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ICYMI: A Debate over Executive Power: Obama’s Immigration Decision

Did President Obama’s executive order on immigration exceed his constitutional authority? On Monday, January 12, AEI scholar Gary Schmitt took up the question with Ross Douthat and William Galston. The White House has claimed prosecutorial discretion as the basis for its decision, while critics, especially members of Congress, argue that the president is ignoring his core executive function of enforcing existing laws. Obama’s exercise of discretion raises the question of whether this is a reasonable interpretation of his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute laws or a violation of that duty.


AEI Report: Educating for Liberty? The Shortcomings of Contemporary Civic Education Theories

Education for Liberty?
The Shortcomings of Contemporary Civic Education Theories
By Rita Koganzon
(August 6, 2012) 

It is widely accepted that some form of civic education is necessary to sustain America’s liberal-democratic regime and the freedoms Americans enjoy. However, when we get to specifics about what a civic education should entail, this easy consensus falls away. As civic theorist and Brookings Institution scholar William Galston has observed, “Public education . . . is close to the heart of Americans’ understanding of democracy, and debates about education are bound to reflect competing and evolving conceptions of what democracy requires.”

Yet, it was not until the late 1980s that academic political theorists truly entered into the dispute over civic education. When they did—beginning with Amy Gutmann’s 1987 book Democratic Education—it was in light of two important developments in American political life: the precipitous decline in political participation after the 1960s and the simultaneous rise of ‘culture war’ politics. These developments alarmed political scientists in general, but some political theorists found the increasingly visible and vocal social conservatism of the Right during the Reagan Administration particularly threatening to the Rawlsian vision of a just—redistributive, publically secular, and pluralistic—society. In response, they turned to public schools in the hope that they could produce politically engaged citizens committed to liberal democracy.

Download Full Report as PDF


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!


Making voting mandatory?

Over the weekend, William Galston of the Brookings Institution penned a conversation-starting op-ed in the New York Times.

The gist of the thought experiment is this: What would happen if we in the United States made voting mandatory–like jury duty? Australia, along with 30 other countries, has mandatory voting laws, and this has caused voting turnout-rates to stabilize at around 95 percent.

Galston offers three reasons for enacting such a law: 1) It would create stronger citizens, who recognize that citizenship comes with both rights and duties; 2) it would provide representation for those citizens who currently vote at disproportionate levels, such as those with lower incomes and education levels; and 3) it would work to negate the increasing polarization of politics by catering to the middle:

Imagine our politics with laws and civic norms that yield near-universal voting. Campaigns could devote far less money to costly, labor-intensive get-out-the-vote efforts. Media gurus wouldn’t have the same incentive to drive down turnout with negative advertising. Candidates would know that they must do more than mobilize their bases with red-meat rhetoric on hot-button issues. Such a system would improve not only electoral politics but also the legislative process. Rather than focusing on symbolic gestures whose major purpose is to agitate partisans, Congress might actually roll up its sleeves and tackle the serious, complex issues it ignores.


We don’t know what the outcome would be. But one thing is clear: If we do nothing and allow a politics of passion to define the bounds of the electorate, as it has for much of the last four decades, the prospect for a less polarized, more effective political system that enjoys the trust and confidence of the people is not bright.

It’s an interesting and unconventional argument, but one worthy of thought and discussion. How do we increase and strengthen Americans’ civic responsibilities?


November Book of the Month

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell
Simon & Schuster
(October 2010)

The latest from Harvard academic Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, the landmark study of American civil society. Along with his co-author and fellow political scientist David Campbell, Putnam explores the state of religion in the United States and its contribution to civic life. Among the authors’ striking findings: People of faith are better citizens and better neighbors; the U.S. is more diverse and devout than other nations; and a majority of religious Americans agree that non-believers can be saved or go to heaven.

How can America be devout, diverse, and tolerant? “America manages to be both religiously diverse and religiously devout because it is difficult to damn those you know and love,” Putnam and Campbell conclude. This is “America’s grace.”

The book has won raves from no less than the New York Times, William Galston, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, and Peter Steinfels.


Rick Hess Straight Up: Making Civics Count

In this morning’s edition of “Rick Hess Straight Up” over at Education Week, AEI scholar Rick Hess hopes that the momentum from the election will focus much needed attention on civic education in our nation. “Students,” Hess notes, “are remarkably unprepared for citizenship.”


AEI event watch

Here are some upcoming AEI events in the Washington, D.C. area that might be of interest to our citizenship readers. Hope to see you there!

  •  “The Story of ain’t: America and its language.”
  • “Have we become a nation of takers?” Debate between Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI, and William A. Galston, the Brookings Institution.
  • “What will the 2012 election mean for education?”
  •

    New report: Educating for Liberty?

    In the second in a series of policy briefs by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, Rita Koganzon, a graduate student in government at Harvard University, takes a look at some of the shortcomings of contemporary civic education theories.


    Event recap: Whither American Education?

    Missed Friday’s “Whither American Education?” conference at American University? Here are some highlights from the event.


    Whither American Education?

    For those in the D.C. area, don’t miss this Friday’s school reform conference at American University, “Whither American Education?” Hosted by the University’s Political Theory Institute, the all-day conference will discuss “contemporary school reforms, our deepest educational values, and the direction of American education” and will feature experts on school reform from around the country.


    Making Civics Count

    Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation
    Edited by David E. Campbell, Meira Levinson, and Frederick M. Hess
    Harvard Education Press, 2012

    “By nearly every measure, Americans are less engaged in their communities and political activity than generations past.” So write the editors of this volume, who survey the current practices and history of citizenship education in the United States.

    They argue that the current period of “creative destruction”—when schools are closing and opening in response to reform mandates—is an ideal time to take an in-depth look at how successful strategies and programs promote civic education and good citizenship.

    Making Civics Count offers research-based insights into what diverse students and teachers know and do as civic actors, and proposes a blueprint for civic education for a new generation that is both practical and visionary.


    Are entitlements corrupting us?

    Writing in The Wall Street Journal‘s “Saturday Essay,” AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt raises the question of what will happen to the American character as the United States increasingly becomes “a nation of takers.”


    Register now: Civics 2.0, Citizenship Education for a New Generation

    Citizenship education is lacking in public and private schools: 75 percent of high school seniors cannot name a power granted to Congress by the Constitution, fewer than half of eighth graders know the purpose of the Bill of Rights, and less than a quarter of young Americans regularly vote, according to a recent survey released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In addition, civic dialogue is becoming ever more polarized, while public service is openly disdained by many. Previous school reforms have focused on graduation rates and reading and math scores, neglecting education about citizenship and resulting in a lack of basic knowledge about issues at the core of what has made America great.

    School reformers are themselves deeply engaged in powerful civic and political action: transforming American educational policy and practice. This presents an opportunity to ensure that America’s schools also focus—as they once did—on forging engaged, empowered citizens. Sponsored by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, Frederick M. Hess, AEI’s director of education policy studies; Meira Levinson, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and David E. Campbell, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, have commissioned leading researchers and scholars to explore the issues of citizenship and schooling by looking at domestic and international data, teacher training, and schools and classrooms. The research presented at this AEI event will illuminate how America’s schools can renew their focus on forging engaged and empowered citizens.


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