The Body PoliticThe Body Politic Archive

Getting Civics Right

Citizenship education among American youth ought to be studied more systematically, more thoroughly, and with greater resources than it is at present. With that premise, the objective of this report is to outline what a full-fledged study of civic education among US high school students would require.

The particular focus in this report is on research that can inform policymakers about what public policies affect the quality of civic education. This specific focus is warranted because, to date, civic education receives far more lip service than meaningful attention within the education policy community…Simply put, there is much we do not know about the consequences of policies regarding civics. Does including civics among graduation requirements affect young people’s civic knowledge? Does the inclusion of civics among tested subjects in high-stakes exams help or hinder civic education? Do charter or magnet schools provide qualitatively different—whether better or worse—civic education than traditional public schools? These are the types of basic questions that we do not yet know how to answer.

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2014 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: The Constitution as Political Theory

ICYMI: Is the Constitution more than America’s primary legal document? The idea of a plan of government being contained in a written document is so taken for granted that it is rarely noted and seldom seen as an innovation, argued Jim Ceaser of the University of Virginia during the 2014 annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture. Yet, noted Ceaser, during the founding era, the development of a written constitution was counted as a major innovation of great theoretical import.
Given the centrality of public consent at the time, only by accessing a written text could Americans — assembled in different places at different times — exercise their consent. Nonetheless, continued Ceaser, the significance of a written constitution goes beyond this mere requirement: The Constitution assumed the highest authority because the government’s authority derived from it.

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America’s Military Profession: Creating Hectors, not Achilles

America’s Military Profession: Creating Hectors, not Achilles
By Aaron MacLean
(October 2014)

The military provides a clear benefit to the American polity: it is the country’s federal mechanism for the common defense. But what is its relationship to America’s civic culture? Do the professionals the military molds and employs in the nation’s wars affect the civic culture positively, as models of necessary virtues and keepers of specialized professional knowledge necessary to a healthy civic life? Or do they affect the culture negatively, as damaged and occasionally dangerous men perverted by violence?

…A regular corollary of polities with endemic political instability is not only poverty but also a high rate of underemployed young men. Young men tend to be not only aggressive but also honor seeking—that is, they desire the recognition of society. The military provides a well-designed path to that recognition, and works to return these young people back to society with their aggressive instincts melded with a sense of outward-focused duty. The US military makes Hectors, and works to keep Achilles off the streets.

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Putting civics to the test: The impact of state-level civics assessments on civic knowledge

In sharp contrast to the large literature on assessments’ effects regarding math and reading, very few studies have examined what effect, if any, statewide assessments in civics and related subjects have on civic education. And to the extent that there has been any research on state-level policies regarding civic education—including but not limited to assessments—these studies have concluded that these policies have no discernible effect on civic attitudes and behavior.[5] Yet these studies are few, so notwithstanding their null findings, this paper proceeds from the premise that the issue is not yet settled and thus poses the question anew: do civics assessments matter for civic education?

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ICYMI: ‘Brothers Forever’: A book forum and Memorial Day discussion featuring General John Allen (ret.)

Memorial Day challenges the American people to ask whether the sacrifices made in defense of the country entail any correlating duty on their part. On Thursday, May 22, 2014,  scholars gathered with author Tom Sileo and General John Allen, USMC (Ret.), at AEI to discuss this question in the context of “Brothers Forever,” a book […]

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The Practice of Science in a Democratic Society

The Practice of Science in a Democratic Society
By Austin L. Hughes
(March 2014)

René Descartes, one of the founding figures of modern science, predicted that the new mechanistic approach to understanding the natural world would yield great benefits for humanity, particularly with regard to improving health and longevity. For this reason, Descartes argued that public funds should be used to support scientific research. Descartes proved to be prophetic on both counts. The benefits of science have far exceeded anything Descartes could have imagined, and the public funding of science has become an accepted role of government in every industrially advanced nation. The result has been the creation of a new profession—that of scientist—unknown to Descartes and his contemporaries, whose scientific investigations remained the self-supported avocations of gentlemen of independent means.

The general public and their elected representatives seem to agree that scientific research is an important, even necessary, component of a modern economy. But the scientific profession is not without its contradictions. Government funding of science is justified by the argument that scientific research benefits the public, but modern science has become so technical and specialized that the public are rarely able to appreciate the potential value of the research their taxes fund. Scientific literacy remains low even in the most technologically advanced societies. The fact that science is mysterious to the general public has helped endow its practitioners with an aura of wonder in the popular mind. As a result, scientists have increasingly become accustomed to thinking of themselves as constituting an all-knowing elite that need answer to few or none.

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ICYMI: Transforming Army ROTC with Gen. Jack Keane and Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith

Today, the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) has more than 30,000 cadets enrolled nationwide and some 275 universities hosting full ROTC programs. And with the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, ROTC has been welcomed back on campuses where it once had vibrant programs.

However, as Major General Jefforey A. Smith noted upon taking up his command, the ROTC “program that we have in place today is exactly the same program that I went through between 1980 and 1983 at Ohio State University.” And changing demographics will require the Army to better maximize its limited resources to effectively train cadets and to produce an officer corps that reflects America’s geographic and social diversity.

To discuss how best to move Army ROTC into the future, Major General Smith sat down for a conversation with General Jack Keane, an ROTC graduate and former Army vice chief of staff.

Watch the full video after the jump:

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NEW Policy Brief: Architects and Citizenship

In the latest addition to “The Professions and Civic Culture” series, Williams College professor of art history Michael J. Lewis discusses the idea of “architectural citizenship” and the role architects play in American civic life. According to Lewis, the making of any building is a social act that stakes a claim on finite resources of land and space and that can enhance the value of the buildings around it or diminish it. Only the most solitary and remote building is without implications for society.

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Seven Score and Ten Years Ago

In the Weekly Standard, Program director Gary Schmitt writes on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address:

November 19 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—rightly judged to be the greatest speech in America’s history. And while there have been innumerable books and articles written about the content, language, and rhetorical sophistication of Lincoln’s remarks, far less has been written about why he chose the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, some four and a half months after the battle itself, to deliver the speech he did.

Lincoln had been invited by the organizing committee for the battlefield’s consecration to give, as “Chief Executive of the nation,” “a few appropriate remarks.” But these were to follow the main attraction of the day, a speech by famed orator Edward Everett, former president of Harvard, senator, and governor of Massachusetts. With Everett expected to speak to the assembled crowd for two hours at least, Lincoln could well have chosen to follow Everett with just a few perfunctory lines, assuming what really mattered to the organizers was the president’s attendance, not what he might have to say.

But Lincoln chose a different path. Why?

Read the whole thing to find out.

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New CIRCLE Report on Youth Political and Civic Engagement

Yesterday, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) presented a new report on educating America’s youth for civic and political participation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

The report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement”, written by the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, a multidisciplinary group of scholars convened by CIRCLE. The purpose of this report is to inform Americans about deficiencies in youth civic knowledge and engagement.

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The Shrinking Role of Social Studies in Classrooms

Social studies, long considered a “core subject” in American classrooms, has been cut back in recent decades. Jen Kalaidis, writing in The Atlantic, traces the reduction in social studies classroom time to the No Child Left Behind Act, and argues that a greater emphasis is essential.

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Civic Engagement through Education

Standing in front of a packed audience at the University of Montana School of Law, Sandra Day O’Connor spoke about her continued mission to improve civic education. O’Connor argued that civic education is crucial to sustaining America’s democratic institutions, according to Kaci Felstet of the Montana Kaimin.

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Maintaining the Republic through Civic Learning

On Tuesday, the nation marked the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing in the Sacramento Bee, argues that in order to preserve our democracy, education needs to focus on civic learning. At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin famously remarked […]

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The Effect of Education’s Decline on Civic Culture

In the Wall Street Journal, CUNY professor Jonathan Jacobs argues that American education does not adequately prepare students for responsible civic life, raising questions for the future of American democracy.

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Slavery and the Constitution: An immoral compromise?

On Tuesday evening, AEI’s Program on American Citizenship hosted the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture. Michael Zuckert of the University of Notre Dame spoke on the topic of slavery at the constitutional convention.

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Announcing WalterBerns.org

Tonight, we celebrate the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, which was established by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship to honor Walter’s scholarship on the Constitution and America’s founding principles.

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Awarding the Medal of Honor to Iraq War Servicemembers

The President of the United States has awarded 3,471 Medals of Honor since the award’s inception in 1861, recognizing soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines for risking their life above the call of duty. James Roberts, writing in the Wall Street Journal, laments the fact that not a single living service member has received the Medal of Honor from service in the Iraq War, and provides a remarkable example of valor deserving of recognition.

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Americans Express Record-Low Confidence in Government

Amidst a still-recovering economy and concerns over a possible confrontation with Syria, a new poll by Gallup suggests that Americans have a record low level of confidence in the government. Released on Friday, the survey shows that less than half the public has even a fair amount of confidence in the government’s ability to handle domestic or international matters.

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Civic Leaders Speak Out on the Need for Civic Education

With Constitution Day fast approaching, several civic leaders have taken the opportunity to critically analyze the state of American civic education and stress the need for reform. William H. Sieben, president of the American Board of Trial Advocates, and Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court Justice and creator of iCivics, both argue that improved civic education is critical to the future of our nation.

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The Story Behind the First Public Memorial at Ground Zero

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Americans expressed their grief and condolences in many ways. For four New York architects, the best way to honor the fallen Americans was to create the first public memorial at Ground Zero, writes Elizabeth Greenspan in The Atlantic.

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