Academic journal article Education Next

Civic Education

Academic journal article Education Next

Civic Education

Article excerpt

In "Tug of War" (Research, Fall 2003), James B. Murphy argues that "the attempt to inculcate civic values in our schools is at best ineffective and often undermines the intrinsic moral purpose of schooling."

Murphy's first argument relies on the empirical claim that civics classes are ineffective because they do not "foster desirable knowledge, attitudes, and conduct." He cites "influential research by [M. Kent] Jennings and Kenneth Langton [which] found that the high-school civics curriculum had little effect on any aspect of civic values." Murphy is referring to a 1968 article that derived its conclusions from asking students just six miscellaneous factual questions.

Murphy concedes that this picture has been complicated by Richard Niemi and Jane Junn's book Civic Education: What Makes Students Learn (1998). As Murphy summarizes their argument, Niemi and Junn "found that, although the civics curriculum had much less effect on civic knowledge and values than did the home environment, civics courses did make some difference.... However, as with earlier studies, Niemi and Junn found that civics courses had virtually no effect on attitudes."

In fact, Niemi and Junn write that "the evidence points strongly in the direction of course effects" on students' attitudes as well as knowledge. They analyzed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics assessment, which asked only two questions about values or attitudes. Thus the authors recognize that they have little data on attitudes. Nevertheless, the courses seem to raise students' scores on the only two attitudes that were measured: confidence in government and belief in the value of elections.

Niemi and Junn further cite an extensive body of research--all produced after Jennings and Langton's work--showing that civics classes do help to make young people into knowledgeable, engaged, and/or concerned citizens. …

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