The Body PoliticThe Body Politic Archive

Raising the Bar for Civic Education

A new book, “Trendsetting Charter Schools,” edited by AEI’s Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller, makes the case that at a time of dwindling civic engagement and low voter turnout, teaching good citizenship is even more crucial. Rediscovering the civic mission of schooling is not at odds with the broader education reform movement, they explain. Rather, education reform can, and should, advocate for a more holistic vision, one which includes a robust citizenship curriculum that prepares students to be active participants in their communities and country.

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Civic Education Professional Development: The Lay of the Land

Democracy requires well-informed citizens, with the habits and mind-set required to maintain a free and self-governing society. Teachers, in turn, are key to establishing those habits of heart and mind on which democracies rely. As such, teachers benefit from exposure to professional development (PD) opportunities that refresh and augment their knowledge and classroom skills in the area of civics.

But education officials and policymakers face a host of competing priorities, and support for professional development in civics has has been limited. One crucial consequence is the lack of research regarding current civics PD programs. Accordingly, the AEI Program on American Citizenship set out to survey the providers of civics PD, delving into their purposes, methods, and views to create a first-ever overview of PD in civics.

This study revolves around an essential question: what is the nature and range of PD for secondary civics teachers in the United States? Our aim is to reveal a portrait of current practice through a combination of interviewing and surveying current civics PD providers and through reviewing the current literature on high-quality PD.

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Frederick Douglass on Lincoln and Emancipation

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass had been fiercely critical of Lincoln. But after Lincoln’s death, Douglass spoke appreciatively of Lincoln, praising his statesmanship in preserving the Union and emancipating slaves.

In this video, Diana Schaub, professor of political science at Loyola University-Maryland and Lucas Morel, professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, discuss in particular the April 14, 1876 speech Douglass delivered on the occasion of the dedication of the Freedmen’s Monument, which was the nation’s first statue of the slain president. Arguing that Lincoln had two goals in the recently ended war–to preserve the Union, and to emancipate the slaves–Douglass said that “but for the former, [Lincoln] could not do that latter.”

As Professor Morel notes, Frederick Douglass made a larger point to his audience and the nation about Lincoln’s statesmanship: Douglass used his oration to educate not just whites but blacks in terms of how politics could, and should, be done in a noble way.

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Celebrating Lincoln, Black History Month, and Our Constitutional History

February fittingly combines a celebration of two of America’s greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, with a celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and contributions to the nation. America’s exceptional constitutional history to a large degree has been shaped and refined by its 1st and its 16th presidents, both in how they responded to the question of slavery but also in how they approached the office of the presidency during a tumultuous era.

Until 1971, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 was its own federal holiday. (Now his, and George Washington’s February 22 birthday are publicly observed on President’s Day, the third Monday in February). In honor of Lincoln’s 206th birthday, take a look at the links below to learn more about the continued relevancy of Lincoln in the modern world, how Frederick Douglass thought about Lincoln and his role in emancipation, and how America’s Founders dealt with the slavery controversy while crafting the Constitution.

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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.

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David Brooks on Walter Berns “Making Patriots”

Reviewing the late Walter Berns’s 2001 book, “Making Patriots” in the May 21, 2001 issue of the Weekly Standard, David Brooks commented that Berns wrestled with the problems of patriotism with wisdom and a penetrating insight. In examining and answering these challenges, Walter Berns, Brooks noted, “has done his part to help us make patriots.”

This is a vital task, Brooks notes, because “Americans still love their country, but schools no longer set out to inculcate patriotism as they once did. Indeed, it’s not just schools. Across our society, patriotism is tongue-tied, and nationalism, after all the horrors of the twentieth century, is suspect. These days, in short, patriotism is a problem. Most people just find it easiest to avoid the whole issue. They may stand at the playing of the national anthem, and they may tear up during the Olympics, but they store their patriotic emotions in the attic of their hearts. “

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Walter Berns, 1919-2015

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague Walter Berns, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. He was a distinguished scholar, a true patriot, and a deeply impressive man. As his former student, and then friend and colleague, Jeremy Rabkin, wrote introducing the website devoted to Bern’s work :

Walter Berns was a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s. Like a number of Strauss students of that era—notably, Martin Diamond, Harry Jaffa, and Herbert Storing—his work sought to apply the perspective of classical political philosophy to the study of American government and politics.

Almost all of Berns’ important publications reflect his appreciation of the classical view that “government” and “society” cannot be sharply separated. Both are closely related aspects of a political community’s way of life. Much of his writing reflects the classical view that democracy depends on the character of the citizens, so their opinions and beliefs, their personal habits and degree of self-discipline—in a word, their virtues—will matter to the prospects of democratic government.

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No Person is Born Already in Love with his Country, AP Poll Agrees

The seemingly stark political landscape has caused a welcome budding of interest in the role that long-neglected notions of civics and civic education courses play in the nation’s short- and long-term health. But there’s a far way yet to go: the informed attachment to country that civics education is supposed to nurture is an idea still very much banished to wandering in the desert.

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Immigration and Representation

In the Weekly Standard, Program director Gary Schmitt and Rebecca Burgess write that in the debate over President Obama’s grant of amnesty to four or five million illegal immigrants, and concerns about the separation of powers, a vital principle of representative government has gone unremarked upon: Knitted to the issue is the question of the […]

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Physician, Heal Thyself: Doctors in a Pluralist Democracy

Today’s physicians are a beleaguered bunch. They find themselves attempting to satisfy multiple conflicting demands, morally adrift, spiritually depleted, and politically powerless. They have become trapped in a vice, squeezed between the grips of the market and government, with no apparent escape. Public trust in US physicians is at an historic nadir, with the United States ranking 24th among 30 industrialized nations, ahead only of Chile, Bulgaria, Russia, and Poland. Morale is at an all-time low. Many are leaving the practice. Only a minority would recommend that their children become physicians.

Yet all this is happening at a time when medical care occupies a proportion of the economy that exceeds even defense, and when physicians’ technical powers and skills have never been greater. Smallpox has been eradicated. Breast cancer has become a chronic disease. Robots perform surgery. Life expectancy in the developed world is approaching biblical standards. Medicine seems so powerful.

And medicine’s cultural reach is as broad as it is deep. Medicine now colors nearly everything about our lives.

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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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