Citizenship and Civic Education: Back on the Agenda for the Schools

By Hansen, J. Merrell | High School Journal, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Citizenship and Civic Education: Back on the Agenda for the Schools


Hansen, J. Merrell, High School Journal


Today, living seems more difficult and complex. It is easy to become frustrated and occasionally hostile because things seem to be so out of control. There is an increasing fear and skepticism that the government can effectively deal with our problems. Issues seem too large for solutions and the divisions are too large for resolution. The schools--a reflection of our society--also seem to have lost a sense of community and citizenship. Indeed, the times appear troubled and confusing.

By age 15, substantial numbers of American youth are at risk of reaching adulthood unable to meet adequately the requirements of the workplace, the commitments of relationship in families and with friends, and the responsibility of participation in a democratic society. These youth are among the estimated 7 million young people 10 to 17 years old--one in four adolescents--who are extremely vulnerable to multiple high-risk behaviors and school failure. Another 7 million may be at moderate risk, but a cause for serious concern (Turning Points. 1990, p. 6). According to this report, one out of every two adolescents are at serious or moderate risk. This dilemma exists in a democratic society, based on law, relying upon an educated citizenry to influence its government effectively. According to this same Carnegie report, there was a "pervasiveness of intellectual underdevelopment" of our students. The Phi Delta Kappa Study of Students at Risk similarly reported that this is a troubling time for children to grow-up to adulthood. Abused children more likely had fathers who were unskilled or unemployed. Four times as many abused children when compared to non-abused children had been suspended from school. More than twice as many had been retained :in grade; ten times as many lived with family where some members used drugs; and three times as many came form homes in which parents had recently been divorced.

Children who hurt, hurt all over. Children who fail, fail in everything they do. Risk is pervasive. If a student is at risk in one area, that student is likely to be at risk in every other area (Frymier, 1992, p.258). Homicide (Gest, 1996) by youths under 17 has tripled between 1984 and 1994. Estimates suggest that increases in population will boost juvenile murder total by twenty-five percent by 2005. Youth violence has been increasing at about the same pace and teen drug use has seen some critical increases after years of decline. Juvenile homicide offenders in 1994 was about 2,800. The fastest growing crime problem is among the juvenile offenders. More than half of the people in prison in 1992 (Center on National Education Policy, 1996) were high school dropouts. On average, one murder cost society approximately $2.7 million. Crime costs. It takes away from the social and educational programs that are so desperately needed. Some 40.6 percent of 12th graders and 11.8 percent of the junior high school students reported drinking beer during the past month; some 20.9 percent of the 12th graders and 5.7 percent of the junior high students reported smoking marijuana during the past month. In 1992, high school dropouts were three times as likely to be received Aid to Families with Dependent Children and public assistance as compared to high school graduates with no college attendance. Education has social and economic values that can be measured both in terms of financial but human dimensions. But the ultimate question remains why such problems occur in a democratic society that expects an enlightened, informed, and responsible citizenry.

Encouraging civic consciousness--a sense of civility towards oneself, others, and society--in schools historically was a desirable goal; it was a major purpose of the schools. However, this has become a neglected goal. With all of the talk for basics, academic emphasis, and improving test scores, one might conclude "preparing good citizens" seemed a little trite and old-fashioned.

Schools and communities previous expected that one of the aspirations for an appropriate education was to have students and citizens who exemplified caring and respect, where responsible behavior in the school and society was demonstrated, and where mature citizenship roles as adults were modeled. …

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