Should Students Study Civics?

Phi Delta Kappan, September 2019 | Go to article overview

Should Students Study Civics?


A nearly unanimous 97% of Americans say public schools should be teaching civics, including 70% saying it should be required. According to a 2018 report by Education Week, only eight states require students to enroll in a yearlong civics or government course in high school; 27 others require a semester-long course.

In line with their focus on citizenship more generally, 81% of teachers say students should be required to take a civics class. This declines to 60% among parents, ranging from 73% of parents who have a college degree to 53% of those who don't.

A minority of parents (29%) expresses concern that civics classes might include political content that they disagree with. Just 16% of teachers share that concern. Among all adults, this concern peaks among conservatives, evangelical Christians (both at 37%), and Republicans (35%), compared with Democrats (22%) and liberals (17%).

Results on civics are buttressed by another finding: Parents (78%), all adults (79%), and teachers (85%) say schools should teach values as well as factual information. Adults age 65 and older (89%) are especially keen on this approach, and moderates (85%) and conservatives (80%) are more likely than liberals (69%) to support this idea. Those who want to see schools focus on core academics are less inclined to favor-teaching values (64%).

The level of support for teaching values exceeds the number who say it would be possible to get people in their community to agree on a basic set of values that should be taught. Sixty-one percent of all adults say this kind of agreement is possible, down from 69% when this question was asked in 1993. (Results are similar among parents and teachers.)

Agreement on some items might, in fact, be easier to achieve. Eighty-seven percent to 97% of all adults say public school classes on values should cover honesty, civility, respect for authority, and acceptance of people of different religions. Eighty-one percent say patriotism should be included, and 74% favor including acceptance of people of different sexual orientations.

Politics are a factor. Ninety-two percent of liberals and 90% of Democrats say teaching values should include acceptance of others with different sexual orientations, compared with 55% of Republicans and 53% of conservatives. …

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