Education for Civitas: The Lessons Americans Must Learn


The free market in educational reform

I do not very often agree with Chester Finn of the conservative Hudson Institute, but I think he had one thing right when he wrote in a recent article that since the first education summit of governors called by President Bush at Charlottesville in 1989 "...the politics of school reform have heated up and grown more partisan, so much so that education-policy differences could well emerge as a defining issue in the upcoming election (as they already have in Washington budget battles)." 6  He then proceeds to castigate "ostriches" on both the political left and the political right who are standing in the way of his own cherished goals for educational reform: vouchers for parents to send their children to private and religious schools; charter schools that are spreading like wildfire; and the privatizing of the management of public schools. He condemns the educational establishment and teachers unions of the "left" for denying the value of these free market reforms. But then Finn goes on to criticize the ostriches of the political "right" for opposing the good elements in the standards-based strategies for educational reform.

On one side of these differences is the view that the free market should set the standards for the conduct and curriculum of schools, relying chiefly on parental rights, vouchers, charter schools, and privatization. On the other side is the view that academic scholars, professional educators with the approval of state and local governments should define educational standards that all students in all schools are expected to meet to the best of their ability.

Parental rights in education have gained a new popularity since the 1994 election. One example is a bill introduced in the Senate by Republican Charles Grassley in December 1995 and in the House of Representatives by Republican freshman Steve Largent with 125 co-sponsors for "A Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act." The bill is designed to codify federal laws so that individual parents may be permitted to become the prime or sole judges of what the public schools should teach their children. In part, it says "no federal, state, or local government...shall interfere with or usurp the right of a parent to direct the upbringing of the child of the parent."

Even more important may be the effort in 28 states (so far) to introduce "parental rights" in state laws or amendments of state constitutions. The usual wording is something like "The right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be infringed." These proposed amendments and even their wording hark back to the Oregon case of 1925, Pierce v. Society of Sisters. The Christian Coalition, now with a formal arm called the Roman Catholic Alliance, and other conservative religious groups are pushing this movement in order to codify and enlarge the rights of parents under the Oregon case, namely to protect parents against government intrusion on their rights to educate their children.

I cannot pursue the details of this particular "free market" approach to American education, but it is necessary to keep in mind the whole argument of the landmark Supreme Court decisions of the 1920s. When I was teaching and writing about the history of education at Teachers College in the 1930s and 1940s, I did not anticipate that my discussion of these "charters" for parental rights in American constitutional law would continue to be relevant to a hot point of political controversy fifty years later. The Pierce case does indeed disallow an Oregon law of 1922 that required all normal children aged 8 to 16 to attend public schools only. Disallowing this law, the Court said:

"Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska...we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competence of the State. The fundamental theory upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."
Now what are these "additional obligations" for which parents have the "high duty" to prepare their children? The Pierce decision itself answers that question very clearly. The state has the power
"reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require... that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare." (Emphasis added)
I quote these words to remind parental rights advocates that the state requirement for all schools to teach civics and government was part of the original Supreme Court charter for parental rights and that parents have the high duty to send their children to schools that teach good citizenship. I notice that a federal judge in Cincinnati recently upheld an Ohio state law that requires nonpublic schools to administer the state's proficiency tests for the 9th grade, including one in citizenship. He ruled that taking part in the testing program was not too great a burden on private schools, given the state's compelling interest in the education of its citizens. Under Pierce, parents have the right to choose the school to which they send their children, but an education for civitas must remain a top priority and requirement for all parties: government, schools, parents, and students.

Vouchers. Another approach to the free market in education that has to do with vouchers is now often called "scholarships," to enable parents to receive public money to send their children to private and religious schools, which Pierce guarantees they have the freedom to do. I believe the effect of vouchers in the long run will undermine the very idea of a common school designed to prepare students for their role as citizens in a democratic republic. I say this not only from my studies of history during the past fifty years but also from my direct experience in California during the past twenty years.

In the 1970s and 80s, several attempts were made to amend the California State Constitution by repealing the article that says "The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools...." 7  Important to this history is the free market ideology of Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago economics department and now of Stanford's Hoover Institution. But it began to get greater political attention in the late 1970s when John Coons and Stephen Sugarman of the UC Berkeley Law School turned their book Education by Choice into a political initiative campaign to amend the California state constitution to redefine the meaning of "common schools." This would permit public funds to be used by parents to send their children to private and parochial schools.

I debated Coons on a couple of occasions, including a panel at San Jose Sate University in April 1979. My remarks were published in the Phi Delta Kappan (September 1979) under the title "Education Vouchers: the Private Pursuit of the Public Purse." I wrote a Commentary piece for the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, September 9 saying that California should not adopt vouchers because public schools are the foundation of our democracy. This was followed by my appearance with Coons on a Los Angeles TV talk show on CBS Channel 2 called Talkabout on the same theme. It was broadcast at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 23, 1979. You can imagine how many people listened to it, but nevertheless Coon's proposal foreshadowed much of the present debate. Its intention was to repeal the article in the California Constitution that states "The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools..." The original draft of Coons' proposed amendment states starkly that "common schools" should be redefined into three types: public schools, independent public schools, and family choice schools. The final proposal, however, tried to give more palatable names to the same three types of "common schools":

My response to Coon's proposal was summed up substantially as follows:
"Let me remind you of the historic meaning of "common school" as formulated over the 200 years since the founding of the Republic and incorporated now in virtually all fifty state constitutions:

The fundamental reason for developing this distinctive idea of a common school was that it was the surest guarantee that succeeding generations would be prepared for their common rights and responsibilities of citizenship; as essential to a democratic political system as are fair and impartial courts and elected representative assemblies; absolutely essential to achieve and maintain political unum in a society marked by great pluribus.

The issue then is--shall California reject that tradition and make public schools simply one alternative for family choice; or shall public schools be recalled to their historic mission visualized by Jefferson, Horace Mann, and the main decisions of the Supreme Court on religious freedom and racial equality.

In any event, these initiatives failed to get enough signatures to be placed on the 1982 ballot in California. But the basic idea spread nationwide in the mid-1980s with the encouragement of the Reagan administration and Attorney General Ed Meese, stirring fierce public debate over whether vouchers and prayers in public schools violated the meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I wrote a short monograph published by People for the American Way entitled "Religion, Education, and the First Amendment" in 1985 detailing the arguments pro and con regarding the meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The movement for vouchers, now often given the more familiar and less politically loaded term "scholarships" and aimed at evoking the GI Bill of Rights scholarships has gained considerable headway. But the movement today marshalls the idea that private scholarships will be of special help to the poor and the underprivileged rather than to the private religious schools. And the constitutional issue now is largely muted in public debates, but I believe it will not go away unless the Supreme Court tilts even more heavily to the "conservative" judicial position widely referred to in the 1980s as the "original intent" of the founders of the First Amendment. The key question in that debate is what does the "establishment religion clause of the First Amendment mean? The key principle stated in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township in 1947 is this:

The "establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government... can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another....No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion...In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to 'erect a wall of separation against Church and State.'"
I think we won the historical argument about the First Amendment's establishment clause in the 1980s, and that may be why it is seldom brought up in the mid-1990s. But the conservative wing of the Supreme Court is still poised to argue that Jefferson's phrase was only a rhetorical metaphor and should be erased from constitutional and political discourse. In fact, the present election of 1996 is not only about who dominates the Congress and the Presidency but also about who gets to nominate and approve the next justices of the Supreme Court. If the Republicans win both the presidency and the Congress, a new majority on the Supreme Court may well overturn the Everson doctrine in order to permit larger public support for religious schools. Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and White have already indicated they would do this. In their minority decision on the Jaffree case of 1985 in which the majority outlawed prayers in the public schools, they argued that the "wall of separation of church and state is simply a metaphor based on bad history." I believe, on the contrary, that the great weight of historical scholarship supports the Everson doctrine. 8 

Charter schools. A third variation on the free market approach is the charter school movement. I certainly would not enter this debate here in its Minnesota seedbed. You all know far more about the matter than I could ever know. But I have read some reports, including one of the most complete and objective studies made so far, recently issued by the Indiana University Education Policy Center. 9  My impression from that report is that charter schools say very little about education for civitas, except for occasional references to "community experience." The report clearly defines the arguments for and against charter school, analyzes charter school laws in all 19 states that had passed laws up to September 1995, summarizes and analyzes existing research studies about the schools then operating across the country, and offers recommendations to policymakers and legislators who are considering whether or not to establish or modify charter schools, and if so whether the legislation should be expansive or restrictive.

I was struck by the wording originally used by Ted Kolderie to define a charter school: "an autonomous, results-oriented, publicly funded school of choice that is designed and run by teachers or other operators under contract with a public sponsor." I obviously was looking for what charter schools believed their obligation to civic education might be. I found relatively little in Buechler's study, except for occasional references to "community experience." Whether the attention given to "thematic-interdisciplinary instruction" or "back-to-basics core/curriculum" might include civics or government, I could not tell. Since the very idea of charter schools is to be exempt from state education laws and regulations I wonder how many charter schools have chosen to follow state curriculum frameworks in civics and government.

I have also read the brief survey of charter schools in seven states made by the conservative Hudson Institute's project. Again, I found little or nothing about the need for a curriculum dealing with the public good or the goal of citizenship, except that two or three of the 35 schools in the survey include "community service" and that the school called City on a Hill in Boston provides a "strong liberal arts core curriculum, including a program of public service and civic responsibility." 10 

I also noted two recent stories in Education Week about City on a Hill in Boston in which public-service projects and weekly New England-style "town meetings" bring the fundamentals of civics to life for students. President Clinton endorsed charter schools and mentioned the City on a Hill in his first inaugural address. Obviously, I could only hope for the success of a school built on that rationale and hope that it would stimulate other schools to devote themselves to similar goals and to a commitment to public service. How could one who oversaw the training of 500 Teachers for East Africa and 2500 Peace Corps teachers as I did at Teachers College in the 1960s think otherwise?

The Privatization of Public Schools. Finally, I find little or nothing about education for civitas in the projects by non-profit organizations advocating "restructuring and reinventing schools" or by profit-making organizations advocating "educational alternatives" that seek to bring better business practices into the management of public schools and still make money for their stockholders. 11 

Rather, I find praise for the superiority of decentralized decision-making and on-site management, deregulation from state and federal requirements, accountability, high-tech computer literacy, parental involvement, economic competitiveness, and better back-to-basics pedagogy as well as an emphasis on "individual learning styles." The latter phrase often sounds very much like the "progressive education" views prevalent when I was a neophyte on the faculty of Teachers College in the 1930s and 1940s.

I cannot plunge into the present debates over privatization here. I simply recall some headlines that an interested observer could not miss in the daily press as well as in the professional press: "Lure of the Education Market Remains Strong for Business" (New York Times 1/31/96); "Brokers Pitch Education as Hot Investment" (Education Week 2/21/96); and "Potential Investors Watch as For-Profit Education Comes of Age" (Education Week 3/20/96). I repeat, now as a question, what effect will the free market approach to educational reform have on public education's goal for civitas as a high duty serving the public good in a republican system of government? At least, I would argue that all proposed privatizing projects must guarantee that the high duty of citizenship and obligation for the public good of the republic will be lessons that their teachers must learn, their students must learn, and their proprietors, promoters, administrators, and overseers must learn.

Two years ago, in the wake of the Republican revolution in Congress, then Deputy Director of the Hudson Institute's Educational Excellence Network, Michael Garber, stated candidly, if not gleefully, "What the GOP Victories Mean for Education." 12  I quote: "Though the revolution may be protracted, Republicans should fire the opening shot, directing their small-government, anti-regulation, free market inclinations to breaking up the largest single public monopoly in the free world--the $300 billion per year public education industry."

Such a view of the Republican revolution raises these serious questions: Will the several free market approaches to educational reform increase or stem the politics of mistrust in government? Will they promote or neglect the education for civic virtue necessary to serve the public good of a republican form of government? Will they supplement or will they threaten the very idea of a common public education itself? Will they water down or even defeat the goals for nationwide standards of achievement visualized by the bipartisan efforts of the past dozen years?

The Urgency of National Standards in Education for Civitas

The bipartisan movement for national standards stemming from the Charlottesville summit of President Bush and the governors in 1989 is now fracturing under the Republican revolution. Every candidate for the Republican nomination during the 1996 primaries denounced the idea of national education standards and advocated trimming down or cutting out the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which was passed by the Democratic Congress in 1994. Urged on by two former Secretaries of Education, William Bennett and Lamar Alexander, Republican candidates favored the abolishment of the U.S. Department of Education.

The crescendo of attacks upon public education, efforts by local groups to censor the curriculum, tests, and texts, and the campaigns to inject religion into public schools and promote private and religious schools at public expense threaten to undermine the Jefferson-Lincoln-La Follette ideals in many states of the Union. From what I can read about the most highly publicized and well financed movements of this type in the early 1990s, they have paid precious little attention to improving civic education in either private or public schools.

My own judgment is that free market projects in educational reform should be funded by the voluntary private agencies of civil society rather than by federal, state, or local public funds. Better to use public funds to bolster and improve public education by enabling it to do a better job of achieving its historic, primary goal of providing a universal, free, common education for civitas. I believe that the National Standards for Civics and Government and its predecessor volume CIVITAS provide a sound 21st century rationale for this task. They could be powerful antidotes for our current sour mood of "antipolitics" and the politics of mistrust. They could be positive aids to "recivilizing" our political understanding and discourse.

Drawing heavily upon CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education, a companion volume published in 1991, the Civics Standards set forth as clearly as possible what all citizens need to know if they are to understand and become rationally committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy. Hard as it may be to achieve, I believe that these civic values and principles should be core elements of study from earliest schooling through higher education.

It will not be easy, but a gigantic effort must be launched to counteract the superficial political opinions of citizens now molded by TV attack-ads, by radio squawk-talk, and by organized floods of faxes, what Michael Wines called the "electronic din" of a "500-channel democracy." (New York Times, 10/16/94). The public is easily influenced by negative campaigning because citizens know less than they need to know about what government is and should do. The only long-term hope of revivifying a cynical electorate is serious and sustained study and learning of the basic principles of constitutional democracy.

The National Standards for Civics and Government recall American education to that civic mission in ways that will enable citizens to cope with the modern world of the 21st century. They in effect provide us with a new edition of a "text of civic instruction" designed to achieve national education goals for all students in all schools. As Jefferson argued nearly two centuries ago, what other hope is there for Republicans and Democrats to become "brethren of the same principle?" In a democracy, a healthy electorate is the only sure cure for ailing politicians and government. That's why the electorate needs a reinvigorating and reenergizing civic education.

In fact, it took great effort by many persons, both educators and political leaders, to convince the National Education Standards Panel (set up by the Goals legislation) to add civics and government to the list of five core studies, which had originally been limited to English, science, math, history, and geography. It is ironic that ultimately the civics standards received the widest acceptance of all the completed standards. The U.S. History Standards met with harsh criticism from Lynn Cheney and from other conservative leaders, including the almost unanimous condemnation in a resolution passed by the U.S. Senate. And federal funding for the English Standards was withdrawn because of dissatisfaction expressed by the U.S. Department of Education, When the national standards for U.S. History and for English came under this withering criticism from politicians, publicists, and educators alike, the very idea of national standards in general was endangered.

In contrast, the National Standards for Civics and Government have been almost universally acclaimed. The civics standards were prepared by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Civic Education through an extensive and intensive consensus-building process in which some 3,000 individuals and organizations took part. More than 150 open hearings and public discussions were held in which a broad range of political views was expressed. More than 1,000 specific written suggestions were received from informed commentators. Since their unveiling at the Supreme Court in September 1991, the standards have received endorsements from officers of a broad spectrum of academic, professional, civic, religious, business and labor groups. 13 

The civics standards set forth what all citizens must know if they are to become rationally committed to American constitutional democracy. They are organized around five fundamental questions:

  1. What is government and what should it do?

  2. What are the basic values and principles of American democracy?

  3. How does the government established by the Constitution embody the values and principles of American democracy?

  4. What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?

  5. What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?

In March 1996 when the Governing Board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) unanimously adopted a framework for its 1998 nationwide tests in civics, it voted to use the civics standards as guidelines. At about the same time, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) also adapted them for its scheduled 1998 assessment of civic education in 25 countries.

In civic education, we are well on the way to defining the rigorous "world class standards" in core subjects that were proposed in the 1983 report of the Excellence Commission appointed by President Reagan, by the first summit of the governors called by President Bush in 1989, and by the second summit of governors and business leaders in March 1996. At a time when the nurturing of political democracy is vital to the whole world, the national standards movement in the United States must not be derailed.

Neither the civics standards nor its companion volume CIVITAS was devised by bureaucrats in Washington. Both were formulated by scholarly consensus regarding the core civic values and principles that should be taught in all American schools, public and private. They are exemplary, voluntary guidelines for the civic education conducted by public and private schools. They are quietly achieving the widely desired purposes of national standards without the divisive debates that erupted over the history and English standards.

CIVITAS and the Icons of Civic Virtue

Let me say a special word about the volume entitled CIVITAS, which provides the substantive scholarly background for the questions posed by the civics standards. Its Framework Development Committee consisted of 19 scholars in political science, constitutional law, and education. Its National Review Council of 24 civic leaders was chaired by the late Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It received the consensus of a 60-member Teachers Advisory Committee drawn from all 50 states. Every topic in CIVITAS presents a conceptual perspective, an historical perspective, and a contemporary perspective. The three major topics for study are:

  1. Civic Virtue

  2. Civic Participation

  3. Civic Knowledge and Skills

CIVITAS revives the term "civic virtue" not only to call to mind the founding experience of the American Republic, but also to highlight the civic character needed by American citizens as they confront an increasingly complex, fractious, and interdependent world. Don't discount the power of "virtue" in a period when Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues has remained on the best seller list for more than 80 straight weeks. Or when Colin Powell's book has become instantaneously wildly popular, not least because he calls for a revival of patriotism as a civic virtue. Much of the public is listening, reading, and applauding "virtue."

CIVITAS, however, focuses on the civic aspects of virtue by concentrating on such civic dispositions and commitments as: civility, individual responsibility and self-discipline, civic-mindedness and open-mindedness, compromise and negotiation, respect for the rights of others, respect for the law, critical mindedness, patience and persistence, compassion, generosity, and loyalty. CIVITAS also discusses the more familiar principles and structures of American government usually dealt with in civics textbooks and courses: popular sovereignty, the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, separation of church and state, and federalism. But notice again. Even those usually dusty and dull topics are undergoing fundamental, historic reexamination these days. Note how every one of these topics is the subject of this election year's debates over the future role of government in American life.

In my view, the most distinctive aspect of CIVITAS, which makes it so different from most civics textbooks or curriculum frameworks, is its emphasis upon civic virtue, clearly outlining the fundamental civic values of American constitutional democracy as subjects for study as well as for eventual reasoned commitment by all citizens.

Let me mention briefly the seven civic values which constitute the core of the civitas lessons that Americans must learn. In the spirit of the Age of Cyberspace and in the hope that these values and ideas will find prominent home pages on the World Wide Web and permanent places on the computer monitors of students and public alike. I call them:


    The first icon of a republican government and of education for civitas derives from the classical civic tradition that obligates citizens to subordinate their private interests to the public good when necessary to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. Drawing upon the classical republican tradition of politics, the founders of the American republic used the term "civic virtue" to mean the willingness of citizens to subordinate their private interests on behalf of the public or common good. But the founders also drew upon the 17th and 18th century liberal tradition, which viewed the chief end of government to be the prime protector of the individual rights of citizens in a democratic republic. CIVITAS says that both the classical republican tradition and the traditional liberal view of citizenship are legitimate elements in the spectrum of American civic values and both have a balanced place in the scholarly curriculum of education for civic virtue in the future.


    A second icon of republican government and of education for civitas seeks to secure the blessings of liberty and to act as prime protector of the liberal tradition of individual rights proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights: life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. There are two kinds of individual rights:

    1. The freedom of the person and of private action, which involves the right, the opportunity, and the ability of every person to live a life of dignity and security, and to seek self-fulfillment as an individual and as a member of a chosen group without arbitrary constraint by others.

    2. The freedom of the mind and of intellectual inquiry, which involves the right, the opportunity, and the ability of every person to speak, to read, to think, to believe, to express, to learn, and to teach without arbitrary constraint or coercion by others.


    A third icon establishes justice in such way that all persons are treated fairly in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society and in the correction of wrongs and injuries. Justice defines the moral basis of conduct in a democratic well-ordered society. The basic idea of justice is that which is fair. It includes but is not limited to the civil and criminal "justice system." All people should be treated fairly in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society and the correction of wrongs and injuries. Justice also defines the very moral basis of a democratic society: what must govern the conduct of persons in their relations to one another if the society is to be self-sufficient and well-ordered. Justice establishes the claims of what is publicly right and is prior to the claims of what is privately good as defined by different individuals or by different groups in conformity with their own particular desires. A just social system sets the boundaries within which individuals and groups may develop their own distinctive pluralistic aims and desires.


    A fourth icon is America's historic creed of equality, which decrees that all persons be treated by government and by education in such way that they have equal rights and opportunities to develop themselves to the fullest extent possible, politically, legally, socially, and economically. The idea of equality not only runs through the historic American creed of value claims in a democratic political community but also now permeates international covenants of human rights from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1945 to the Women's Conference in Beijng of 1995. America's Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" must now be taken to mean that "all persons should be treated as though they are equal" in their claims to the other democratic civic values. Although the physical or mental condition of all persons at birth may not be equal, they should all have equal rights to develop themselves to the fullest extent possible.


    Respect for social and cultural diversity is another one of the glories of the American political system. In his People of Paradox (1973), Cornell University historian, Michael Kammen, makes a useful distinction betweens an "unstable pluralism" and a "stable pluralism." An unstable pluralism occurs when cleavages in a society are so strong that they threaten the very authority of the polity itself. This happens when each racial, ethnic, religious, or regional group forms its own political party, or militia, or its "own faction, each sect its own school, and each dogmatist his own ideology." The vicious conflicts in the states of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union along with those in the Middle East and Africa issue global warnings of the dangers of unstable pluralism. By contrast, a stable pluralism is based upon a strong underpinning of political legitimacy: " best insured by the rule of law--law made within a framework of an explicit constitution ....[S]table pluralism in a democracy also requires a strong and lasting inventory of psychological legitimacy: understanding, acceptance, and pervasive confidence in the composite system necessary to make it run smoothly rather than by fits and starts."

  6. TRUTH

    A sixth icon holds that public knowledge must be reliable and valid in order to maintain trust in democratic government itself. The reliability and validity of public knowledge are major requirements in a democracy. Trust in the veracity of government constitutes an essential bond between those who govern and those who are governed. The First Amendment not only protects freedom of expression for the individual but also insures freedom for public and political discussion as a fundamental protection of constitutional government itself. These freedoms require untrammeled access to knowledge that is true, valid, and reliable. That's where knowledge of civics comes in, to help citizens in the process of "winnowing and sifting" the significant truth from the "plausible falsehood" and the "beguiling half truth" so dear to the rough and tumble of the political process in an open society.


    A seventh icon of education for civitas promotes patriotism. Any defensible conception of citizenship and civic virtue must take account of the extraordinary dynamic force that patriotic sentiments play in American national life. In its best sense, patriotism binds the diverse segments of American society into an integral democratic polity. In its worst sense, it inflames a nationalistic chauvinism, setting one group against another in rival efforts to prove who are the true patriots.

    Fifty years ago, noted American historian Merle Curti, in his pathfinding book The Roots of American Loyalty (1946), defined patriotism as "love of country, pride in it, and readiness to make sacrifices for what is considered its best interest." He echoes Old Bob LaFollette's call for the state university to be a prime element in forming the "character of citizenship." Too often, the voice of sacrifice, apart from military service, stands mute. Notice the response General Colin Powell received as he called for a sense of duty, discipline, and obligation as the very essence of civic virtue.

    The schools cannot alone instill the necessary values of personal obligation and responsibility when other major social institutions concentrate on promoting their private interests. While most people believe the schools must play a major role in developing a humane patriotism, they disagree on whether compulsory salutes to the flag in school should be required or whether the desecration of the flag should be punishable by fine or imprisonment.

CIVITAS Coalitions Here and Abroad

I am glad to report that these CIVITAS icons of civic virtue are also receiving cordial welcome by educators in many countries of the world who are seeking democracy anew or for the first time. An international conference on civic education, itself entitled CIVITAS@Prague/1995, was attended by 400 participants representing the educational professions, governments, and mass media of 50 countries. The US national civics standards and its accompanying volume CIVITAS were centerpieces of discussion about ways to teach democracy. A homepage called Civnet was set up on the World Wide Web.

It is heartening that these democratic values, long suppressed by dictatorial regimes of both right and left, are now being reasserted in spectacular fashion by millions of people throughout the world--especially in Eastern Europe and in the former states of the Soviet Union. But it would be the ultimate irony of modern history if Americans, young or old, were to give in to the politics of mistrust just at a time when much of the rest of the world is clamoring for democracy and freedom in the idioms of Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln.

Still, I am hopeful for the future. As a result of the CIVITAS conference in Prague a program of international exchanges of teachers and professors to improve civic education in their respective countries is already under way involving several U.S. universities and their counterparts in Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Bosnia. On March 25 - 27, 1996 an organizing committee met at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to plan a permanent, non-governmental CIVITAS-type of organization to promote the teaching of democratic values in the several regions of the world. Conferences are planned for 1996 in Florence, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, and Brisbane, Australia.

This vision of a cooperative international CIVITAS movement is most heartening. I hope that American educators will do no less at home. The Schools of Education at Indiana University and Ohio State University, along with the Center for Civic Education and several other educational and civic organizations, are already members of this CIVITAS coalition for international exchange. Perhaps Minnesota could be recruited along with Wisconsin, Illinois, and the other Big Ten universities to issue a "Midwest Ordinance of 1997" to promote "education for civitas" throughout the United States as well as abroad. Its mission statement could adapt the actual language and spirit of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 somewhat as follows: "Civic virtue and civic knowledge being necessary to good government, public schools, public universities, and the means of education for civitas shall forever be encouraged."

Such a coalition might finally fulfill the essence of Jefferson's own original drafts of the Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, ideas carried forward by the Morrill acts, and by such early advocates of an activist public university as "Old" Bob LaFollette, Charles Van Hise, and Alexander Meiklejohn's Experimental College at Wisconsin, and by Lotus Coffman and the General College here at Minnesota. By developing interdisciplinary core courses to energize the study of constitutional government and citizenship as an integral part of degree requirements in the several major fields of the liberal arts, you could put into effect ideas that have been circulated since the mid-1980s by such academically influential organizations as the Association of American Colleges, the Kettering Foundation's Civic Arts Review, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Campus Compact.

For example, in 1985, Frank Newman, as newly appointed president of the Education Commission of the States, issued a very strong statement that economic progress, important as that is, is not the most urgent issue facing American higher education: "The most critical demand is to restore to higher education its original purpose of preparing graduates for a life of involved and committed citizenship." 14 

This view was revived once again in October 1995 by Alexander Astin, professor of higher education at UCLA, in his article on "The Cause of Citizenship." 15  I quote:

"If we want our students to acquire the democratic virtues....why not begin a campus-wide effort to determine how citizenship and democracy can be given a more central place in the general-education curriculum?....If higher education doesn't start giving citizenship and democracy much greater priority, who will? Corporate business? The news media? Politicians?"
Borrowing shamelessly from the Prague example, I herewith propose that American colleges and universities establish integrated core courses that might be called CIVITAS, offered as an integral (or even required) part of degree requirements in liberal arts studies and dealing with the role of democratic citizenship in local communities, in nations, and in the world. Such a program certainly fits nicely with the goal of "service learning" or "community learning" now so popular on many campuses.

At the very least, education for civitas should be a core requirement that runs throughout the K-12 school curriculum and the pre-service preparation as well as the continuing professional development of all teachers. I repeat, all teachers should be enabled not only to reach and teach an increasingly diverse student population but also empowered to promote the cohesive values and principles underlying our common citizenship, no matter what their specialized fields of teaching may be.

This means that the national and state groups now at work to improve the licensing and assessment of teachers and the accrediting of institutions should require study of the civic foundations of education as part of the common preparation for all teachers. 16  All of these agencies should be paying greater attention to the "civic foundations of education" as I proposed in my article in the Journal of Teacher Education (Nov.- Dec. 1993): "The Time Is Now: For Framing the Civic Foundations of Teacher Education." Only in this way will all teachers be enabled to prepare all of their students for "Student Achievement and Citizenship" as proclaimed in Goal 3 of Goals 2000. Only in this way will lasting success in educational reform be achieved and reforms in teacher education connected with certification and accreditation as intended in Goal 4, "Teacher Education and Professional Development."

In a society increasingly divided by those who preach religiously-based moral values and those who prefer secular-based moral values, all teachers need to learn about, as well as exemplify, civic-based moral values. This divisiveness has shown itself specifically in the widespread controversies over the U.S. History Standards. However this controversy may turn out, it is clear that the history standards have given us Pluribus and the civics standards have given us Unum. Somehow, together, history and civics must be endowed with the necessary time and the scholarly quality in the school curriculum that will enable the Republic safely to survive.

Education for Civitas: A Seamless Web

In sum, civic learning must be a seamless web throughout primary and secondary schools, continuing through liberal arts colleges and schools of education. All teachers, not merely those teachers who specialize in teaching history, geography, civics, government, or social studies, need better grounding in the challenging knowledge set forth in the National Standards for Civics and Government and in CIVITAS. This general idea was broached at the Hoover Seminar on "Civic Learning in the Education of the Teaching Profession," which I chaired at Stanford in November 1984 just a week after the Reagan landslide. It was attended by 60 educators from 32 different colleges and universities and co-sponsored by ten preeminent organizations devoted to the scholarly arts and sciences and professional education. 17  But the idea of a core of civic foundations of education did not get very far following that election.

The results of recent elections at federal, state, and local levels have often reflected a general protest against government itself and support for promises to reduce and limit government. We have a unique window of opportunity to strip the study of civics of the widespread perception that it is the most boring of school subjects. Instead, it could become one of the most important and "challenging" subjects in the K-12 curriculum as well as in the liberal arts, in pre-service teacher education, and in the professional development programs for in-service teachers.

For example, consider how the study and discussion of civics courses could take on new life as a result of the mood of the current "political revolution." For example, analyze the principal arguments which run something like this:

  1. Reduce the role of the federal government by cutting federal powers, regulations, and funds for education, health care, welfare, and the environment, and turn such matters over to the states, sometimes with the help of federal funds, sometimes not; abolish the U. S. Department of Education and national service through AmeriCorps; reduce or abolish federal loans and grants for college students; prevent the federal government from prohibiting guns near schools. Is this what civics textbooks mean by "federalism?" If not, what has federalism meant? What should it mean?

  2. Next: After power has been passed to the states, reduce the role of state governments in education and social services, increase local control, or better yet privatize management. This means, among other things, offering public-funded vouchers to parents to choose the private or religious schools they want for their children; but not public funds for women to choose abortions for pregnancies they don't want, or funds for medical care for poor women on welfare for children they do want. Is this what the civics textbooks mean by promoting the "public good" or protecting the individual rights of "freedom" and "privacy" from invasion by government? If not, what do these concepts mean?

  3. Further: "Teach traditional family values," require the teaching of creationism along with evolution, and promote prayer in the public schools by enacting the "Religious Equality Amendment" to the U. S. Constitution. Is this what civic textbooks mean by the separation of church and state? Or what the First Amendment permits or requires? What does religious freedom mean?

  4. Still further: Reduce or abolish affirmative action for minorities and women in education and in employment; drastically limit immigration and abolish educational benefits for legal as well as illegal aliens; reduce the emphasis on multiculturalism in schools and colleges. Is this what civics textbooks mean by America's historic civic values of "justice," "equality," and "diversity?" What do these values mean?

  5. Finally: The courts are also wrestling with the role of government in American life. For example, in a recent case, U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, the Supreme Court debated whether we Americans are a people of 50 sovereign states or of one nation. The Court narrowly decided 5 - 4 that "We the People" are one nation, although Justice Clarence Thomas wrote his dissent as though we should still be operating under the Articles of Confederation. Which is the better view of the role of the federal government?

  6. Now: Add to this "political revolution" the public's current disenchantment with politicians of both major political parties and, underlying all else, a sense of apathy regarding government. About 30% of eligible citizens take the trouble to vote. And the proportion of younger citizens who vote is even smaller. Is this what civic textbooks mean by "popular sovereignty" and "democracy?" What should they mean?

    Civics is boring? Instead, we should view 1996 as a year of unique opportunity to revive the study of civics as one of the most challenging subjects in the K-12 curriculum as well as in college liberal arts. Both high school and college students should be studying a new kind of civics that deals in a candid, lively, and scholarly way with the fundamental issues underlying the past and the future of constitutional democracy. To this end, I believe that we should require such study as a core curriculum of education offered in schools, in colleges, and in schools of education throughout the land.

    And there is a still wider political dimension to the usefulness of the National Civics Standards. In his column "Turning Cynicism into Citizenship" (Washington Post (11/27/94), David Broder called attention to the national civics standards as a school-based effort to achieve the participatory goals of several grass roots citizenship movements: the National Civic League's "Alliance for National Renewal," the Bradley Foundation's "The New Citizenship Movement," and the American Civic Forum's "Call for a New Citizenship."

    The Civics Standards have come at just the right time to bridge the gap between such community movements and the schoolrooms. In the long run, one cannot succeed without the other. If the voluntary community participation of the Tocqueville civil society is genuinely to promote the democratic values and principles of constitutional democracy, it must be linked with and cultivated by (1) the civic knowledge and values that students acquire in schools through CIVITAS and the National Civics Standards and (2) the civic knowledge and values that teachers acquire in their liberal arts and professional preparation.

    Now, in an election year when educational issues are hot political buttons, perhaps it is just the time for a coalition of universities to collaborate in building scholarly non-partisan programs to educate their students and the public about civitas. No matter who wins this year's elections and no matter what role the free market may come to play in educational reform, we must achieve the goal of nationwide standards in education for civitas in order to combat the politics of mistrust and promote the values of civic virtue.

    This goal requires the joint efforts of schools and universities, the media, business and labor, government, and the voluntary efforts of the civic-minded agencies of civil society. To this end, we need to mobilize scholars of related academic disciplines to work with professional educators. And we need the support of the major players of all those community and national organizations that are devoted to public education and the public good.

    In the recent years of the educational reform movement we've heard from Paideia, Clio, Excellence, "Content, Character, and Choice," Effective Schools, Alternative Schools, Edison, and a lot more. Now, let's hear it for Civitas.

    Above all, we need good public schools and universities, and we need public good schools and universities to lead the way. During this summer and fall of 1996, all political parties and all political points of view could profit from a nationwide discourse on the public philosophy of education for civitas.

    6. "On Governors and Ostriches," Education Week, February 14, 1996.

    7. The rationale for the initiative was set forth in books by John Coons and Stephen Sugarman of the UC Berkeley Law School, Family Choice in Education: A Model State System for Vouchers (1971) and Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control (1978).

    8. See my original study, The Tradition of Religion and Education in America (1950) and more recently, Religion, Education, and the First Amendment (1986). The most exhaustive and reliable studies are by Leonard Levy, The Establishment Clause; Religion and the First Amendment (1986) and Original Intent and the Framers' Constitution (1988).

    9. "Charter Schools; Legislation and Results after Four Years" by Mark Buechler, Indiana University School of Education, January 1996.

    10. See Chester E. Finn, Jr., Louann A. Bierlein, and Bruno V. Manno, "Charter Schools in Action: A First Look" in Network News and Views, March 1996. For fuller details about City on a Hill, see articles in Education Week (January 10, 1996 and March 27, 1996) by Meg Summerfield.

    11. I have in mind such projects and coalitions as those being promoted by Theodore Sizer, Howard Gardner, James P. Comer, Chris Whittle's Edison Project, the New America Schools Corporation, Education Alternatives Incorporated, and two projects whose headquarters are at Teachers College, Columbia University: the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching; and the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. etc.

    12. Excellence Network News and Views, December 1994.

    13. Support for the national standards has come from former Chief Justice Burger, Democratic Senator Claiborne Pell, Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Catholic Educational Association, the California Council for the Social Studies, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of American Publishers, and scores of well-known university scholars, school teachers, and administrators across the land. The standards have been disseminated by many professional and academic organizations, including the American Bar Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Council for Teacher Education, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

    14. Frank Newman, Higher Education and the American Resurgence," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 18, 1985.

    15. Alexander Astin, "The Cause of Citizenship." Education Week, October 6, 1995. For an elaborate philosophical argument for a core requirement in "civilization" in liberal education, see Charles W. Anderson, Prescribing the Life of the Mind: An Essay on the Purpose of the University, the Aims of Liberal Education, the Competence of Citizens, and the Cultivation of Practical Reason (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993). For an incisive argument that a healthy core curriculum should be the centerpiece of a revived general education, see David Damrosch, We Scholars; Changing the Culture of the University (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).

    16. For example, standards for certification of teachers are being developed by these groups: a task force of the Council of Chief State School Officers; the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, (Education Week, 11/23/94); and the New Professional Teacher Project of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (Education Week 11/30/94).

    17 See Alan H. Jones, ed., Civic Learning for Teachers: Capstone for Educational Reform (Ann Arbor: Prakken Publications, 1985)


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