<< The Body Politic

What Good Citizens Should Know

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

In a lecture sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth government professor Russell Muirhead laid out the criteria for “good” citizenship. The lecture, entitled “What Good Citizens Should Know: Civics for the 21st Century” discussed the apparent civics deficiency that prevents high school students from being well-rounded citizens.

For instance, Muirhead argues that Americans should understand the major tenets of the Constitution, be familiar with our political history, and grasp public finance. An uninformed citizenry can have negative consequences for our democracy, Muirhead explained.

A lack of civic knowledge, he said, “probably empowers political elites who are ideologically more extreme than the average American.” This gives those in power, on both ends of the spectrum, “more latitude to pursue agendas that most Americans disagree with.”

While Muirhead argues that citizens by and large know what they are doing, the civics deficiency may be remedied with mandatory civics exams in high school. Check out our Civics Loses Out Again post for a discussion of recent NAEP cuts to civics testing.