director
Center for Civic Education
In the past decade we have witnessed dramatic demands for freedom on the part of peoples from Asia to Africa and from Central and Eastern Europe to Latin America. And as we have seen one totalitarian or authoritarian regime after another toppled and fledgling democratic governments replace them, we may have become too optimistic about the future of democracy. We also may have become too complacent, too sure of democracy's robustness or of its long term viability. History, however, teaches us that few countries have sustained democratic governments for prolonged periods, a lesson which we as Americans are sometimes inclined to forget. Americans, of course, should take pride and confidence from the fact that they live in the world's oldest constitutional democracy and that the philosophical foundations underlying their political institutions serve as a model for aspiring peoples around the world. The "shot heard 'round the world" two centuries ago at the opening of the American Revolution continues to resound today, and it should remind Americans that free institutions are among humanity's highest achievements and worthy of their full energies and earnest devotion to preserve.
Americans also should realize that civic education is essential to sustain our constitutional democracy. The habits of the mind, as well as "habits of the heart," the dispositions that inform the democratic ethos, are not inherited. As Alexis de Toqueville pointed out, each new generation is a new people that must acquire the knowledge, learn the skills, and develop the dispositions or traits of private and public character that undergird a constitutional democracy. Those dispositions must be fostered and nurtured by word and study and by the power of example. Democracy is not a "machine that would go of itself," but must be consciously reproduced, one generation after another.
Civic education, therefore, is-or should be-a prime concern. There is no more important task than the development of an informed, effective, and responsible citizenry. Democracies are sustained by citizens who have the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Absent a reasoned commitment on the part of its citizens to the fundamental values and principles of democracy, a free and open society cannot succeed. It is imperative, therefore, that educators, policymakers, and members of civil society make the case and ask for the support of civic education from all segments of society and from the widest range of institutions and governments.
It is relatively easy for a society to produce technically competent people. But the kind of society Americans want to live in and the kind of government they want to have requires effort and commitment on the part of its citizens. Americans want a society and a government
Making that kind of society, that kind of government a reality is the most important challenge Americans face and the most important work they could undertake.
Civic education in a democratic society most assuredly needs to be concerned with promoting understanding of the ideals of democracy and a reasoned commitment to the values and principles of democracy. That does not mean, however, that democracy should be presented as utopia. Democracy is not utopian, and citizens need to understand that lest they become cynical, apathetic, or simply withdraw from political life when their unrealistic expectations are not met. To be effective civic education must be realistic; it must address the central truths about political life. The American Political Science Association (APSA) recently formed a Task Force on Civic Education. Its statement of purpose calls for more realistic teaching about the nature of political life and a better understanding of "the complex elements of 'the art of the possible'." The APSA report faults existing civic education because all too often it
seems unable to counter the belief that, in politics, one either wins or loses, and to win means getting everything at once, now! The sense that politics can always bring another day, another chance to be heard, to persuade and perhaps to gain part of what one wants, is lost. Political education today seems unable to teach the lessons of our political history: Persistent civic engagement-the slow, patient building of first coalitions and then majorities-can generate social change. (Carter and Elshtain, 1997.)A message of importance, therefore, is that politics need not, indeed must not, be a zero-sum game. The idea that "winner takes all" has no place in a democracy, because if losers lose all they will opt out of the democratic game. Sharing is essential in a democratic society-the sharing of power, of resources, and of responsibilities. In a democratic society the possibility of effecting social change is ever present, if citizens have the knowledge, the skills and the will to bring it about. That knowledge, those skills and the will or necessary traits of private and public character are the products of a good civic education.
Civic knowledge is concerned with the content or what citizens ought to know; the subject matter, if you will. In both the National Standards and the Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which currently is underway in schools across the United States, the knowledge component is embodied in the form of five significant and enduring questions. These are questions that have continued to engage not only political philosophers and politicians; they are questions that do-or should-engage every thoughtful citizen. The five questions are:
It is important that everyone has an opportunity to consider the essential questions about government and civil society that continue to challenge thoughtful people. Addressing the first organizing question "What are civic life, politics, and government?" helps citizens make informed judgments about the nature of civic life, politics, and government, and why politics and government are necessary; the purposes of government; the essential characteristics of limited and unlimited government; the nature and purposes of constitutions, and alternative ways of organizing constitutional governments. Consideration of this question should promote greater understanding of the nature and importance of civil society or the complex network of freely formed, voluntary political, social, and economic associations which is an essential component of a constitutional democracy. A vital civil society not only prevents the abuse or excessive concentration of power by government; the organizations of civil society serve as public laboratories in which citizens learn democracy by doing it.
The second organizing question "What are the foundations of the American political system?" entails an understanding of the historical, philosophical, and economic foundations of the American political system; the distinctive characteristics of American society and political culture; and the values and principles basic to American constitutional democracy, such as individual rights and responsibilities, concern for the public good, the rule of law, justice, equality, diversity, truth, patriotism, federalism, and the separation of powers. This question promotes examination of the values and principles expressed in such fundamental documents as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, The Federalist Papers, and landmark Supreme Court decisions. Study of the nation's core documents now is mandated by several states including California, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky. The United States Commission on Immigration Reform in its 1997 Report to Congress (U.S. Commission on Immigration, 1997), strongly recommended attention to the nation's founding documents saying:
Civic instruction in public schools should be rooted in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution-particularly the Preamble, the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment. Emphasizing the ideals in these documents is in no way a distortion of U.S. history. Instruction in the history of the United States, as a unique engine of human liberty notwithstanding its faults, is an indispensable foundation for solid civics training for all Americans.Knowledge of the ideals, values, and principles set forth in the nation's core documents serves an additional and useful purpose. Those ideals, values, and principles are criteria which citizens can use to judge the means and ends of government, as well as the means and ends of the myriad groups that are part of civil society.
The third organizing question "How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values, and principles of American democracy?" helps citizens understand and evaluate the limited government they have ordained and established and the complex dispersal and sharing of powers it entails. Citizens who understand the justification for this system of limited, dispersed, and shared power and its design are better able to hold their governments-local, state, and national-accountable and to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected. They also will develop a considered appreciation of the place of law in the American political system, as well as of the unparalleled opportunities for choice and citizen participation that the system makes possible.
The fourth organizing question "What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?" is important because the United States does not exist in isolation; it is a part of an increasingly interconnected world. To make judgments about the role of the United States in the world today and about what course American foreign policy should take, citizens need to understand the major elements of international relations and how world affairs affect their own lives, and the security and well being of their communities, state, and nation. Citizens also need to develop a better understanding of the roles of major international governmental and non governmental organizations, because of the increasingly significant role that they are playing in the political, social, and economic realms.
The final organizing question "What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?" is of particular importance. Citizenship in a constitutional democracy means that each citizen is a full and equal member of a self governing community and is endowed with fundamental rights and entrusted with responsibilities. Citizens should understand that through their involvement in political life and in civil society, they can help to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods, communities, and nation. If they want their voices to be heard, they must become active participants in the political process. Although elections, campaigns, and voting are central to democratic institutions, citizens should learn that beyond electoral politics many participatory opportunities are open to them. Finally, they should come to understand that the attainment of individual goals and public goals tend to go hand in hand with participation in political life and civil society. They are more likely to achieve personal goals for themselves and their families, as well as the goals they desire for their communities, state, and nation, if they are informed, effective, and responsible citizens.
Civic Skills: Intellectual and Participatory
The second essential component of civic education in a democratic society is civic skills. If citizens are to exercise their rights and discharge their responsibilities as members of self-governing communities, they not only need to acquire a body of knowledge such as that embodied in the five organizing questions just described; they also need to acquire relevant intellectual and participatory skills.
Intellectual skills in civics and government are inseparable from content. To be able to think critically about a political issue, for example, one must have an understanding of the issue, its history, its contemporary relevance, as well as command of a set of intellectual tools or considerations useful in dealing with such an issue.
The intellectual skills essential for informed, effective, and responsible citizenship sometimes are called critical thinking skills. The National Standards for Civics and Government and the Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) categorize these skills as identifying and describing; explaining and analyzing; and evaluating, taking, and defending positions on public issues. A good civic education enables one to identify or give the meaning or significance of things that are tangible such as the flag, national monuments, or civic and political events. It also enables one to give the meaning or significance of intangibles, such as ideas or concepts including patriotism, majority and minority rights, civil society, and constitutionalism.
The ability to identify emotional language and symbols is of particular importance for citizens. They need to be able to discern the true purposes for which emotive language and symbols are being employed.
Another intellectual skill which good civic education fosters is that of describing. The ability to describe functions and processes such as legislative checks and balances or judicial review is indicative of understanding. Discerning and describing trends, such as participation in civic life, immigration, or employment helps the citizen fit current events into a longer term pattern.
Good civic education seeks to develop competence in explaining and analyzing. If citizens can explain how something should work, for example the American federal system, the legal system, or the system of checks and balances, they will be more able to detect and help correct malfunctions. Citizens also need to be able to analyze such things as the components and consequences of ideas, social, political, or economic processes, and institutions. The ability to analyze enables one to distinguish between fact and opinion or between means and ends. It also helps the citizen to clarify responsibilities such as those between personal and public responsibilities or those between elected or appointed officials and citizens.
In a self-governing society citizens are decision-makers. They need, therefore, to develop and continue to improve their skills of evaluating, taking, and defending positions. These skills are essential if citizens are to assess issues on the public agenda, to make judgments about issues and to discuss their assessment with others in public or private.
In addition to the acquisition of knowledge and intellectual skills, education for citizenship in a democratic society must focus on skills that are required for informed, effective, and responsible participation in the political process and in civil society. Those skills can be categorized as interacting, monitoring, and influencing. Interacting pertains to the skills citizens need to communicate and to work cooperatively with others. To interact is to be responsive to one's fellow citizens. To interact is to question, to answer, and to deliberate with civility, as well as to build coalitions and to manage conflict in a fair, peaceful manner. Monitoring politics and government refers to the skills citizens need to track the handling of issues by the political process and by government. Monitoring also means the exercising of oversight or "watchdog" functions on the part of citizens. Finally, the participatory skill of influencing refers to the capacity to affect the processes of politics and governance, both the formal and the informal processes of governance in the community.
It is essential that the development of participatory skills begins in the earliest grades and that it continues throughout the course of schooling. The youngest pupils can learn to interact in small groups or committees, to pool information, exchange opinions or formulate plans of action commensurate with their maturity. They can learn to listen attentively, to question effectively, and to manage conflicts through mediation, compromise, or consensus-building. Older students can and should be expected to develop the skills of monitoring and influencing public policy. They should learn to research public issues using electronic resources, libraries, the telephone, personal contacts, and the media. Attendance at public meetings ranging from student councils to school boards, city councils, zoning commissions, and legislative hearings ought to be a required part of every high school student's experience. Observation of the courts and exposure to the workings of the judicial system also ought to be a required part of their civic education. Observation in and of itself is not sufficient, however. Students not only need to be prepared for such experiences, they need well planned, structured opportunities to reflect on their experiences under the guidance of knowledgeable and skillful mentors.
If citizens are to influence the course of political life and the public policies adopted, they need to expand their repertoire of participatory skills. Voting certainly is an important means of exerting influence; but it is not the only means. Citizens also need to learn to use such means as petitioning, speaking, or testifying before public bodies, joining ad-hoc advocacy groups, and forming coalitions. Like the skills of interacting and monitoring, the skill of influencing can and should be systematically developed.
Civic Dispositions: Essential Traits of Private and Public Character
The third essential component of civic education, civic dispositions, refers to the traits of private and public character essential to the maintenance and improvement of constitutional democracy.
Civic dispositions, like civic skills, develop slowly over time and as a result of what one learns and experiences in the home, school, community, and organizations of civil society. Those experiences should engender understanding that democracy requires the responsible self governance of each individual; one cannot exist without the other. Traits of private character such as moral responsibility, self discipline, and respect for the worth and human dignity of every individual are imperative. Traits of public character are no less consequential. Such traits as public spiritedness, civility, respect for the rule of law, critical mindedness, and willingness to listen, negotiate, and compromise are indispensable to democracy's success.
Civic dispositions that contribute to the political efficacy of the individual, the healthy functioning of the political system, a sense of dignity and worth, and the common good were identified in the National Standards for Civics and Government. In the interest of brevity, those dispositions or traits of private and public character might be described as:
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.
Formal instruction in civics and government should provide a basic and realistic understanding of civic life, politics, and government. It should familiarize students with the constitutions of the United States and the state in which they live, because these and other core documents are criteria which can be used to judge the means and ends of government.
Formal instruction should enable citizens to understand the workings of their own and other political systems, as well as the relationship of the politics and government of their own country to world affairs. Good civic education promotes an understanding of how and why one's own security, quality of life, and economic position is connected to that of neighboring countries, as well as to major regional, international, and transnational organizations.
Formal instruction should emphasize the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a constitutional democracy. The Declaration of Independence, which many consider to be an extended preamble to the United States Constitution, holds that governments are instituted to secure the rights of citizens. Those rights have been categorized in various ways but a useful and generally accepted categorization divides them in this manner:
Formal instruction in civics and government should be no less attentive to the responsibilities of citizens in a constitutional democracy. An understanding of the importance of individual rights must be accompanied by an examination of personal and civic responsibilities. For American democracy to flourish, citizens not only must be aware of their rights, they must also exercise them responsibly and they must fulfill those personal and civic responsibilities necessary to a self-governing, free, and just society. Those responsibilities include:
The Informal Curriculum
In addition to the formal curriculum, good civic education is attentive to the informal curriculum. The informal curriculum encompasses the governance of the school community and the relationships among those within it, as well as the "extra" or co-curricular activities that a school provides.
The importance of the governance of the school community and the quality of the relationships among those within it can scarcely be overemphasized. Classroom and schools should be managed by adults who govern in accord with democratic values and principles, and who display traits of character, private and public, that are worthy of emulation. Students also should be held accountable for behaving in accord with fair and reasonable standards and for respecting the rights and dignity of others, including their peers.
Research has consistently demonstrated the positive effects of co-curricular activities. Students who participate in them are more motivated to learn, more self confident, and exhibit greater leadership capabilities. Further, a major new survey, the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (1997), has found that "connectedness with school" is a significant protective factor in the lives of young people. "School engagement is a critical protective factor against a variety of risky behaviors, influenced in good measure by perceived caring from teachers and high expectations for student performance."
Fortunately opportunities for co-curricular activities related to civic education have been expanding in the United States, and they need to be even more encouraged. Some activities have become regional or national events such as mock elections, mock trials, and History Day. Two nation-wide programs developed by the Center for Civic Education have now involved more than 26 million students. We the People... The Citizen and the Constitution engages students in mock legislative hearings on constitutional issues, and Project Citizen teaches middle school students how to identify, research, and devise solutions for local problems, as well as how to make realistic plans for gaining their acceptance as public policies. Both We the People... and Project Citizen not only bring students into direct contact with government at all levels and with organizations in civil society, these programs have had other positive civic consequences as well.
During the Spring of 1993, Professor Richard A. Brody of Stanford University conducted a study of 1,351 high school students from across the United States. The study was designed to determine the degree to which civics curricula in general and the We the People... program in particular affect students' political attitudes. The study focused on the concept of "political tolerance." "Political tolerance" refers to citizens' respect for the political rights and civil liberties of all people in the society, including those whose ideas they may find distasteful or abhorrent. It is a concept which encompasses many of the beliefs, values, and attitudes that are essential in a constitutional democracy.
Among the most important findings of the Brody study were these:
Present day scholars tend to agree with de Toqueville's observations about the importance of voluntarism and of a vibrant civil society. Seymour Martin Lipset contends that
These associations of what has come to be known as civil society create networks of communication among people with common positions and interests helping to sustain the moral order, political parties, and participation. American... are still the most participatory, the most disposed to belong to and be active in voluntary associations of any people in the world. (Lipset, 1996.)Estimates of the number of adult Americans who perform voluntary services vary. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia (Guterbock, 1997) found that about 44 percent of all adults had volunteered time in the preceding year. An earlier World Values Survey puts the number of Americans who are active in and do unpaid work for voluntary associations at "fully three fifths" of the adult population. Only about one quarter of the adults in Britain, Italy, or Japan do unpaid voluntary work, while less than a third do so in France or Germany.
The record of American youth for community service is of particular interest and is, in general, encouraging. In a recent study involving more than 8,000 students in grades six through twelve, about half of those interviewed reported participation in some type of service activity. Among those who participated regularly, 12 percent gave more that 30 hours and 19 percent more than 10 hours. Almost all (91 percent) of the students who participated in the 1995-96 school year indicated that they expected to continue to serve. (U.S. Department of Education, 1997.)
Among the more significant findings of that study of student participation in community service activities are these:
Americans still believe that schools have a civic mission and that education for good citizenship should be the schools' top priority. The 28th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll conducted in 1996 asked respondents what they considered to be the most important purpose of the nation's schools, apart from providing a basic education. "To prepare students to be responsible citizens" was considered "very important" by more people than any other goal. Nationally 86 percent of those with no children in school and those with children in public schools were in agreement; the percentage in agreement shot up to 88 percent for nonpublic school parents. When Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup conducted a follow-up poll of just teachers the results were the same. (Landon, 1996.) Eighty four percent of America's teachers said "to prepare students for responsible citizenship was "very important," while another 15 percent called it "quite important."
A survey which compared results from the United States with those of eleven other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also is revealing. (U.S. Department of Education, 1997.) When Americans were asked which qualities or aptitudes schools consider "essential" or "very important," 86 percent said "being a good citizen." Unfortunately, when Americans were asked if they had confidence that schools have a major effect on the development of good citizenship only 59 percent said that they did. How justified is that lack of confidence? A brief review of recent research affords some disconcerting evidence.
When asked to identify the causes of American ignorance of the document which they profess to revere and which they acknowledge matters a great deal in their daily lives, Rendell faulted the schools failure to teach civics and government. He said he believed Americans lack of knowledge stems partly from an education system that tends to treat the Constitution in the context of history, rather than as a living document that shapes current events. (Morin, 1997.) U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley was equally dismayed by the results of the National Constitution Center's study. In a press release issued September 15, 1997, Riley said
This poll suggests to me that most Americans seem to regard the Constitution like a family heirloom that is kept protectively in an upstairs sock drawer but never taken out and examined. I believe this lack of knowledge about how the Constitution functions leads to many of the discontents in our nation and current levels of distrust toward our national government.Riley went on to say that:
The U.S. Department of Education is one of the leading contributors to current efforts to overcome this lack of awareness about how our democracy functions. The Department... support(s) the work of the Center for Civic Education, the "We the People" organization and the many efforts by our nation's civics teachers to educate our young people about our democracy. It is clear to me, however, that we have to do much more to keep the spirit of the Constitution alive for all Americans.
The same NAEP Report Card also showed that although some students made gains in civics proficiency across the twelve year period separating the 1976 and 1988 assessments, most did not. At age 17, the performance of students attending schools in each of the types of communities studied-advantaged and disadvantaged, urban and other-declined significantly. There were significant gaps in the performance of most students. Particularly disturbing were the disparities among subpopulations. Eighth and twelfth grade males were more likely than their female peers to reach the highest levels of civic proficiency as defined by NAEP. The percentages of Black and Hispanic students who reached the uppermost levels of proficiency were far smaller than the percentage of White students who did.
Although no state will allow a person to fix plumbing, guard swimming pools, style hair, write wills, design a building, or practice medicine without completing training and passing an examination, more than 40 states allow school districts to hire teachers on emergency licenses who have not met these basic requirements. Some pay more attention to the qualifications of veterinarians treating the nation's cats and dogs than to those of teachers educating the nation's children and youth.Teacher expertise, as research has consistently and repeatedly shown, is one of the most telling factors in raising student achievement. One extensive study found that nearly 40 percent of the differences in student test scores were attributable to differences in teacher expertise, as measured by college degrees, years of teaching experience, and scores on teacher licensing examinations. Further, teacher expertise was of more significance than that of any other factor, including parent education, family income, or other socioeconomic characteristics.
A recent review of research on one of the least recognized causes of poor quality teaching (Ingersoll, 1998) is sobering. The problem is out-of-field teaching, or teachers being assigned to teach subjects that do not match their training or education. It is more widespread and more serious than has been recognized. It happens in well over half of the secondary schools in the nation in any given year, both rural and urban, affluent and low income. Low income public schools, however, have a higher level of out-of-field teaching than do schools in more affluent communities. Studies also show that recently hired teachers are more often assigned to teach subjects for which they are not trained than are experienced teachers. Lower-achieving classes are more often taught by teachers without a major or minor in the field than are higher-achieving classes. Junior high and middle school classes also are more likely than senior high classes to be taught by less than qualified teachers.
More than half of all secondary school history students in the country now are being taught by teachers with neither a major nor a minor in history. No data currently are available on the subject matter qualifications of teachers of civics and government, but one could surmise that the numbers of teachers with majors or minors in political science or allied fields would be even less.
In an effort to ensure that teachers are qualified for the subjects they will teach, some states have begun to test applicants for teaching positions. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 1997 that about one half of the nation's school districts now require passage of state tests of basic skills while 39 percent require passage of state tests of subject knowledge. While those efforts are a step in the right direction, they fall short of the goal of assuring that all children are taught by teachers who not only have in-depth knowledge of the subject they teach but who also have the skills and the enthusiasm to teach it well.
In the early days of our republic, schools were expected to induce pupils to act virtuously. Acting virtuously meant more specifically that one should act with due restraint over his or her impulses, due regard for the rights and opinions of others, and reasonable concern for the probable and the long-term consequences of one's actions.
Virtue in individuals then was seen as an important public matter. "Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private..." said John Adams. Jefferson agreed with him saying "Public virtue is the only foundation of Republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest... established in the minds of the people, or there can be no Republican government, no any real Liberty." It is interesting to note that Adams' warning is echoed in the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS, 1996) Position Statement "Fostering Civic Virtue: Character Education in the Social Studies." That bold and well-written position statement concludes with these words:
Social studies teachers have a responsibility and a duty to refocus their classrooms on the teaching of character and civic virtue. They should not be timid or hesitant about working toward these goals. The fate of the American experiment in self-government depends in no small part on the store of civic virtue that resides in the American people. The social studies profession of this nation has vital role to play in keeping this well-spring of civic virtue flowing.Character, however, does not come pre-packaged. Character formation is a lengthy and complex process. And, as James Q. Wilson (Wilson, 1995), a life-long student of character, reminds us; "We do not know how character is formed in any scientifically rigorous sense." But there is an abundance of anecdotal data and research on which to draw. Those observations and that research tell us that the study of traditional school subjects such as government, civics, history and literature, when properly taught, provide the necessary conceptual framework for character education. Further, those traditional school subjects provide a context for considering the traits of public and private character which are important to the maintenance and improvement of a democratic way of life.
Research also tells us that the ethos or culture of the school and of the classroom exert powerful influences on what students learn about authority, responsibility, justice, civility and respect. Finally, we know that one dynamic by which individuals acquire desired traits of private and public character is through exposure to attractive models of behavior. Probably no one has explained that dynamic better than Robert Coles in The Moral Intelligence of Children, (Coles, 1997). Coles tells us that:
Character is ultimately who we are expressed in action, in how we live, in what we do - and so the children around us know, they absorb and take stock of what they observe, namely us-we adults living and doing things in a certain spirit, getting on with one another in our various ways. Our children add up, imitate, file away what they've observed and so very often later fall in line with the particular moral counsel we unwittingly or quite unself-consciously have offered them....Because the United States is the world's oldest constitutional democracy, it sometimes is easy to forget that our American government is an experiment. It is an experiment that requires, as the authors of the Federalist Papers put it, a higher degree of virtue in its citizens than any other form of government. Traits of private character such as moral responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for individual worth and human dignity are essential to its well-being. American constitutional democracy cannot accomplish its purposes, however, unless its citizens also are inclined to participate thoughtfully in public affairs. Traits of public character such as public-spiritedness, civility, respect for law, critical-mindedness, and a willingness to negotiate and compromise are indispensable to the continued success of the great American experiment in self government.
How can civic education strengthen and complement the development of character? Primary responsibility for the cultivation of ethical behavior and the development of private character, including moral character, lies with families, religious institutions, work settings, and the other parts of civil society. Schools, however, can and should play a major role in the overall development of the character of students. Effective civic education programs should provide students with many opportunities for the development of desirable traits of public and private character. Learning activities such as the following tend to promote character traits needed to participate effectively. For example,
While it is true that history, economics, literature, and other subjects do enhance students' understanding of government and politics, they cannot replace sustained, systematic attention to civic education. Civics should be seen as a central concern from kindergarten through twelfth grade, whether it is taught as a part of other curricula or in separate units or courses.
We recommend that states and school districts give serious consideration to the allocation of sufficient time for civics and government. A proposed allocation is offered below for purposes of stimulating discussion.
|Grade||Specific Treatment||Treatment in Other Subjects|
|K - 2||30 hours per school year at each grade, e.g., focus on rules, authority, justice, responsibility||Primary and elementary - a minimum of 30 hours per school year, e.g., as part of instruction in reading, language arts, math, science, physical education, etc.|
|3 - 4||40 hours per school year at each grade, e.g., community and state studies focusing on local and state government|
|5||40 hours per school year, e.g., integrated into a course in US History/Civics and Government/Geography||Teams of middle-grade teachers develop integrated curriculum units infusing content standards for civics and government, e.g., a language arts/literature unit focusing on the theme of power and authority; a science unit on environmental pollution focusing on the public policy aspects of the issue|
|6 - 7||Four two-week units at each grade (approx. 30 hours per school year), e.g., focus on comparative government as part of a World Civilization/Area Studies program|
|8||One semester course (approx. 60 hours), e.g., US Constitutional Government|
|9 - 10||Six two-week units at each grade (approx. 40 hours per school year), e.g., focus on comparative political philosophies and political systems in a World History/Global Studies course||Teachers planning high school courses in other subjects could use the content standards for civics and government to develop thematic organizers, e.g., a technology education class exploring how safety procedures and work place rules protect everyone.|
|11||60 hours per school year as an integral part of specific social science course work, e.g., 20th-Century US History and Government|
|12||Full-year course (120 hours), e.g., Applied Civics/Participation in Government|
|NOTE: For grades K-4, 30 minutes per day was used as an average instructional period. For grades 5-12, 40 minutes per day was used as an average instructional period.|
The groundwork for the renewal of civic education has already been laid by more than two decades of commission reports, books, and articles by educators, scholars, and journalists. In 1987 the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution occasioned an outpouring of interest in the substance of civic education. In 1991, CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education was published; and in 1994, the National Standards for Civics and Government were completed. These Standards, developed in response to the Educate America Act, continue to receive national and international acclaim. They delineate what students should know and be able to do when they complete grades 4, 8, and 12. The most recent call for action is the final report of the National Commission on Civic Renewal released in June, 1998. That report, A Nation of Spectators: How Civic Disengagement Weakens America and What We Can Do About It, calls upon the American people to "once again rise to the challenge of self government" and "to advance the cause of school-based civic education."
The time is ripe for a nationwide initiative that could promote increased citizen interest, understanding, and participation in local, state, and national government, as well as in the civic associations, processes, and purposes of civil society.
The principal aims of this initiative would be to:
In the United States education has traditionally been the responsibility of each state. The nation's governors, ever mindful of states' rights, have resented and resisted federal intrusions into what they have considered their domain. At this "summit" meeting, however, the governors conceded that education had to be improved and that the states by themselves could not effect the improvements that commission after commission and study after study had said was essential. Nor were the governors deaf to the clamor for educational reform coming from parents, employers, and the media.
The chief executives of the 50 states, including Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas and chairman of the National Governors Association education committee, believed that an appropriate starting point was to get agreement on what it was that the nation's schools ought to achieve. In their judgment the focus of America's schools should be sharpened and a declaration of purposes or a statement of national goals set forth. The governors, however, wanted the national goals to be more than verbiage or pious hopes. Progress toward the goals was to be measured against high standards and by testing at national and state levels. The standards were to specify what all students should know and be able to do when they completed grades 4, 8, and 12. The plan was greeted with applause from many segments of society-parents, educators, employers, and legislators. Diane Ravitch, a long time proponent of reform, was jubilant. She was later to say that she believed "what may well be an historic development had taken place. "Unlike most other modern societies, this nation has never established specific standards as goals for student achievement; those nations that do have standards view them as invaluable means of ensuring both equity and excellence." (Ravitch, 1993).
In the hope of ensuring both equity and excellence, the National Governors Association and the United States Congress moved forward, paying particular attention to civic education. The text of the goals statement adopted by the National Governors Association in March, 1990 declared:
If the United States is to maintain a strong and responsible democracy and a prosperous and growing economy into the next century, it must be prepared to address and respond to major challenges at home and in the world. A well-educated population is the key to our future. Americans must be prepared to:....Participate knowledgeably in our democracy and our democratic institutions;...Function effectively in increasingly diverse communities and states and in a rapidly shrinking world....Today a new standard of an educated citizenry is required, one suitable for the next century....[All students] must understand and accept the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship.In March, 1994 Congress passed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (Public Law 103-227). Two of the eight national goals the law established deal specifically with civic education.
The National Education Goals
Goal 3: Student Achievement and Citizenship
By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation's modern economy.
All students will be involved in activities that promote and demonstrate...good citizenship, community service, and personal responsibility.
Goal 6: Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning
By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship (emphasis added).
As this report and those of other concerned groups of Americans make clear, we as a people have not yet achieved the goals of equity and excellence in education that we have set for ourselves. We know and have recognized from our founding that education for citizenship is essential, if we are to maintain and improve our constitutional democracy; on that point there is general, if not universal, agreement. We also know that a new standard of an educated citizenry is needed, if we are to meet the challenges of the next century.
Dr. Branson is the author of numerous textbooks and professional articles. She was one of the editorial directors and principal researchers and writers of the National Standards for Civics and Government. She is serving on the Management Team for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in Civics, the International Education Association National Expert Panel on U.S. Civic Education, and the International Framework for Education for Democracy Development Committee.
Charles N. Quigley, Chair
Executive Director, Center for Civic Education
Richard Van Scotter, Junior Achievement, Inc.
Elizabeth H. DeBra, U.S. Department of Education
Ralph Ketcham, Syracuse University
Mary Elizabeth Chenault, United Nations Association-USA
Eugene H. Hunt, Virginia Commonwealth University
Christopher Cross, Council for Basic Education
Walter Enloe, Hamline University Graduate School
Claire Gaudiani, Connecticut College
Bella Rosenberg, American Federation of Teachers
Joseph Julian, Syracuse University
Frank Zsigo, Syracuse University
Sheri Frost, Syracuse University
Robert Chase, National Education Association
David Vogler, Wheaton College
Lee Arbetman, National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law
Nicholas Topougis, Ohio Center for Law Related Education
Lynda Rando, Arizona Bar Foundation for Law Related Education
Lois Weinberg, U.S. Department of Education
Steve Janger, Close Up Foundation
Susan A. Burk, The American Bar Association
Phyllis Darling, Nevada Center for Law Related Education
Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers (deceased)
Todd Clark, Constitutional Rights Foundation
Susan Blanchette, Dallas Council for the Social Studies
Carolyn Pereira, Constitutional Rights Foundation
David N. Dorn, American Federation of Teachers
John F. Jennings, Institute for Educational Leadership
Mabel McKinney-Browning, American Bar Association
Helen E. Coalter, We the People, VA
John J. Patrick, Indiana University
Carol Hatcher, Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office
Dorothy J. Skeel, Peabody Center for Economics and Social Studies Education (deceased)
Frank J. Morrill, Millbury Jr./Sr. High School
Judy Siegel, United States Information Agency
Zoltan Bedy, Syracuse University
Carole Hahn, Emory University
Roger L. Desrosiers, Millbury Public Schools
Annette Boyd Pitts, Florida Law Related Education Association
Ronald A. Banaszak, American Bar Association
Jim Wetzler, PA Department of Education
Ralph Nelsen, Columbia Education Center
Steve Ellenwood, Boston University
Judith Torney-Purta, University of Maryland, College Park
Jennifer Bloom, University of Minnesota
Pendleton C. Agnew, United States Information Agency
Tedd Levy, National Council for the Social Studies
Ken Nelson, National Education Goals Panel
Steven Fleischman, American Federation of Teachers
Timothy Buzzell, Drake University
William F. Harris, University of Pennsylvania
Sally Kux, United States Information Agency
Margaret S. Branson, Center for Civic Education
Matharose Laffey, National Council for the Social Studies
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