The American School/The Role of Education in a Democratic Society

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Purpose of a Civic Education[edit | edit source]

When asked [in 1787] by a certain Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia what kind of government had been bestowed on the country as a result of the [Constitutional] Convention's four-month effort, Benjamin Franklin was reported to have said: “A republic, madam, if you can keep it” (Morrow, 1999, pp. 1–2) Franklin's response to Mrs. Powell demonstrates the necessity for citizens to engage in the functioning of their democratic government if it is to prosper. Society struggles with how to impart its knowledge to the next generation in a manner that integrates social learning, civic learning, and moral learning into academic learning. These necessities led Jefferson to pursue the development of a system of public education: “Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils” (as cited in Ravitch & Thernstrom, 1992, p. xi). Dewey (1916, 1938) was resolute in defining the overarching goal of education to be no less than fostering and maintaining a democracy. Applying a strict definition of civic education, political scholars would define citizenship as voting (Walker, 2000). Scholars would note that youth's knowledge of the particulars of government are on the decline (Niemi & Junn, 1998) as the focus for a clear definition of civic education center on the knowledge required of the citizenry to participate in a democracy as evidenced through the explicit act of voting. Flanagan and Faison (2001) utilize an action definition pertaining to civic participation, the civitas, where individuals freely associate in self-selected groups to meet their needs and promote and define their beliefs. When asked to describe a “good citizen” students responded that “the task of being a good citizen carries no additional meaning or special responsibilities beyond simply being a ‘good person’” (p. 6). The basic civic duty to vote was mentioned by only 12 percent of the respondents as a component of citizenship (People for the American Way, 1989, pp. 12-15). The State of Michigan mandates the teaching of civics as detailed in the Michigan Curriculum Framework. The State of Michigan’s Department of Education (MDE) defines its purpose for the social studies in the realm of civic education as follows: “The purpose of social studies is to develop social understanding and civic efficacy; the readiness and willingness to assume citizenship responsibilities and to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a democratic society” (MDE, 2006, 8). Ultimately, to assume the responsibilities of a citizen would mean that one is actively involved in the governance of their own being; the self. Aristotle's Politics (c 340 BC) reflects on the notion that the ideals of a democracy are sufficiently achieved when all persons share in government to the best of their abilities: “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” The rights and responsibilities of citizen from our beginnings to modern times have deep roots and shared meaning when set side by side; the ancient philosopher with the current goals of the state. In summary, there is little confusion on the need for the public schools to teach the civic skills and knowledge necessary for an informed citizenry to complete measurable acts of citizenship such as voting, service, and volunteerism. The determination of how to best instill those skills and knowledge to best allow for their articulation as demonstrated in increased civic participation remains to be seen.

Essential Components of a Civic Education[edit | edit source]

An effective democracy requires a citizenry with a civic education. The public schools were founded in part to create an informed citizenry through a curriculum that formally promotes common knowledge, skills and dispositions allowing for authentic engagement in the business of a democracy. The civic knowledge and participation necessary for a democracy are not inherently passed down from generation to generation – “they require that each generation of students learn civic facts, explore democratic ideals and connect such concepts to the responsibility of citizenship” (NACE, 2006, 1). There is widespread agreement in the United States of America that “good citizenship” contributes to a better democracy which, in turn, contributes to a stable society of opportunity and justice (Isaac, 1992). Practicing civics, becoming a skilled citizen, using one's skills to overcome apathy, ignorance, greed or abuses of power in society at all levels requires knowledge of civic history, understanding of civic rights and strategies and sharing in a growing civic culture of regular participation. The next three subsections define what is meant by civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic dispositions as they pertained to this study.

Civic knowledge[edit | edit source]

The irony of defining a body of finite knowledge in a democratic system is that it cannot be done without limiting the deliberative discourse necessary for a democracy to exist. Both the National Standards and the Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have developed five essential questions to promote the discussion towards a shared understanding of what citizens ought to know:

  • What are civic life, politics, and government?
  • What are the foundations of the American political system?
  • How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values, and principles of American democracy?
  • What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?
  • What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?

The civic knowledge defined by the five questions requires the citizenry to put into context those systems, historical documents, cultural pieces, values, law, international government and non-governmental organizations, and individual rights and responsibilities. To gain an understanding of this civic knowledge would require the social studies educator to address these questions in an authentic manner in the civics classroom as supported by NCSS (1992, 2001) and their definition of what a civic educator is as well as through their definition of an effective citizen.

Civic skills[edit | edit source]

A civic base of knowledge in a democracy would hold no value if citizens were unable to critically think about and act upon that knowledge (NCSS, 2001). In a democracy, citizens are decision-makers and are expected to continually develop and improve their abilities to evaluate, take and defend a position (Branson, 1998), to articulate the meaning of the tangible and intangible symbols of a democracy, to explain how a function of government should operate and the consequences of that operation, as well as to be able to interact, monitor and influence the political process of a democracy (Branson, 1998). Critical thinking in the social studies has been seen as a necessary goal to effective civic education. According to Ennis (1985), "Critical thinking is reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do" (p. 45). Limited definitions focus on evaluation or appraisal; critical thinking is formulation and use of criteria to make warranted judgments about knowledge claims, normative statements, methods of inquiry, policy decisions, alternative positions on public issues, or any other object of concern. Critical thinking, defined narrowly, is an essential element of general cognitive processes, such as problem solving or decision making, but is not synonymous with them. Critical thinking, whether conceived broadly or narrowly, implies curiosity, skepticism, reflection, and rationality. Critical thinkers have a propensity to raise and explore questions about beliefs, claims, evidence, definitions, conclusions, and actions. (Patrick, 1986, pp. 2–3) Despite the identified importance of critical thinking in civic education along with increased research and discourse on the topic it has not been found to be taught satisfactorily in most social studies classrooms. This has been noted by the governing body for social studies education, NCSS, as they continue to reinforce the need for the connection between critical thinking and civic efficacy: Powerful social studies teaching begins with a clear understanding of the subject's unique purposes and goals. NCSS's statement “Essentials of the Social Studies” identifies citizenship education as the primary purpose of K-12 social studies. Noting that concern for the common good and citizen participation in public life are essential to the health of our democratic system, it states that effective social studies programs prepare young people to identify, understand, and work to solve the problems facing our diverse nation in an increasingly interdependent world. (NCSS, 1999) Goodlad's nationwide study of schooling demonstrated little evidence of the critical thinking supported by NCSS and concluded that "preoccupation with the lower intellectual processes pervades social studies and science as well" (1984, p. 236).

Civic dispositions[edit | edit source]

The “habits of the heart” (de Toqueville as cited in Mayer, 1969), or civic dispositions, are those pieces of private and public character that weave a democracy together allowing for it to be celebrated and critiqued in the public square. The purpose and necessity of these civic dispositions are perhaps articulated best by Judge Learned Hand (1944): “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it (1).” To have civic knowledge and skill without the capacity to implement and assess them makes them valueless. The National Standards for Civics and Government have identified those dispositions “that contribute to the political efficacy of the individual, the healthy functioning of the political system, a sense of dignity and worth, and the common good” (Branson, 1998, p. 8):

  • Becoming an independent member of society
  • Assuming the personal, political, and economic responsibilities of a citizen
  • Respecting individual worth and human dignity
  • Participating in civic affairs in a thoughtful and effective manner
  • Promoting the healthy functioning of constitutional democracy

All of these dispositions require the citizenry to accept responsibility for one's self and their actions, to listen and read for information, to lead, to accept majority decisions while recognizing minority opinions, to act and to invoke change through legal means.

Key to the implementation of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions is how the curriculum in public schools is supported to foster these civic attributes. The following section in this chapter discusses the literature as it pertains to the formal and informal delivery of civic instruction.

How Civic Education Takes Place[edit | edit source]

Civics education occurs in theory at both a formal and informal level. The more formal instruction reflects those curricular pieces utilized as the means by which to teach civics while the informal instruction is demonstrated through the manner in which those curricular pieces are taught in the classroom setting.

Formal Instruction[edit | edit source]

The formal instruction in a civics curriculum is one of emphasis on the documents and systems of American democracy (Barr, Barth & Shermis, 1977; Jenness, 1990; National Commission in Education, 1983; Task Force of the National Council for the Social Studies, 1994; Saxe, 1998). The study of these documents and systems should be used to gain an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of the citizenry in the realm of personal rights and responsibilities, political rights and responsibilities, and economic rights and responsibilities as supported by the standards and benchmarks of states across America. The formal instruction of these rights should be used to generate a personal understanding that none of these rights are absolute and they all come attached with certain reasonable limits (Scheurman & Newman, 1998; Sunal, Sunal, & Haas, 1996). The rights discussed and emphasized must be accompanied with clear instruction on the personal and civic responsibilities attached to these rights. Since 1955, an expanding environments approach (Superka, Hawke, & Morrisett, 1980) for teaching the social studies has been the most frequently used format for civic education. This approach uses a focus on the self and family in the kindergarten years and moves the student into a wider range of cultures through grade seven and then moves into a U.S. history focus in Grade 8. Social studies educators during the 1970s supported and promoted a curriculum based on essential concepts from history and the social sciences (Taba, Durkin, Fraenkel, & McNaughton, 1971) believing social problems would provide a solid foundation for a solid social studies curriculum (Engle & Ochoa, 1988). In spite of these efforts, evidence has shown students in eighth grade and seventh grade currently studying essentially the same topics their counterparts have since 1916 (Morrissett, 1981; Superka, Hawke, & Morrissett, 1980).

Informal Instruction[edit | edit source]

The informal instruction that occurs in civics education is exemplified in the manner in which an educator manages teaching and learning. It is also exemplified in how they foster positive relationships in the schools. Holding students accountable in an equitable manner models the rights and responsibilities of the formal curriculum in civics and students who have a positive relationship with adults in this venue are more motivated to learn and more apt to lead (Apple, 1979, 1982, 1988; Banks, 1991; Bissex, 1980; Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Bruner, 1959; Freire, 1970, 1973, 1978, 1990; Giroux, 1988; Goodlad, 1984; Kohn, 2004; Marshall, 2004; McGregor, 1960; Meier, 1990; Piaget, 1979; Sapon-Shevin & Schniedwind, 1991; Schniedewind & Davidson, 1987; Shor, 1992; Silberman, 1970; Smith, 1983; Wertsch, 1985). The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Resnick, et al., 1997) found that “connectedness with school” is a determining and critical factor in the lives of young people and that “School engagement is a critical and protective factor against a variety of risky behaviors, influenced in good measure by perceived caring from teachers and high expectations for student performance” (p. 827). Students will most likely duplicate the adult behaviors they observe in the school setting. It is for this reason that the informal processes we utilize in the school setting should most reflect those civic virtues and formal pieces of the curriculum we are teaching and assessing. The learning of civics should be one supported by a true sense of purpose supported through a modeled social experience (Dewey, 1938; Freire1970, 1973, 1978, 1990; Marshall, 2004). In a civics classroom the opportunity for the civic educator, in their role of expert citizen due to their assumed experience in authentic civic engagement as well as their role as civic expert due to the nature of their position, working in collaboration with the civic student, who by their very nature are novices in matters of civic engagement, are afforded the opportunity to create a shared culture and understanding of what civic efficacy is through the informal social experience of the classroom setting (Schein, 1992).

Culture of Civic Education[edit | edit source]

Galston (1991) acknowledges the constant reemphasis special interest groups have placed upon the necessity to revamp civic education citing that our survival as Americans in a viable democracy depends upon our transmission of liberty and equality to each new generation of Americans. Although this urgency has existed and continues to exist as acknowledged by several social educators true inquiry into social issues pertaining to developing civic efficacy are not commonplace in classrooms. Saye and Brush (2006) have identified research highlighting obstacles to inquiry-based teaching that are related to teachers and learners (Newmann, 1991; Parker, Mueller, & Wendling, 1989) as well as to the culture of schools and society at large (Onosko, 1991). Identified barriers limiting a culture of authentic inquiry in the social studies classroom exist. Class size, preparation time, isolation from supportive peers, and accountability for high-stakes testing are powerful disincentives to complex instruction (Konopak, Wilson, & Readence, 1994; Grant et al., 2002; Onosko, 1991; Saye, 1998; Schlechty, 1993). Sternberg (1985) notes the difference in the problems students are asked to solve in school and those they are asked to solve in real life. The authenticities of the problems students are asked to solve at school do not necessarily follow the same ill-structured patterns real life problems follow. In addition to these barriers, studies suggest that teachers’ understanding of the concepts and methodology of the social studies discipline affects their willingness to engage students in authentic critical thinking in this subject area (Bain, 1995; Windeburg & Wilson, 1991). Adding to the complexity of the teaching in this area are suggestions by Shaver (1996) that authentic critical thinking in the social studies centered on real-world issues requires a teacher who is able to cope with the uncertainty such instruction brings. Scant research exists on the effectiveness of teachers who are able to utilize more of an inquiry approach to the teaching of social issues. Rossi and Pace (1995, 1998) caution that even those teachers who have the capacity to employ an inquiry approach to their teaching face the obstacle of deciding what is desirable to pursue as it conflicts with supporting meaningful student inquiry processes in the classroom. Another identified barrier to authentic civics instruction may come from the field of social studies itself as advocates for history, a social studies discipline, have been prone to attack other social studies disciplines “which they believe have supplanted history as the core of the social studies curriculum” (Brophy & Alleman, 2007, p. 7). History advocates argue that curriculum and instruction centered on history and supported by all the other components of the social studies allows for a greater and more thorough coverage of any individual topic. History-centered reform proposals have not been received warmly by social studies leaders and professional organizations. Part of the conflict involves disciplinary turf protection: The social sciences do not want to cede curricular airtime to history. In addition, social scientists argue that their disciplines offer important insights about how the social world functions that all citizens ought to understand and be able to bring to bear in their civic decision making. Some of them also disparage the value of history as a basis for citizen education, arguing that knowledge about the past has limited application to the complexities of the contemporary world. (Engle & Ochoa as cited in Evans, 2004, p. 124) Reform ideas to the social studies curriculum are not new. During the 1960s and 1970s proponents of a history and literature perspective to social studies thought it wise to abandon social studies as a subject designed to pursue civic efficacy goals. “Instead, they would offer separate courses in the academic disciplines, simplified as needed but designed to pursue the goals of history and the social sciences rather than the goals of citizenship education” (Brophy & Alleman, 2007, p. 12). These programs were called the “new social studies” but never really caught on because of their narrow focus on specific subjects and their lack of acknowledgement for the importance of citizenship education. The 1980s witnessed a variation of this approach with Egan (1988) and Ravitch (1987) leading the call for a curriculum heavy on history and literature, particularly the myth and folklore of the American experience. Lack of value on the reality of social studies as it would be substituted with myth and folklore pushed this type of curriculum to the area of language arts instruction where it was thought to be better suited. Hirsch (1987) proposed a cultural literacy common to all Americans as the basis for reform in social studies education. The late 1980s saw Hirsch's list of 5,000 items “of knowledge that he believed should be acquired in elementary school as a way to equip students with a common base of prior knowledge to inform their social and civic decision making” (Brophy & Alleman, 2007, p. 11) emerge on the scene. Hirsch's list of 5,000 unorganized facts was deemed by social educators to be too specific and too broad discounting the development of connected knowledge around meaningful themes and ideas. Hirsch's list did give way to the CORE curriculum which attempted to integrate science, social studies, and the arts but even this modification on the Hirsch list was seen as too focused on the distant past ignoring the value of personal experience with students as a viable tool for engaging with the curriculum. Perhaps the greatest cultural piece influencing civic education has been the lack of political support at the national and state levels to create a unified message in regards to civic education. While 31 states currently test civics topics, only 29 states require high school students to take a course in government or civics (NACE, 2006). Additionally, 23 of the 50 states present their civic standards as explicit standards within their social studies standards and three states have separate civic standards. Another 18 states weave civics into their social studies standards (Policy Research Project on Civic Education Policies and Practices, 1999). The American Federation of Teachers [AFT] has reported on the difficulty related to setting clear and specific objectives in the area of civic education and recommends that a more unified approach, as has been done in math and science, would move teaching and learning in the social studies out of the lower thinking categories it is currently resigned to (1999). Civic educators see the concern extending to the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB] as it does not emphasize testing of civics as it does for math and reading thus pulling the focus away from potential reform in civics education. Since the late 1960s, civic education at the secondary level has declined substantially. High school students now enroll typically in only one year of government and civics classes instead of three. NCLB does not emphasize civics proficiency, which further erodes the value of civics education at the high school level. To rectify this situation, national assessments in civics should be administered more frequently, and state officials should incorporate civics into their standards. (American Youth Policy Forum, 2006, ¶ 1). Many states fear the policies of NCLB marginalize civic education even further as other core subject areas are supported through legislation and testing. These fears reinforce the need for a connection between content and authentic opportunities for the application of that content in the lives’ of students.

Need to Improve Civic Education[edit | edit source]

When Americans were asked which qualities or aptitudes schools consider “essential” or “very important,” 86 percent replied “being a good citizen” (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). In the same U.S. Department of Education survey (1997) only 59 percent or respondents stated they believed schools had a major impact on the development of “being a good citizen” (¶ 4). There is ample research to show the American citizenry's interest in government is disappointing (Delli, Michael & Keeter, 1996; Erskine, 1963; Hyman & Sheatsley, 1947) as fewer and fewer Americans are showing up to vote (Abramson & Aldrich, 1982; Miller, 1992; Teixeira, 1987, 1992). The 1960 presidential election had a participation rate of 63 percent. The voting rate declined to about 50 percent in the 1996 presidential election with the 2000 presidential election showing a participation rate of 51 percent of eligible voters. While Americans between ages 18 and 30 make up the largest bloc of eligible voters in the country (at about 25 percent), abysmally low (and increasingly declining) numbers in this age group actually vote. According to a recently published Carnegie Corporation of New York report, youth voter turnout has dropped by at least 13 percent since 1972 and the occurrence of such social and political flashpoints such as Watergate; this equates to less than a 13 percent voter turnout among eligible young voters. Among the youngest voters, those between the ages of 18 and 24, the voting rate has dropped by a third over the same three decades. (Fields, 2003, p. 1) Putnam (2000) believes voter apathy as evidenced through statistics reflecting the downward trend is indicative of a more cynical view of civic participation: During the last third of the twentieth century formal membership in organizations in general has edged downward by perhaps 10-20 percent. More important, active involvement in clubs and other voluntary associations has collapsed at an astonishing rate, more than halving most indexes of participation within barely a few decades most Americans no longer spend much time in community organizations, we’ve stopped doing committee work, stopped serving as officers and stopped going to meetings. (p. 63) The 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) survey found that only 6 percent of eighth-grade students could explain how countries benefit from a written constitution and only 30 percent of high school seniors understood the use of judicial review by the United States Supreme Court to protect minority rights (Hoff, 1999). The 1997 American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1997 report (Sax & Astin et al., 1997) shows college freshman at a record low 26.7 percent when asked if it was essential for them to stay “up to date with political affairs.” This was a 2.7 percent drop from the previous year and a 31.1 percent drop from the 1966 reported high. The same National Norms report (1997) documented another all-time low 13.7 percent of freshmen reporting they frequently discuss politics. The all-time high for this category was in 1968 with 29.9 percent of college freshmen reporting they frequently discuss politics. Similarly, the ultimate act of citizen participation as defined by the political scientists (Walker, 2000), the act of voting, is also at an all-time low according to the 1997 National Norms report. Student election turnout plummeted from 76.9 percent in 1968 to 21.3 percent in 1997. The 1990 NAEP Report Card in Civics (as cited in Branson, 1998) results revealed that students have only a superficial knowledge of civics and lack depth of understanding. For example, only 38 percent of 8th graders knew that Congress makes laws; and nearly half of high school seniors did not recognize typical examples of the federal system of checks and balances. Although half of the high school seniors tested displayed a detailed knowledge of major government structures and their functions, only six percent demonstrated a more developed understanding of a wide range of political institutions and processes. (p. 16) “National, state, and local standards all indicate that the task in social studies classrooms is to support learning that really does increase a student’s competence and confidence in using important social studies knowledge and skills to have a better life and to contribute more as a citizen” (Sunal & Haas, 2002, p. 4). As evidenced by data in the previous section, increases in standardized test results and survey results have not been evident supporting the need for more overt connections between teaching of civic knowledge and skills to authentic assessments measuring student efficacy in civics.

Current Instructional Models for Teaching Civic Education[edit | edit source]

The challenges of deciding what content and purpose should be taught in civic education are exacerbated by the various approaches to teaching civic education and the defined goal of each approach. Civic educators have traditionally utilized one of the following approaches to teach civics: citizenship transmission, social science/history, reflective inquiry, personal development, or informed social criticism/reform (Barr, Barth, & Shermis, 1977). A brief review of the traditional approaches to civic education follows.

Citizenship Transmission[edit | edit source]

Citizenship transmission insists schools instill the “American creed” in children with the defined purpose of binding the nation together (Shaver, 1985). This creed would include those core democratic values centered on due process, freedom of choice, respect for others, multiculturalism, free access to information, and respect and value for rational thought (Shaver as cited in Chapin & Messick, 2002). According to Shaver (1985) the student must accept the basic values in the creed as fundamental beliefs. The assumption with the citizenship transmission model is that it is the teacher's job to assure students arrive at the correct answer for any civic concept. The student is strictly the receiver of any piece of civic information. The fear of opponents to the citizenship transmission approach within the context of developing a citizenry that is adept at critiquing the world around them to authentically engage in the democratic process is that students are being trained to accept a solution to a problem rather than exploring the solution to the problem on their own or with guidance. Citizenship transmission stresses the knowing of civic values as most important. Therefore, the understanding of the civic values is not a priority thus limiting discourse and leading to a form of indoctrination (Chapin & Messick, 2002).

Social Science/History[edit | edit source]

The social/science history model is one predicated on a knowledge-centered approach (Chapin & Messick, 2002). The intent of this model is to inform students of the major social studies concepts in each of the social studies disciplines. Applied to civics education, the social science/history model would have students reviewing primary and secondary source documents and comparing the documents to formulate a hypothesis. The purpose is to show students how our assumptions lead us to jump to conclusions. The model often utilizes an interdisciplinary approach where students might study a topic such as the Civil Rights Movement where each student is required to provide hard data on a given topic and to write deeply about the facts and opinions related to the topic. This would require students to engage in those areas of the social studies necessary to successfully demonstrate their understanding such as, in this case, sociology and history. More specifically, students would use primary and secondary source documents to study specific pieces of legislation connected to the Civil Rights Movement. The model comes under much criticism due to the ill-defined parameters of the hypothesis formulation, and the primary and secondary source documents are often too difficult for the students to read and comprehend.

Reflective Inquiry[edit | edit source]

Reflective inquiry, also labeled public issues-centered approach or real-world problems approach, emphasizes the importance of motivating students to think critically (Chapin & Messick, 2002). Typically students would be responsible for identifying an issue to explore, to find evidence for or research the issue, to analyze the evidence or research and to interpret or act upon their discoveries. The fault of this model lies in the lack of a clear and concise definition of reflective inquiry.

Informed Social Criticism/Reform[edit | edit source]

Informed social criticism/reform is used to guide students to change an existing institution in our world through an understanding of the necessary knowledge and skills. Students are challenged to use the ideas of justice, democracy and human rights as the means by which to critique social institutions (Chapin & Messick, 2002). The informed social criticism/reform model requires teachers and students alike to be willing to discuss the potentially highly controversial issues associated with the social institutions under critique. In addition, students involved in this type of model need to believe or trust that their actions will be accepted by governmental actors and lead to change.

Democratic Schools[edit | edit source]

There is much talk these days about the importance of teaching democratic values in our public schools. It appears that newspaper columnists, teachers' unions, public organizations and other civic minded people have suddenly come to realize that our youth is growing up ignorant of, and uncommitted to, the great principles upon which our nation is based.

Although there may be full agreement that the problem exists, it seems that the proposed cure – more classes on democracy – is no better than the disease. It can be asked why is it that people persist in thinking that the solution to real-life problems is talking about them, or if anyone really believe that subjecting children to yet another course will achieve really meaningful goals. Schools can't even get kids to read or write or do arithmetic properly, despite endless hours of classroom effort. And the question is if we are going to make them into the defenders of freedom by adjusting the curriculum once more.

The simple fact is that children are not committed to democratic principles, or political freedom, or the bill of rights, or behaving as responsible people because they themselves do not experience any of these lofty matters in their everyday lives, and in particular in their schools. Children do not have rights in school, they do not participate in meaningful decision-making at school (even where the decisions directly affect their own lives) nor do they have the freedom of self determination in school. In fact, the schools are models of autocracy - sometimes benevolent, sometimes cruel, but always in direct conflict with the principles on which our country is based.

The way to ensure that people of any age will be deeply committed to the American Way is to make them full participants in it: making schools democratic, giving children freedom of choice and the basic rights of citizenship in schools, and they will have no problem understanding what this country is about (Greenberg, 1992).

Summary[edit | edit source]

Certainly any one of the aforementioned instructional social studies models or any combination of those models would be sufficient to successfully instill the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for an adequate civic education. Throughout the review of the instructional models used to teach civics, little has been explored as to how to transfer the strengths or intentions of these models into adulthood and civic action through authentic classroom practice. Nor have we seen how these models are used differently or why their use is altered as students move through the public school system. What is clear is the importance of teacher expertise in increasing civic engagement and results and that placing non-experts, or out-of-field teachers, assume the responsibility for increasing student achievement in the area of civics will only exasperate the problem (Ingersoll, 1998). The consequences of not realizing expert guidance and leadership in civic education will have a direct negative impact on our democratic process and the effectiveness of that process. To limit civic education to a prescribed model does not allow students or teachers to authentically engage in the identified characteristics of an effective citizen (NCSS Task Force, 2001). The instructional model developed in this research does not assume every student will obtain the characteristics of an effective citizen, but that most students must if we are to continue with an active and engaged citizenry necessary for an effective democracy. What the model did assume is the need for “…attending more carefully to the moral requirements of liberal public life and by doing what is possible and proper to reinforce them” (Galston, 1991). Public schools, as an agent of the government, are poised to allow students to each identify, explore, and articulate these moral requirements. To do this free of prescribed means and outcomes while at the same time working within those civic virtues (characteristics) would allow for students to rehearse what it means to be a citizen. ...we need a group differentiated citizenship and a heterogeneous public. In a heterogeneous public, differences are publicly recognized and acknowledged as irreducible, by which I mean that a person from one perspective or history can never completely understand and adopt the point of view of those with other group-based perspectives and histories” (Young, 1989). Young (1989) goes on to argue for a classroom where students are given defined spaces to reflect upon and to have discourse on issues of importance; a classroom where the virtues of civics can be explored, understood, and questioned. Galston's work (1991) identified those liberal virtues in their broadest sense: Some of the virtues needed to sustain the liberal state are requisites of every political community. From time to time, each community must call upon its members to risk their lives in its defense. Courage – the willingness to fight and even die on behalf of one's country – is thus very widely honored, even though there may be occasions on which the refusal to fight is fully justified. In addition, every community creates a complex structure of law and regulations in the expectation that they will be legitimate, hence binding, without recourse to direct threats or sanctions. The net social value of law is equal to the social benefits it engenders minus the social costs of enforcing it. As the individual propensity to obey the law diminishes, so does a society's ability to pursue collective goals through the law. Law-abidingness is therefore a core social virtue... Finally, every society is constituted by certain core principles and sustained by its members’ active belief in them. Conversely, every society is weakened by the diminution of its members’ belief in legitimacy. Loyalty – the developed capacity to understand, to accept, and to act on the core principles of one's society – is thus a fundamental virtue. (p. 221) While the need for a civic education to sustain an effective democracy has been agreed upon by many groups, the participation in that democracy “does not occur instinctively nor does it develop organically. Educators have a role to play – helping students in thinking carefully…” (Kahne & Middaugh, 2006, p. 607).

Questions[edit | edit source]

  1. Which approach to civic education is the best for creating the informed citizenry the Founders felt necessary to a robust democracy?
  2. Why does “good citizenship” lead to good democracy; or does it?
  3. Why do students view voting as a unnecessary part of being a citizen?
  4. Should all public high schools facilitate registration and voting for their students?
  5. If civics was a component of high-stakes testing, how would it be taught?
  6. In what ways might the decrease in recess in the early grades effect outcomes for civic efficacy in the public schools?
  7. Shouldn't civics fall into the hands of parents to teach?
  8. Do you believe history should be at the center of a solid civic education?
  9. If we are to model civic efficacy for students, should we involve them in the design and assessment of their curriculum?

References[edit | edit source]

  • Apple, M. (1979). Ideology and curriculum. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Apple, M. (1982). Education and power. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Apple, M. (1988). Teachers and texts. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Apple, M., & Beane, J. (1995). Democratic schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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The Role of Education in a Democratic Society
The Cultural Diversity of our Society and the Implications for Education