Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Civic Education: Recent History, Current Status, and the Future

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Civic Education: Recent History, Current Status, and the Future

Article excerpt


In addressing this topic the idea of a rather barren desert with oases comes to mind. A desert is appropriate because I think that civic education, as a formal part of the curriculum that is translated into effective instruction, does not exist in many schools in the United States today. Although there are some oases--outstanding teachers and curricular programs--unfortunately there are not enough. No thorough studies of the current state of civic education in our schools exist yet. In fact, a number of my colleagues and I estimate that at most fifteen percent of students at the pre-collegiate level receive an adequate education in this field.

Although a study of state curriculum guidelines will reveal that every state notes the need for civic education, this important part of the student's overall education is seldom given sustained and systematic attention in the kindergarten through twelfth grade curriculum. Inattention to civic education stems in part from the assumption that the knowledge and skills citizens need emerge as by-products of the study of other disciplines or as an outcome of the process of schooling itself.

While it is true that history, economics, literature, and other subjects do enhance students' understanding of government and politics, they cannot replace sustained, systematic attention to civic education. Therefore, a number of my colleagues in the field and I have developed the following standards that should guide the development of educational policy in every state and school district in the nation:

Education in civics and government should not be incidental to the schooling of American youth, but a central purpose of education essential to the well being of American democracy;

* Civics and government should be considered a subject on a level with other subjects. Civics and government, like history and geography, is an integrative and interdisciplinary subject;

* Civics and government should be taught explicitly and systematically from kindergarten through twelfth grade either as separate units and courses or as a part of courses in other subjects; and

* Effective instruction in civics and government should include attention to the content of the discipline as well as to the essential skills, principles, and values required for full participation in and reasoned commitment to our democratic system.

I am not aware of any state or school district requirements that meet these standards.

The following is a brief overview of the recent history of civic education, its current status, including related research findings, and information regarding the current movement to develop increased support for the widespread implementation of civic education programs in our nation's schools.


"Modern" civic education as a recognized and discreet curriculum began a century ago in the effort to americanize the waves of "alien" immigrants who arrived on these shores--to ensure that they were assimilated into the then dominant Northern European culture with its Judeo-Christian, Graeco-Roman, and (in law and government) Anglo-American roots.(1) Sometimes referred to as "pressure cooker" civic education, these early initiatives tended to be catechistic and dull, but they carried on for more than half-a-century, sustained by the patriotic euphoria of two world wars and the "circle the wagons" mentality of the early years of the Cold War.(2)

The sixties, of course, meant a "goodbye to all that." Vietnam, and then Watergate, brought disenchantment, rebellion, experimentation, a loss of faith in traditional institutions and traditional leaders, the break-up of consensus, weakening of the core culture, the advent of heterogeneity, and multiculturalism.(3) One of the great ironies of America's civic culture in this century is the fact that it has been so victimized by its success. …

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