The Morality of Democratic Citizenship: Goals for Civic Education in the Republic's Third Century

R. Freeman Butts
Center for Civic Education
Calabasas, California

Chapter Three
Underlying All Else:
A Defensible Conception of Citizenship

The dilemma of securing collective order while protecting individual freedoms was especially acute during this process of releasing the people from the coercion imposed by the inherited aristocratic constituted bodies based on status and substituting a voluntary acceptance of authority based on the decisions of the body of citizens–and at the same time leaving room for dissent, difference of view, and freedom of thought. In his widely influential Social Contract Rousseau put it this way: "... the strength of the State can alone secure the liberty of its members." 29  Some interpreters see in this the attempt of the state to require persons to be "forced to be free." Nisbet, for example, considers Rousseau to be the epitome of the advocates of the absolutist, monolithic state in view of his almost mystical analysis of the "general will" as the egalitarian expression of the public interest as formulated by the people as a whole. 30 

Perhaps Rousseau was an extremist advocate of the political community as superior to and as embracing all other communities, as Nisbet says, but the American founders of state and federal republics did accept highly selected parts of Rousseau's attacks on the old regimes. They certainly did not adopt his view of an absolutist though egalitarian state; they were too much concerned with freedom. But some of them did borrow from his conception of a citizen acting collectively with other free and equal citizens to form and run a legitimate political community. They also adopted his view that the individual citizen should not only obey voluntarily the laws thus politically constituted but should be free to act and think and believe as an individual under the freedoms secured by those laws and bills of rights.

I believe that Palmer makes the points about Rousseau that are most significant for the new conceptions of citizenship that the American revolutionaries were formulating in the 1770s and 1780s:

If one were to name the one book in which the revolutionary aspirations of the period from 1760 to 1800 were most compactly embodied, it would be the Social Contract....

The Social Contract remains the great book of the political revolution.... What is certain is that the greatest vogue of the book came after the fact of revolution. The book did not so much make the revolution as it was made by it.

The best way to understand the book is not to compare its propositions to later democratic practice... nor yet to view it as an anticipation of totalitarianism... but to contrast it with the attitudes prevailing at the time it was written [1762], of which one of the most fundamental was that some men must in the nature of things take care of others, that some had the right to govern and others the duty to obey....

The Social Contract was therefore a quest for rightful authority, for a form of state in which obedience would turn into duty, while all the while an ethical philosophy stressing individual liberty was preserved. Rousseau could find no place to locate this final authority except in the community itself. Those who obey must in the last analysis command. The subject must, in the end, be the sovereign.... 31 

Palmer sums up what the Social Contract meant to the men of the 1760s who were in a mood of rebellion:

First of all, the theory of the political community, of the people, or nation, was revolutionary in implication: it posited a community based on the will of the living, and the active sense of membership and voluntary participation, rather than on history, or kinship, or race, or past conquest, or common inheritance, or the chance of birth into an already existent political system. It denied sovereign powers to kings, to oligarchs, and to all governments. It said that any form of government could be changed. It held all public officers to be removable. It held that law could draw its force and its legality only from the community itself.... 32 
Although Rousseau may not have been the greatest influence upon the Americans who framed their revolution in terms of political philosophy, there is an interesting parallel in the use of the term as well as the idea of "citizen." In the Social Contract Rousseau defines "citizen" this way when he is defining the social compact:

...this act of association creates a moral and collective body... receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life, and its will.

This public person, so formed by the union of all other persons, formerly took the name of city, and now takes that of Republic or body politic; it is called by its members State when passive, Sovereign when active, and Power when compared with others like itself. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State. 33 

Now compare this with the preamble to the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which was written by John Adams, certainly no flaming egalitarian radical:

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. 34 
Palmer points out that the word "covenant" could go back to the Mayflower Compact but that "social" and "citizen" could very well have come from Rousseau's Social Contract, which Adams had read as early as 1765. Be that as it may, Palmer makes the significant point that the word "citizen" in its modern usage was brought into the English language from the French by the Americans at the time of the American Revolution. The English used the word only to refer to inhabitants of cities. And he further points out that the phrase "We the people ordain and establish" (to express the theory that the people were the constituent power) was first used in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and found its way from there to the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and to many of the other state constitutions.

Running through all shades of American opinion by the mid-1780s was an uneasy feeling that something had to be done about the political process at both the state and the national levels. Alarms of crisis were being sounded throughout the land in press and pulpit and coffee house. Protests against high prices, corruption in high places, bribery and pay­offs to public officials, excessive affluence among the wealthy and excessive poverty among the disadvantaged, hucksterism among land speculators, arbitrary confiscation of property or reckless issuance of paper money by capricious legislatures, the decline of religion and public virtue–all these fed the long-held suspicion of political power and tempted many to believe that unrestrained state legislatures or majority rule at home were little better than an unrestrained Crown or Parliament abroad.

The earlier republican faith that "the people" were basically virtuous or could be made so if they were only given liberty to rule themselves began to weaken in the face of the mountainous problems that were piling up after a decade of experience among thirteen independent states. So, more and more thoughtful people of a "federalist" persuasion began to argue that liberty alone, or religion alone, or education alone could not assure a sound political community: constitutional reform itself and the strengthening of political institutions themselves were required in order to remedy the licentiousness and viciousness of unrestrained liberty and equality. Paramount among such reforms were a strengthening of the executive and judicial branches of government to balance the legislative, and the strengthening of a senate to balance the popularly elected assembly. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 presaged this approach, but by the mid-1780s the feeling also grew that reforms in the state governments alone were not enough, that reform had also to extend upward to the central government. As Gordon S. Wood puts it: "State governments, however well structured, no longer seemed capable of creating virtuous laws and citizens." 35  The calling of the Constitutional Convention was thus the culmination of a decade of trial and error in the process of constitution-making.

Historians are, of course, divided as to the essential meaning of the Constitution of 1787-89 in its relation to the original Revolution of the mid 1770s. In general, Gordon Wood argues that it was an aristocratic repudiation of the democratic ideology of the Revolution. Bernard Bailyn, however, argues that the Constitution was not so much a repudiation as it was "a second generation expression of the original ideological impulses of the Revolution applied to the everyday, practical problems of the 1780s." 36  And Jack P. Greene, favorably reviewing Wood's book as "one of the half dozen most important books ever written about the American Revolution," nevertheless, says:

This faith in the efficacy of legal and constitutional arrangements may thus have made the process of constitution-making in the states the very essence of the Revolution in 1776, and the Constitution may, therefore, have been less of a repudiation and more of a fulfillment of the principles of '76 than Wood suggests. Because it did so much to reshape the political ideas and aspirations of men in America and elsewhere in the world, the innovative system of politics incorporated by the Federalists in the Constitution, far more than the genuine but transitory and limited millenialism of 1776, may have been not only the most lasting contribution but also the most radical feature of the Revolution. 37 
Within the Philadelphia convention and the subsequent debates the prime issues centered upon reconciling and compromising the confrontation of interests represented by "federalists" and "anti­federalists." Until these were worked out the role of education would remain uncertain even in theory.

The course of events between 1787 and 1789 was in effect an agreement to try Madison's middle ground between a strongly centralized and consolidated nation and a loose collection of individual, independent sovereign states. As a result, it was going to be difficult to define with precision what the role of education ought to be in view of a compromise "federal" governmental political system whose allocation of powers and functions were still largely to be worked out. If Hamilton's or Jay's strongly centralized national government had dearly won out, it might have been fairly easy to design a centralized national system of education. Or if the New Jersey plan to tinker a bit with the Articles of Confederation but leave the states fundamentally alone, as Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason or Elbridge Gerry wished, the authority for education would clearly have remained in state or in private hands.

But these alternatives did not win. Out of the clash of federalist and anti-federalist views came a new constitutional order that created a new federal government but did not automatically or immediately create a new or unified political community. The problem, therefore, that was bequeathed to education was how to help develop the social cohesion and the sense of community required of a large republican nation while the educational systems remained in state, private, or religious hands. The convention debates were so engrossed in the federalist-anti-federalist opposition and in the political process of winning an argument or reconciling differences that education was either ignored or postponed until the more basic question of union or disunion was settled.

Gordon Wood argues that the differences of outlook toward the proposed constitution are not easily defined. The proponents and opponents were not easily classified according to economic or sectional groupings. He concludes that the fundamental quarrel was between aristocratic federalists and democratic anti-federalists. Federalists feared too much social mobility and social disruption, and believed in the superiority of an elite of talent and learning as a natural aristocracy. Those best qualified to rule could be detected by their property, education, and cultivated refinement. They came to the conclusion that social differences were probably inevitable and that the fundamental threat to republicanism came from oppression not from government officials or aristocratic gentlemen but from an arbitrary or capricious or uneducated majority.

So, the federalists argued, both individuals and property must be protected by government through a bicameral system in which the unruly majority of the House could be checked by the greater wisdom and stability of the propertied and educated Senate. Both should be looked upon equally as representatives of the sovereign people, as indeed also were the president and the judiciary. Sovereignty lies with the total people of the political community and all their representatives, not solely lodged with the representatives in the state legislatures or the House of Representatives. Thus, since all the agencies of government, both federal and state, represented the sovereign people, and since the powers of the federal government were strictly limited, and the courts will be especially alert to protect their liberties, there was no need for a particular bill of rights in the Constitution.

This conclusion about not needing a bill of rights was probably the weakest argument of the federalists. It enabled the anti­federalists to picture the federalists as protectors of wealth, privilege, and power who in effect had succeeded to the social hierarchy of the British empire and who would reinstitute monarchy if they could. The anti­federalists tried to marshal the resentments against the cultivated classical education of urban or country gentlemen on behalf of the plain people of the city or up country. They were likely to believe that ordinary people of virtue and good common sense and hard-working motivation were just as fit to rule, nay even more so, as the fine feathered gentlemen politicians with their supercilious academic learning. They held to the earlier republican beliefs that moral regeneration was more important in the preservation of republicanism than in the legalistic machinery of constitution­making. They feared the new constitution would neglect local interests, state problems, and the needs of the lowly people–which had been what the Revolution of 1776 was all about. They saw a strong president and an "upper" house as negating the historic republican Whig belief in the elected legislature as the real depository of the people's liberties, and how could this sovereignty be divided with a second house that would inevitably represent the rich and the privileged? Ralph Ketcham has compiled a very useful collection of Anti­Federalist Papers that nicely complements the more familiar Federalist Papers of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. 38 

But the anti­federalists lost much of the argument of 1787­1789. They were poorly organized and uncoordinated in their opposition and in essence they were looking backward to the simpler times of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were more traditional and less modern in their vision of what was required of a political system capable of coping with the exigencies of large scale organization, international affairs, trade and commerce, incipient industrialization, and scientific technology. To cope with these problems, modern political systems have not only produced differentiated governmental structures to perform specialized executive, legislative, and judicial functions, but also more differentiated political infrastructures to carry on complicated political processes through political parties, organized interest groups, well developed mass media, and mass systems of universal education.

These characteristics of a modern political system, especially the differentiated separation of powers, were seen by the federalists as much more crucial than they had been in 1776. They argued that failure to distinguish the executive, legislative, and judicial functions was not only a fault of the Articles of Confederation but also a characteristic of traditional tyranny itself. Furthermore, the "upper" house would be not so much a repository of wisdom and privilege but a protection of small states against the tyranny of the large states, a new kind of check upon unrestrained power.

So in the end the Madison compromise won the day, especially when he came to agree with Jefferson that a specific bill of rights was desirable and promised that one of the first acts of the new Congress would be to draw up a bill of rights, a promise he promptly and personally carried out in the summer of 1789. What was happening was that a new conception of citizenship was being formulated, the consequences of which could not be foreseen. Liberty was no longer to be confined simply to the older Whig meaning, i.e., the right of the people to participate in the legislative process through elected representatives. Liberty was now being extended to mean the protection of the individual and minority groups against encroachments by the government itself and especially by the legislature.

It also projected the idea that a liberal government would be an active protector of individual citizens from whatever source the threat of tyranny is greatest, if need be from the majority itself.

Madison spelled out this view of the role of the federal government as a protector of liberty in his remarkable speech in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789 when he presented and justified his proposals for amendments to the constitution to incorporate suggestions made by the state conventions at the time of their ratifications. (See Chapter 2.) First of all, he proposed that the principle of the sovereignty of the people be spelled out in a preamble to the Constitution itself, i.e., he would have defined more explicitly what we have come to call the political community that lies behind or above the constitutional order itself:

First, that there be prefixed to the constitution, a declaration, that all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people.

That government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, and the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution. 39 

These sentences breathe the spirit and even some of the words of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The people are the ultimate source of authority for government. This reflects the natural rights philosophy of the eighteenth century–civil government is to be a secular government. The rightful establishment of government is derived from the authority of the people alone, and the people alone have the right to reform or change their government. Madison's proposal was not adopted, presumably because the present Preamble beginning, "We, the people" was deemed sufficient to cover Madison's point here.

Thus, by the time the Constitution was debated and drawn up at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 the Preamble no longer said that the representatives were speaking "in the name of and by the authority of the people" as the Declaration did. The Preamble simply says quite directly "We the people of the United States ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." And it might be well to recall here once again the reasons for such establishment. It was in order to

As I said earlier, historians have long argued whether the framing and adoption of the federal Constitution was a logical and political fulfillment of the revolutionary movement of the 1770s and 1780s, or whether it was a sign of a conservative reaction against the more radical goals of the earlier revolutionary struggles within the states as well as against British rule. I cannot, of course, add much to such discussions, but it is quite clear that the reaction in the new United States was in no way comparable to that in France or Germany or Britain of the nineteenth century. The aristocratic forces in America were less extreme, less rigid, and less caste­conscious than in Europe and, conversely, there was greater willingness to admit of the possibility of social mobility and a more flexible class structure.

What seems to me to be the most important point for the idea of citizenship is that the Americans came up with the two-fold proposition: Not only did the source of legitimate power reside in the people rather than in the constituted bodies of tradition, but "the people" were at one and the same time the source of legitimate authority for both the states and the federal government. The trouble with the Articles of Confederation was that the federal government drew its authority from the several states, not from the people as a whole. Now, under the new Constitution both sets of governments were to be legitimized by the same source. This meant that the individual citizen was at once a citizen of a particular state and a citizen of the whole United States:

The citizen ... was simultaneously a citizen both of the United States and of his own state. He was the sovereign, not they. He chose to live under two constitutions, two sets of laws, two sets of courts and officials; theoretically, he had created them all, reserving to himself, under each set, certain liberties specified in declarations of rights. 40 
Although Americans arrived at a creative conception of a broadened idea of citizenship, it posed serious problems for the process of defining what the role of education should be in the new republic and in the new states. There were differences of opinion as we have seen, as well as much ambiguity and much uncertainty. Al the more reason, therefore, why we should be about the task of refining and redefining the values to guide our programs for civic education in the future.

Some of the most insightful scholars of the 1980s have underlined the urgency of this task. I mention only two here, and in the briefest of terms. In their stunning survey of the attitudes of modern Americans concerning the nature of private and public life, Robert Bellah and his colleagues found that the old ideals of the concerned and participating citizens transmitted in the biblical and republican traditions with their emphasis on justice and freedom still appealed to many. But so often these values of commitment to community were undermined by the fierce individualism and competitiveness of modern life. They had too few and too little grounding in a common language of the public good. Their jaundiced views of politics, politicians, and public servants lead them to give higher priority to the separation and individuation which broke up the tyrannies of the past. But now we need a revitalization of the sense of citizenship:

The transformation of the [bureaucratic] state... should focus on bringing a sense of citizenship into the operation of government itself. Such a spirit is not entirely lacking today, but it is severely weakened by suspicion of government and politics on the one hand and the idea of impersonal efficient administration on the other. In order to limit the danger of administrative despotism, we need to increase the prestige of government, not derogate it. We need to discuss the positive purposes and ends of government, the kind of government appropriate for the citizens we would like to be. Among other things, we need to reappropriate the ethical meaning of professionalism, seeing it in terms not only of technical skill but of the moral contributions that professionals make to a complex society. We undoubtedly have much to learn from the Progressives and the architects of the early New Deal, who still thought of professionalism partly in terms of the ethic of the calling. To change the conception of government from scientific management to a center of ethical obligations and relationships is part of our task. 41 
Sounding much the same alarum, but in still more pungent terms in the middle of the Iran­Contra affair, Benjamin R. Barber wrote in The New York Times:

The domain of the citizen is vanishing in America, and in its absence democracy is becoming ever more vulnerable–not to wolves wearing red stars preying from without but to atrophy and petrifaction from within....

When democracies collapse... it is not because they have forgotten how to pledge allegiance to the flag but because they have forgotten the meaning of citizenship. History suggests that free republics rot from within before they are dispatched from without.

It was not the Spartans who wrecked Athenian democracy nor the Visigoths who brought down the Roman republic. Alexander Kerensky's Russia, Spain under the Republic and Weimar Germany self­destructed, for democracy expends itself as it functions. It depends on a noisy, fractious and self­critical politics, which in turn demands an extraordinary degree of civic resilience and public spirit. These traits are usually thought to be incompatible with great wealth and inequality, with extended empire and an exclusively private pursuit of individual happiness....

...Americans, without having yet lost their liberty, seem more concerned about enlarging their private sphere of happiness than invigorating the public sphere in which civic freedom flourishes. They confront without a murmur the wholesale privatization of their country, the selling of the public trust into private hands, the transfer of public tasks (prisons, hospitals, schools) to private profit groups, the redefinition of public responsibilities (welfare, support for the arts) as private functions. And what remains of the public domain they leave to politicians and bureaucrats complaining only when zealots like Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North run amok. 42 

For the first half of the 1980s, the American people had been constantly encouraged to feel good about themselves and their country: Throw off the doubts and uncertainties of Jimmy Carter and stand tall. Then, by the opening of the first year of the Constitutional Bicentennial in 1987, they had been shocked by the exposures of massive greed reaching into the highest levels of the private sector and the most prestigious houses on Wall Street. Then came the Iran­Contra affair, followed in staccato fashion by the revelations of the Tower Commission and other investigations into alleged secrecy, deceit, and mismanagement (or non-management) reaching into the highest levels of government and televangelism. Finally, as the first Bicentennial year of 1987 came to a close, the American people were further reeling under the divisive impact of the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court, the stock market crashes heard round the world, and the final report of the Iran-Contra Congressional investigating committees. How good did they then feel about themselves and their country? What had happened to the founders' faith in civic virtue? And what should education do? Would the excellence movement for educational reform respond or would it ignore such challenges to the health, stability, and vitality of the Republic?

As I stated at the end of Chapter 2, there are no easy answers to questions like these. One need only recall a set of seemingly unrelated but concurrent events to illustrate the point. At about the same time in March 1987 that Professor Barber was lamenting the fact that many Americans had forgotten the meaning of citizenship, the California committee appointed to draw up a Framework for History/Social Science was completing its draft to submit to the State Board of Education for approval. Much was said in the draft about studying the meaning of citizenship, which I shall discuss in a moment. And, concurrently, several members of the Iran/Contra Congressional Committee were expressing the hope that the school children of America would learn more about the Constitution from its hearings.

The lessons to taught were likely to depend a good deal on the particular political outlooks and depth of knowledge of the "teachers." On one hand, a Hearst poll of responses of 1,000 adults to questions about the Constitution showed some dismaying gaps of knowledge among the citizenry. For instance, 46% did not know that the original purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government and define its powers; 59% did not know what the Bill of Rights was; and 49% thought that the president could suspend the Constitution. 43  To be sure, too much emphasis may be put on the results of polls consisting of bits of unrelated factual information. What is much more significant is the difference in interpretation of practices having to do with constitutional principles.

For example, after the first two days of Col. Oliver North's testimony his high school teacher of American history reportedly was proud that he had given "evidence that he remembers his checks and balances." 44  By the end of Col. North's testimony and that of Adm. John Poindexter, several Senators and Representatives on the Committee were giving quite different civics lessons on this topic to North, to Poindexter, and to the TV audience. To Col. North's plea that the Contras should be supported "for the love of God," Senator George Mitchell responded, "Although he's regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics." 45 

My point here is not that history or civics classes in the schools should be used to give instantaneous "right" answers to momentous current events. Rather, that the interest and even the emotions aroused by contemporary events should be used to motivate students' efforts to dig below the surface of the controversial issues and not jump to conclusions or take sides before informed judgment can be brought to bear. The goal of school is to enable prospective adult citizens to develop an informed perspective, indeed a framework of ideas and values, which will be useful to them in making reasoned judgments about particular persons, events, or issues.

Teachers, curriculum makers, and textbook writers are being urged from many sides to become more explicit about developing their defensible civic concepts as they go about stimulating students to develop their own. One of the most useful statements along this line is contained in the 1987 Framework for History-Social Science for California schools. Although I was critical of some aspects of this framework in Chapter 1, I would like here to quote approvingly several of its paragraphs dealing with the major goal of "Democratic Understandings and Civic Values." This is one of three goals that should suffuse the entire California social studies curriculum for kindergarten through the 12th grade:

"This curriculum goal is centrally concerned with citizenship learnings: essential understandings of the nation's identity and constitutional heritage; civic values undergirding the nation's constitutional order and promoting cohesion across all groups in our pluralistic society; and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens. These curricular strands incorporate the following essential learnings:

National Identity includes:

1. Recognition that American society is now and always has been pluralistic. From the first encounter between indigenous natives and exploring Europeans, the inhabitants of the North American continent have represented a variety of races, religions, languages, ethnic and cultural groups. With the passage of time, the United States ahs gown increasingly diverse in its social and cultural composition. Testing the dissonance between the myth of the United States as a "white man's country" and the realities of a racially and culturally diverse nation provides a fascinating area of inquiry in American history.

2. Understanding the American creed as an ideology extolling equality and freedom. The source of the American creed is the language and values found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Its themes are echoed in patriotic songs like "America the Beautiful" ("...and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea") and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" ("...from every mountain side, let freedom ring.") The creed provides the unifying theme of Martin Luther King's oration, "I Have a Dream": "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.... This will be the day when all God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, 'My country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty..." Students should learn the radical implications of such phrases as "all men are created equal" and study the historic struggle to extend the reach of the Constitutional guarantees of equality and freedom to all Americans.

3. Recognition of the status of minorities and women in different times in American history. Students should be aware of the history of prejudice and discrimination against minorities and women as well as efforts to establish equality and freedom. Students should understand how different minorities were treated historically and should see historical events through a variety of perspectives.

4. Understanding the unique experience of immigrants from Asia, the Pacific islands, and Latin America. Students should examine the cultural, political, and economic sources of contemporary immigration from these areas in order to understand the changing demography of California and the United States. Attention should be paid to the contributions of immigrants from Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America to American life and culture in the 19th and 20th centuries.

5. Understanding the special role of the United States in world history as a nation of immigrants. The multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious character of the United States makes it unusual among the nations of the world. Few, if any, nations can match the United States when compared on a scale of social heterogeneity; few have opened their doors so wide to outside immigration and provided such relatively easy access to full citizenship. At the same time, students should analyze periodic waves of hostility to newcomers and recognize that the nation has in different eras restricted immigration based on racial, ethnic, and cultural grounds.

6. Realization that true patriotism celebrates the moral force of the American idea as a nation that unites as one people the descendents of many cultures, many races, many religions, and many ethnic groups. The American story is unfinished, for it is a story of ideals and aspirations that have not yet been realized. It is a story that is in the making, whose main characters are today's students, their parents, and friends. Unlike so many events that they study, which are wholly in the past, this is one story whose beginning can be traced to the nation's founding and whose outcome rests in their hands.

Constitutional Heritage includes:

1. Understanding the Basic principles of Democracy. Students need to understand the central dilemma confronting all societies and the basic principles guiding the democratic resolution of that dilemma: How to endow civil government with enough power to govern efficiently and yet to limit that power to protect against the tyranny of government and its infringement upon the property and liberty of individual citizens. Students need to understand how the founding fathers of this nation grappled with these issues and, writing in the context of the American Enlightenment and their religious traditions, framed a Constitution of principles that created a democratic form of government; instituted the rule of law over rulers and the rules alike; and conferred the basic guarantees of a free society through such fundamental mechanisms as representative government, separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, and limitations on terms of office. Students need also to understand the principle that democratic government exists for the public and that the people rule through processes of constitutional choice and consent of the governed. At the same time, students must understand the importance of protecting the rights of minorities against the tyranny of majority rule. They need to develop appreciation for the guarantees provided by the Bill of Rights, and the importance of the procedural "rules of the game" in a democratic system that assure, for example, due process, a free press, periodic elections, and the peaceable change of government through procedural rules guaranteeing that the majority decide. Students should also understand how the Constitution has been amended and improved over time.

2. Understanding the Historic Origins of Basic Constitutional Concepts Like Representative Government, Separation of Powers, and Trial by Jury. Students need to develop understanding of the concepts of constitutional government in their historical context. They should examine key events including the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut as milestones in the development of democratic government. They need also to study those ideas of the Enlightenment that influenced the authors of the Constitution, especially those of Locke on natural rights and on the social and government contract; of Montesquieu on the character of British liberty and the institutional requirements for its attainment; and of Cromwell's Commonwealth Tradition. Students should understand that the ideas and writings of the European Enlightenment were everywhere quoted in the colonies, and that they were discussed by Whigs and Tories alike. This historical context is important for students to understand, for its casts meaning on the importance of the Constitution as the most educing monument of the American Enlightenment.

Civic Values, Rights, and Responsibilities include:

1. Understanding What Is Required of Citizens in a Democracy. Students must develop understanding of the qualities required of citizens in a democracy. They need to understand, for example, the dependence of a democratic society upon citizens who will take individual responsibility for their own ethical behavior, who will control inclinations to aggression, and attain a certain level of civility on their own by choosing to live by certain higher rules of ethical conduct. Students need to understand the importance of the "democratic temperament" which values "give and take" on issues, does not feel it necessary to "go to war" over every idea, and seeks the middle ground on which consensus and cooperation can flourish. Students need to understand that the demo critic process assures its citizens a field of "fair play" so one can gracefully accept the loss of a debate or an election on the certain knowledge that there is a chance to compete again. These are essential insights for students to acquire, for they are the basis of peaceful elections in a democracy, for the orderly transfer of power, and for the readiness of winners and losers alike to join ranks behind the candidate elected in a fair contest. Finally, students need to develop a deep an abiding commitment to democratic values, respect for the dignity of others, willingness to treat others as equals, and concern for the public good.

2. Understanding Individual Responsibility Toward the Democratic System. Students need to understand the inherent strengths of the democratic system. But they also to ponder its fragile nature and the processes through democracies perish: through erosion of democratic protections; through lack of effective leadership or governance; through citizen indifference to their rights and responsibilities under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; through lack of will or courage; through selfishness and alienation; and through usurpation of power by tyrants. Students need to develop appreciation for the informed commitment a democracy requires of its citizens in order to maintain its basic freedoms. They need to understand that critical thinking and independence of mind are essential characteristics of citizens in a free society and that education develops the critical intelligence necessary for good citizenship. They need to understand the importance to a democracy of citizens who are willing to participate actively in government, think critically and creatively about issues, confront the unresolved problems of the society, and work through democratic processes toward the fuller realization of its highest ideals in the lives and opportunities of all its citizens. 46 

I believe that extensive statements like these contained in the California Framework of 1987 could have significant influence on the teaching of democratic values if they are taken seriously and creatively by curriculum makers, textbook writers, teachers, and administrators. California educators have already shown that they can stand up for objective science in the teaching about evolution. But there are other signs that improvement in civic learning can also take place and, in fact, is taking place in civics courses.

For example, New York State will require high school seniors, beginning in 1988, to take a new one-semester course on "Participation in Government." Indicating that this is a newsworthy trend, a front-page article in The New York Times by Edward B Fiske, education editor, appeared under the headline "With Old Values and New Titles, Civics Courses Make a Comeback." 47  Fiske listed as examples: the California Framework, the statement of principles on Education for Democracy issued jointly by the AFT, the Educational Excellence Network, and Freedom House, the law-related education materials issued by the Center for Civic Education, and the report of a panel of scholars enlisted by People for the American Way to study and evaluate recent textbooks on civics and government.

The latter study was carried out by a six-member panel of political scientists and teachers of government, chaired by James D. Carroll of the Brookings Institution and including Thomas E. Mann, executive director of the American Political Science Association, and Norman J. Ornstein, research scholar at the generally conservative American Enterprise Institute. The panel evaluated five widely used textbooks on civics and thirteen textbooks or special instructional materials on government.

Despite three or four excellent exceptions, the general findings were as follows: The American government texts are encyclopedic in scope, but they avoid controversial issues, especially constitutional issues; they are visually attractive but not intellectually or emotionally compelling; they dutifully reproduce the text of the Constitution but they "do not sufficiently emphasize the values and processes that have emerged from this document to shape our society, such as due process and equal protection."

The general conclusion is that "the texts put too much emphasis on facts and too little on concepts, methods, and participation. As a result, the texts are static descriptions of dynamic processes, ignoring questions of belief and value at the heart of the people's 'lives and fortunes and sacred honor.'"

James Carroll summarized the panel's recommendations as follows:

In general, we face the challenge of developing a fresh approach to the subject of government, one that brings it to life and induces the student to think critically about American public values, the conflicts among them, and the difficult and necessity of continuously making choices....

1. The overall approach to teaching government in high schools should be changed from merely imparting information to more broadly preparing students to become concerned, active citizens.

2. The Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, should be examined early in the text and used throughout as a context for discussion. Greater emphasis should be placed upon constitutional values through the use of case studies, profiles of individuals, and significant Supreme Court cases.

3. Controversial issues should be discussed fairly and explicitly.

4. Students will learn the necessity and value of involvement by becoming involved.... Students should be able to "practice" some aspects of responsible citizenship and observe firsthand the workings of politics and government. 48 

If textbook writers and publishers, teachers and administrators, school boards, state and federal officials, and the general public took these recommendations seriously and positively, civic education would be enormously improved. It is significant that this panel represents different political viewpoints, yet they agreed on the recommendations. This is another oem that non-partisan scholarship can be mobilized to promote civic learning in the schools.

The U.S. Bicentennial Commission itself represents a broad spectrum of American political ideology from very conservative to very liberal. The Congressional hearings in the summer of 1987 displayed exemplary models of civic discourse and personal civility among Senators and Representatives despite sharp disagreements and widely different political views, which could well become examples for school discussions and activities. And an outpouring of scholarly books and articles reflecting different points of view about constitutional issues provides more than enough thoughtful resources for study of ways to improve citizenship, if we but will. 49  I agree with the hope that "Perhaps the greatest contribution to the Bicentennial of the Constitution would be to make government the new favorite subject in high school." 50 

One direct answer to the question as to what the schools should do has been given by the New York State Board of Regents, which has mandated a 12th grade course, Participation in Government, as a requirement for graduation from high school. Bringing Aristotle's high ideal of citizenship up to date, the course syllabus states:

The primary purpose of the "participation in government" mandate is to facilitate and encourage the development of civic-minded individuals capable of effectively fulfilling the "office of citizen:" a fundamental precept of democracy and a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The end product should be individuals who have the characteristics that define a citizen–committed, informed, skillful, and active. All four elements are essential....

The basic function of education in a democratic society must be to nurture in individuals the unique qualifications needed to function effectively in the "office of citizen," an office as real as President, Senator, Representative, governor, mayor, chief executive officer of a corporation, union president, or member of a board of education. This office demands individuals who possess, in various degrees, the skills and qualities associated with: ... "civic mindedness"... "civic intelligence"... "civic literacy"..."civic enterprise...." 51 

In designing the course as a culmination of civic education in the schools, the syllabus not only stresses the need for students to face public issues arising from families, schools, communities, states, nation, and the world, but also
... this culminating activity should develop in students an increased respect for the broad range of democratic or civic values that underlie our basic philosophy of government. Such values include, but are not limited to: justice for all; due process of law; free expression; rule by consent of the governed; government by elected representation; government efficiency; honesty; economic freedom; responsibility for individual actions; responsibility to others and to the community; privacy; freedom of personal association; diversity; majority rule with respect for minority rights; equal participation of all persons in government; respect for the general welfare; respect for property rights; freedom of religion; separation of powers; local control of local problems; equal opportunity; equal protection of the law; rule of law on constitutional limits on government; national security; and respect for human dignity. 52 
I welcome this stress on underlying civic values as one way to prevent "participation" from becoming merely random activism. Hence, my emphasis on the Twelve Tables of Civism in Chapter Four.

Continue to Chapter 4

29. Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, trans. by G.D.H. Cole (New York: Dutton, 1950), p. 52.  back 

30. Nisbet, Social Philosophers, pp. 145-158.  back 

31. Palmer, Age of Democratic Revolution, Vol I, pp. 119-121.  back 

32. Ibid., p. 127.  back 

33. Rousseau, Social Contract, p. 15.  back 

34. Francis Newton Thorpe, comp., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters... (Washington, D.C.: government Printing Office, 1909), vol. 3, p. 1889.  back 

35. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 465.  back 

36. Bernard Bailyn, "Central Themes of the American Revolution; An Interpretation" in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, p, 22.  back 

37. The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1969.  back 

38. Ralph Ketcham, ed., The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates (New York: New American Library, Mentor, 1986). This makes a handy companion to one of the many collections of The Federalist Papers now in print. See also a volume which contains both: J. R. Pole, ed., The American Constitution: For and Against (New York: Hill and Wang, 1987).  back 

39. Joseph Gales, ed., Annals of Congress (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1834), Vol. I, p. 451.  back 

40. Palmer, Age of the Democratic Revolution, pp. 228-229.  back 

41. Robert Bellah, et. al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 211.  back 

42. Benjamin R. Barber, "The Real Lesson of 'Amerika'," The New York Times, Sunday, March 1, 1987, Op Ed page.  back 

43. The American Public's Knowledge of the U.S. Constitution: A National Survey of Public Awareness and Personal Opinion (New York: The Hearst Corporation, 1987).  back 

44. The New York Times, July 10, 1987.  back 

45. The New York Times, July 14, 1987, p. 8.  back 

46. History-Social Science Framework, California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade 12 (Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1987.) Draft for State Board of Education, June 10, 1987, pp.35-42. Adopted unanimously by the State Board on July 10, 1987.  back 

47. The New York Times, June 7, 1987.  back 

48. James D. Carroll, et al., We The People: A Review of U.S. Government and Civics Textbooks (Washington, D.C.: People for the American Way, 1987), pp. iv-vii.  back 

49. See, e.g., Selected Bibliographies on the Constitution for High School Students, College Undergraduates, General Adult Audiences (Washington, D.C.: Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, 1986); Kermit L. Hall, "An Introductory Bibliography to American Constitutional History," this Constitution, Winter 1985, pp. 38-40; twelve specific articles in this Constitution cited in Note 8 above; "Books About the Constitution: Tracing America's Founding," Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 1987, pp. 6-7; and "New Releases Mark Celebration of 200th," Official Newsletter of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, April-May, 1987, p. 10.  back 

50. Anthony T. Podesta, "Foreword," in Carroll, We The People, p. iii.  back 

51.Social Studies 12: Participation in Government; Tentative Syllabus (Albany, N.Y.: New York State Education Department, 1987), pp. 22­23.  back 

52. Ibid., p. 28. On pages 31­46 the syllabus describes several alternative models that local districts might follow in designing their courses. These include: Office of Citizen Model drawn up by Joseph V. Julian, Ralph Ketcham, and Donald Meiklejohn of Syracuse University; National Issues Forum Model drawn up by James E. Davis and Sharryl Davis Hawke for the National Issues Forums of the Domestic Policy Association; Community Service/Interneship Model sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation; and Public Policy Issues materials available from the National Council for the Social Studies, Jefferson Foundation, Foreign Policy Association, Scholastic Update, Close­Up Foundation, Newsweek, and the Institute for Political and Legal Education.  back 

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