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The Need for Civic Education

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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Testing civics

At Education Week, Nora Fleming explores the results of CIRCLE’s recent report examining the civics-related standards, assessments, and course requirements of all 50 states. (We covered the release of the report here.) After noting that the report found that very few states test civics in a meaningful way, Fleming considers what the next steps are for educators.

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Redefining civic knowledge?

We have been following with great interest the release of CIRCLE’s new report that examines the standards, course requirements, and mandatory assessments related to civic education in each of the 50 states.

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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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New CIRCLE research confirms: civic education lacking in most states

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has just released a report that analyzes the standards, course requirements, and mandatory assessments relevant to civic education in all 50 states.

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What’s happening in the citizenship world?

We’ve not had a roundup of news bits from the citizenship world in a while, so here are some recent items that we found interesting:

  • According to the Pew Research Center, youth engagement with politics is down, compared to this time in the 2008 presidential election cycle.
  • The good news, though, is in the “Power of the Ask”.
  • In September, the Library of Congress unveiled the new Congress.gov, to replace the old THOMAS database.
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The Tocquevillean moment

In the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Wilfred McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, has an essay about “the Tocquevillean moment…and ours.” This moment, McClay writes, is “when social change arrives at a crossroads, and awaits further direction. [... It] involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.”

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A conversation with Sandra Day O’Connor

In Sunday’s issue of Parade Magazine, David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has a “candid conversation” with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Since leaving the Court, O’Connor has focused much of her attention on promoting civic education through her organization iCivics, about which she speaks with Gergen.

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Civics in an election year

The election season reminds us of the primacy of American self-government. As both candidates have noted, the choice between them ultimately lies with the American people, whose duty it is to inform themselves about the candidates’ different positions and policies, to deliberate upon them, and to cast their vote. Their decision will shape at least the next four years in American politics. Yet, as important as these responsibilities of citizenship are, they are too often neglected in our schools.

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Chicago’s Global Citizenship Initiative


Though much attention is now being paid to the Chicago teachers strike (AEI’s Rick Hess has some good thoughts on that here and here), there’s another education initiative in Chicago’s schools worth mentioning: a pilot program to teach a yearlong civic-learning curriculum to seniors in fifteen of the city’s schools.

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“That’s not democracy.”

With all the recent emphasis on using college as a “crucible moment” to teach students to become civically engaged, it becomes easy to forget that many citizens, whose engagement should also be valued, do not participate in higher education. A recent report by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) looks at the civic engagement of this population.

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Civic engagement–or activism?

Over at The Chronicle for Higher Education‘s “The Conversation” blog, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, takes aim at partisan activity in the college classroom. Four years ago, Wood argued against the practice of some colleges awarding class credit to students who volunteered on a presidential campaign, worrying that “when the distinction between academic study and political activism is lowered, political activism tends to dominate, and real education is thrust aside.”

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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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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.

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Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education

Writing for CNN’s “Schools of Thought” blog last week, Donna Krache discussed her meeting with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in which they talked about the former justice’s work promoting civic education.

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Government by the people? Not without civic education

Writing earlier this week in the Christian Science Monitor, Scott Warren (Generation Citizen), Iris Chen (I Have a Dream Foundation), and Eric Schwarz (Citizen Schools) argue that neither President Obama nor presidential candidate Mitt Romney are focusing enough attention on the educational problem that poses the greatest threat to American democracy: the decline of civic education in our schools.

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Summer Institute of Civic Studies

The fourth annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is in its second and final week, but it’s not too late to start following along with the class’s reading syllabus, here.

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Seeking civic education

Writing in this morning’s Heartlander–the newspaper of the Heartland Institute–Ashley Bateman takes a look at the current state of civic education and what some organizations are doing to improve it.

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Lawyers and civic education

Writing in The Atlantic, Randall T. Shepard, a former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, argues that the legal profession has an important role to play in strengthening the civic education and engagement of the general public.

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In search of a common cause

Over at Time, Joe Klein reports on the people he has met and spoken with on his recent third-annual U.S. road trip. Many of these people are military veterans who expressed to Klein their increasing concern that a gap between those who have served the country and those who haven’t is widening, and that as a result the country itself is becoming more bifurcated.

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