Magazine article Teacher Librarian

The Civic Mission of Schools: Key Ideas in a Research-Based Report on Civic Education in the US

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

The Civic Mission of Schools: Key Ideas in a Research-Based Report on Civic Education in the US

Article excerpt

A NEW REPORT SPONSORED BY THE CARNEGIE CORPORATION OF NEW YORK AND CIRCLE (CENTER FOR INFORMATION AND RESEARCH ON CIVIC LEARNING AND ENGAGEMENT) REVIEWS AND INTERPRETS RESEARCH ON SCHOOL-BASED CIVIC EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. FIFTY-SIX LEADING EXPERTS PROVIDED THE CONTENT OF THE REPORT, REVIEWED AND MODIFIED THE DRAFT OF IT, AND ENDORSED IT.

Copies of the report, The civic mission of schools are available free of charge on the World Wide Web: www.civicmissionofschools.org. This Digest summarizes key aspects of the report: (1) the goals of civic education in schools; (2) promising practices in the teaching of civics/government in a democracy; and (3) selected recommendations for school administrators and policymakers.

GOALS OF CIVIC EDUCATION

The mission of schools-based civic education is to develop competent citizens who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to participate responsibly and effectively in the political and civic life of a democracy. Competent and responsible citizens:

* are informed and thoughtful about the principles and practices of democracy;

* participate in their communities through membership in voluntary civil associations;

* act politically to accomplish public purposes; and

* have moral and civic virtues, such as responsibility of the common good.

PROMISING PRACTICES IN TEACHING AND LEARNING

The civic mission of schools presents six research-based practices that can increase the civic knowledge and engagement of students.

First, emphasize formal instruction in government, history, law and democracy. Students perform better on tests of civic knowledge and skills if they experience extensive and detailed teaching and learning of core principles in the theory and practice of constitutional democracy (Niemi & Junn, 1998). Moreover, there is a strong relationship between civic knowledge and various attributes of democratic citizenship, such as a propensity for political interest, civic/political engagement, political tolerance and commitment to the common good (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1997; Nie, Junn & Stehlik-Barry, 1996; Putnam, 2000; Torney-Purta and others, 2001).

Second, extensively incorporate into the classroom discussions of current issues and events--local, national and international--that students perceive to be important in their lives. If these discussions are open to free expression of diverse perspectives and opinions, then they are more likely to have a positive effect on civic learning and achievement of core characteristics of democratic citizenship (Baldi and others, 2001; Niemi & Junn, 1998; Torney-Purta and others, 2001).

Third, provide students with ample opportunities to apply formal civic learning in the classroom to community service projects that are connected to the school curriculum. The service-learning activities that am most effective in achieving the goals of civic education are those that are linked emphatically to civics content and processes. Also, they engage students in briefing and debriefing activities that enable them to place their service-learning projects into a civic/political context and to derive maximum civic learning from them (Billig, 2002).

Fourth, offer extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for students to be involved in their schools and communities. There is a strong, positive relationship between democratic participatory experiences in the school and community and student achievement of the skills and dispositions of democratic citizenship (Baldi and others, 2001; Niemi et Junn, 1998; Putnam, 2000; Torney-Purta and others, 2001).

Fifth, encourage students to participate in school governance. If students have more opportunities to participate democratically in the management of their own classrooms and schools, they are more likely to achieve the civic skills and attitudes of citizenship in a democracy (Baldi and others, 2001 ; Niemi & Junn, 1998; Torney-Purta and others, 2001). …

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