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Preparing for democracy

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Democracy Prep's citizen-scholarsOver at the “Rick Hess Straight Up” blog at Education Week, AEI’s Rick Hess highlights our new series of case studies on teaching citizenship in charter schools. Providing some helpful background as to why we think these case studies are important, Hess writes:

Amidst our “achievement-gap” drenched discourse, it’s easy to slight other educational priorities–like, say, the obligation of schools to teach, prepare, and equip students to be good and responsible citizens. As I noted in The Same Thing Over and Over, since our nation’s founding, schools have been asked to inculcate good citizenship with at least as much urgency as they’ve been asked to promote literacy and numeracy. Indeed, founder Benjamin Rush argued that the primary role of schooling was to make children into “republican machines.”

Over time, our views have shifted. Today, education is discussed mostly as a way to make students “college and career” ready. As I’ve written before, “When citizenship is spoken of today, it is more and more in a ‘transactional’ sense–with citizenship understood as the basket of skills and attitudes (how to shake hands, speak properly, and be punctual) that will help students attend prestigious colleges and obtain desirable jobs.” The problem? I lamented, “As history teaches us only too well, democracy is not self-perpetuating. If we believe good citizenship matters–if it is not just a means to help students graduate and get good jobs–then we need to actually value it.”

Happily, my colleagues at the AEI Program on American Citizenship (with a bit of input from yours truly) have opted to tackle these issues. The team has commissioned a promising series of case studies profiling top-performing charters that make citizenship and civics a major component of their official mission.

Hess then continues to write about the first study in the series—“Charter Schools as Nation Builders,” by Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew Kelly—which looks at Democracy Prep charter schools in New York City.

Learn more about the case studies here.