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A Response to James Ceaser’s “The Role of Political Science and Political Scientists in Civic Education”

Last week, University of Virginia professor James W. Ceaser’s essay discussed the divided state of modern political science. This week, Peter Levine of CIRCLE responded to Ceaser’s piece, agreeing that political science ought to take a more active role in civic education.

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Renewing Civil Society in America

Congrats are due to Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE and Program friend, who was recently appointed as the Lincoln-Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Service and as a research professor in the School of Arts & Sciences philosophy department at Tufts University. If that’s not enough, Peter also has a forthcoming book, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (Oxford University Press, September 2013).

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Civics education: Why it matters to democracy, society, and you

On April 1, Harvard Law School and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is hosting an all-day conference on civics education. Among the names that will be presenting include Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice David Souter (both retired from the Supreme Court), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Gene Koo (iCivics),  Martha Kanter (US Department of Education), Ted McConnell (Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools), and Scott Warren (Generation Citizen)—and many others.

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Higher education, liberal arts, and civic education

Last week, Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, spoke to a meeting of 17 college presidents and other representatives of higher education about the civic mission of the university. As more and more emphasis is being placed on higher education as a path to employment, Levine noted, the liberal arts and the civic mission of higher education are being placed on the sideline. But this would be a mistake, he argues, and supporters of these programs “can proudly and forthrightly make the case for both the civic mission of the university and the liberal arts and openly tell our fellow citizens that they should support those things.”

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Civic responses to Newtown

Over at his blog, CIRCLE director Peter Levine looks at the tragic Newtown school shooting and discusses some of the different kinds of civic responses that are available. “Addressing a brutal threat together,” he notes, “is civic work that can help repair the torn fabric.” And there are many ways that citizens can come together and engage in this important work of self governance.

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Summer Institute of Civic Studies

The 2013 Summer Institute of Civic Studies at Tisch College, Tufts University, is now accepting applications. Organized by Peter Levine (CIRCLE) and Karol Soltan (University of Maryland), the fifth annual summer program will be an intensive two-week seminar that brings together advanced graduate students, faculty, and practitioners from diverse fields of study to learn about and discuss topics related to citizenship.

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What is civic engagement anyway?

Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), raises the question at his blog about what we actually mean when we use the term “civic engagement.” “There is no single answer to this question, which is deeply contested,” he notes.

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The civic mission of higher education

Over at his blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine raises some good questions about the role and purpose of civic education, and how it can be used to strengthen democracy and civil society. Before we can judge which civic education initiatives work, Levine writes, “more fundamentally, we must decide what our democracy and civil society need from citizens. Should we be most concerned about information and knowledge? Skills? Civility? Devotion and duty? Independence?”

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Education for a civil society

Writing at the Harvard Education Publishing blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine argues that the results of the recent CIRCLE study of each state’s civic education standards and course requirements–which we highlighted here–are not as dire as they may seem. (One such discouraging note from the study is that only eight states nationwide have statewide tests specifically in civics or American government.)

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Active citizenship and the presidential race

Writing at The Huffington Post, Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning (CIRCLE), makes the case for presidential candidates and political pundits to take citizenship seriously.

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Making Civics Count

Last October, we hosted a day-long conference to discuss “Civics 2.0: Citizenship Education for a New Generation.” Leading scholars in the civic education field such as Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Meira Levinson (Harvard Graduate School of Education), David E. Campbell (Notre Dame University), and Joseph Kahne (Mills College), among others, came together to discuss research they had conducted on the issues of citizenship and schooling.

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Mid-week roundup

Some recent news happenings in the world of citizenship:

  • Samoans seek U.S. citizenship.
  • With the November elections approaching, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine takes a look at some different ways people view the right to vote.
  •  At Vanity Fair, Paul Goldberger defends Frank Gehry’s proposed Eisenhower Memorial
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    Civic relationships

    Over at his blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine has some thoughts on the importance of civic relationships to a healthy democracy. Often lumped under the term “social capital” by political scientists (Robert Putnam defines the term as “connections among individuals–social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”), Levine emphasizes that these civic relationships occur much more organically than such language suggests.

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    Calling all civics practitioners

    The fourth annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies is now accepting applications! A two-week, interdisciplinary seminar at Tisch College, Tufts University, the Institute is organized by Peter Levine (CIRCLE) and Karol Soltan (University of Maryland).

    For more information and to apply, visit the Institute’s page here.

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    Mid-week roundup

    What’s happening in the citizenship world? Here’s a mid-week roundup of recent tidbits we found interesting:

    • The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has a number of recent findings about youth voting behaviors. We’ve covered their ambitious report “Understanding a Diverse Generation: Youth Civic engagement in the United Statesbefore, but they’ve since come out with more information–including a comparison of the number of young (18-29 year old) voters to those over 65 (in case you were wondering, there are more of the former); an analysis of current voter registration by young Americans in key battleground states as compared to the 2008 voting cycle (the number of new, young Democratic voters have dropped); and a look at youth voting in the Iowa Caucus.
    • Peter Levine–the director of  CIRCLE–shares this research and offers some lessons in an op-ed published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette–now available in full at Peter’s blog.
    • And finally, we shared this with our Facebook friends last week, but the story is too good to not post about here: Air Force ROTC cadet Matt Pirrello, who lost his entire right leg in a training accident, is still determined to become a pilot. Read about his inspiring journey here.
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    Recommended Event: Teaching America

    Next Monday, January 9, at 9:30 a.m., the Brookings Institution will host a discussion of Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education. As you may remember, we hosted our own discussion of the book in September (re-cap and video highlights here).

    At next week’s Brookings’ event, David Feith (editor) will provide opening remarks, John Bridgeland (President and CEO of Civic Enterprises) will deliver the keynote address, and Teaching America contributors Seth Andrew (Democracy Prep), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), and Adm. Michael Ratliff (Jack Miller Center) will discuss their plans to strengthen civic education. Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston will moderate.

    For more information about the event–and to register–head over to the event page. We hope to see you there!

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    2011 Top books for citizenship

    Inspired by our friends at NCoC and the Claremont Institute, the Program thought it would try its hand at a best-of-the-year list for books on citizenship:

    • What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, edited by Amy A. Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub. An anthology of 74 great American short stories, speeches, and songs. Reacquaint yourself with classics, both old and new, with selections by Jack London, Edward Everett Hale, Frederick Douglass, Ring Lardner, O. Henry, Flannery O’Connor, and many more.
    • Conserving Liberty by Mark Blitz. A spirited defense of American civic virtue. Claremont McKenna College professor Mark Blitz reminds us that individual liberty alone cannot produce happiness. To secure our rights and use them successfully, we need certain virtues: responsibility, toleration, individual excellence, and self-government.
    • Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education. Editor David Feith lines up a cast of civic-minded all-stars–Rick Hess (AEI), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), Bruce Cole (Hudson Institute), and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–to argue for reinvigorating civic education in our nation’s schools. Look for great things to come as Feith launches the Civic Education Initiative with top charter network Democracy Prep Public Schools.
    • Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society. Another fine volume on the importance of civic education by noted scholar William Damon. Damon was moved to write Failing Liberty after interviewing American high-school students about what U.S. citizenship meant to them. The results, as described in this book, are deeply troubling, raising “the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it.”
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    Mid-week roundup

    Mid-week Roundup:

    • Happy 375th  birthday to the National Guard (yesterday)! Watch this video to learn more about the Guard, its founding and history, and the crucial role it plays in defending America today.
    • Curious about what’s happening with the proposed Guard seat at the Joint Chiefs of Staff? This article provides some good background and updated news.
    • A good reminder from USA Today that the horrors and challenges of war aren’t simply physical, and don’t stop at the battlefield: the military divorce rate reached its highest level this year since 1999, with nearly 30,000 marriages ending in divorce in 2011.
    • As Peter Levine points out, the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) has unveiled its new website, DemocracyU. The site works to present students’ stories of civic activism, and holds discussion and debate on the role that students play in civic engagement and service. Check it out.
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    Strengthening and understanding the “youth vote”

    Our friends at The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning Engagement (CIRCLE) have released a new report that looks at the ways that young voters aged 18-29 engage  in the American political system. Entitled “Understanding a Diverse Generation: Youth Civic Engagement in the United States,” the report clarifies what the “youth vote” actually means, and reveals just how diverse a voting bloc it is. The study compared civic engagement behaviors among young adults between 2008 and 2010, and divided them into different descriptive groups–or “clusters”–based on their activity and engagement. As the study illustrates,

    Consider the Broadly Engaged and Civically Alienated clusters [representing 19% and 16.1%, respectively, of young Americans in 2008]. Almost everyone in the Broadly Engaged cluster voted and many also volunteered, worked with youth in their communities, attended public meetings or worked with neighbors to address community problems. Most had at least some college education and 70.6% were White. Meanwhile, the Civically Alienated group did not vote, volunteer, belong to any groups or otherwise participate in local civil society. A majority held a high school diploma or less, only ten percent were college graduates and a majority were people of color.

    The study shows the dangers of broadly categorizing–in Peter Levine’s words–“the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse generation in American history” as “the youth vote.” But, for those concerned about strengthening civic engagement, the report also reinforces that there are some social indicators–like education, for instance–that are consistently correlated with increased engagement. If we want more civically engaged youth, a focus on civic education in schools is a must.

    One area of hope for this is the recently proposed H.R. 3464, known as the “Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2011.” Introduced by Representatives Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Mike Honda of California, the bill would provide a competitive grant program for civic education programs–especially for underserved schools. Additionally, the act would provide increased data from the NAEP civics and history tests to allow each state to learn more about how its students fare in their civic education. To learn more about the bill, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has an informative endorsement of the bill, and you can follow the bill’s progress at OpenCongress.

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    Featured event: The fate of civic education in a connected world

    On Monday, December 5, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society is hosting a panel to talk about “The Face of Civic Education in a Connected World.” The questions, below, promise a stimulating discussion:

    • What’s the problem? Doesn’t everyone agree that civic education is important? Is civic education being squeezed out in schools, either because of the demands of subject testing or the desire to avoid political controversy?
    • Does the connectedness of social media support or impair the sorts of connections that lead to active citizenship?
    • Every tertiary institution wants to be a “global university.” What, if any, are the civic responsibilities of a global institution? What civic values are transnational? Should American students learn the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
    • What about civic education outside of school?
    • Does civic education include instruction in civic activism?
    • With connectedness come instantaneity and constant interruptions. Is it even possible to maintain anyone’s attention on understanding anything as subtle as the complexities of representative government?

    The event also draws attention to Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, which we have discussed before, and one of the panel’s participants–CIRCLE‘s Peter Levine–should also be familiar to followers of the Program. If you’re in the Boston area, we encourage you to attend the discussion–and tell us how it is!

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