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What Is Citizenship?

Citizenship lessons from the vault

We recently came across this speech by the education reformer and Massachusetts state senator Horace Mann (1796–1859) and just had to share. Given in celebration of Independence Day in 1842, Mann discusses the need to think seriously about the perpetuation of our political institutions (a theme Abraham Lincoln had given attention to in his 1838 Lyceum Address) and the role that a strong culture of civic education plays in doing so. We thought it especially appropriate to share now, as it relates to the recent release of our latest case study looking at civic education and school culture in charter schools.

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Renewing the social compact

Yesterday, Massachusetts state Senator Richard T. Moore took to the opinion pages to promote a new civic education report in Massachusetts by the Special Commission on Civic Engagement and Learning: “Renewing the Social Compact.” As Moore writes, “if our government, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,’ as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, we, the people, need to learn about how our government works, understanding our role as citizens in our own government, and how to become civically engaged. As citizens of our town, state, and country, we have more to do than just voting.”

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Civics in the nation’s capital?

According to the Washington Post, a new proposal by the Washington DC State Board of Education would, among other things, eliminate the current requirement that students take a course in American government in order to graduate from high school. Instead, students would be required to take courses in world history (1 unit), United States history (1 unit), and Washington, DC history (0.5) units, and then would have the choice to fill their remaining 1.5 units of social studies with classes such as economics, financial literacy, global studies, or government/civics.

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ROTC Returns to CUNY

As we noted in December, ROTC is making a comeback at the City University of New York (CUNY) school system. York College is the first of the system’s colleges to welcome ROTC back after its 40-year hiatus, but programs are currently planned for other CUNY campuses at Medgar Evers College, the City College of New York, and the College of Staten Island.

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President Obama’s Second Inaugural

Yesterday, President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address—and the nation’s 57th. While much has been written on the politics of the speech, there are also some good citizenship themes in it that are worth pointing out.

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The European Year of Citizens

This year is the “Year of Citizens” for the European Union, which officially kicked off the year-long focus this past week in Dublin, Ireland. Viviane Reding, a politician from Luxembourg and the vice-president of the European Commission, told her audience in Dublin’s City Hall that the vast majority of EU citizens—86 percent—don’t know what their rights as EU citizens are, and that almost 70 percent don’t believe that their voices are being heard. This year’s focus on citizenship is, she says, an effort to change that.

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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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Suffering fools gladly

In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks writes about “suffering fools gladly,” noting that politeness and manners “end up shaping the people we are within.” Brooks suggests that civility is an important aspect of a strong civil society—a point that was not lost on George Washington, for example, who made a point to conform himself to his “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company.”

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A path to citizenship

Writing in The Atlantic, Eric Liu, a former Clinton speechwriter and creator of Citizen University, warns that with all the discussion that’s sure to come about immigration reform, we must be careful not to neglect discussing the destination: citizenship itself.  “What is this thing that needs to be earned?” he asks. “What, besides a bundle of rights, does the status entail and require? What do longstanding citizens take for granted and what is asked of brand-new Americans?”

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Volunteer with We the People competition

The Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier is looking for volunteers to help with the 2013 Virginia We the People competition. Sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, We the People is a national program for middle and high school students to compete in simulated congressional hearings about Constitutional issues.

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Volunteering rate reaches five-year high

According to the new “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report issued yesterday by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), Americans volunteered in 2011 at significantly higher levels than in 2010, with the national volunteer rate reaching a five-year high.

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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 Warrior’s Heart

At the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) website, Alice Murphy interviews Eric Greitens, author of the recently-released book The Warrior’s Heart: Becoming a Man of Compassion and Courage. The book is an adaptation of Greiten’s previous book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, but is aimed specifically at younger readers in an attempt to equip them with the drive and resources to begin a life of volunteering and civic engagement even now as teens and young adults.

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The crisis of American self-government

In the Wall Street Journal‘s weekend interview, Sohrab Ahmari sat down with Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, to discuss the “crisis of American self-government.” This year marks Mansfield’s fiftieth year teaching politics and political theory at Harvard, where he has authored such books on government and democracy as Spirit of Liberalism (1978), Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (1993), America’s Constitutional Soul (1993), and a new translation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (2000).

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Economists and Res Publica

In the third in a series of policy briefs by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, Steven E. Rhoads, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and author of The Economist’s View of the World: Government, Markets and Public Policy, explores the virtues and limits of thinking like an economist when it comes to matters of citizenship.

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The meaning of Thanksgiving

This Thursday, families across the nation will gather together at the table to give thanks for the things we have been given. Thanksgiving Day is a venerable and much beloved holiday. In colonial times, it was primarily a harvest feast in which the colonists offered thanks for a good harvest, sometimes by feasting, sometimes by fasting. The first national day of Thanksgiving was declared by the Continental Congress in November 1777, following the Colonial victories over British General John Burgoyne in the Battles of Saratoga. Twelves years later, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation under the new Constitution, proclaiming a day to be devoted to “public thanksgiving and prayer.” Thanksgiving did not become an annual tradition, though, until Abraham Lincoln set aside a day of thanks in 1863 to celebrate the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Since then, every American president has followed suit and given a Thanksgiving proclamation.

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The case for citizen engagement

Writing before the election at NonprofitCommunity.com, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and author of the forthcoming book Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table, makes the case for more direct citizen involvement in governing decisions. Worried that part of the cause of our current political dysfunction is a hyper-partisan form of politics, Lukensmeyer believes that citizens themselves can—and should—come together and “make the important decisions that need to be made.”

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Post election analysis

We’ll leave the real post election analysis to the experts, but do want to point out just how incredible the act of voting is. Writing yesterday morning in The American after waiting in line in the cold to vote, AEI’s Michael R. Strain poses the excellent question: “What in the history of mankind would make you think that such a thing was possible?”

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Frederick Douglass on the importance of voting

Today, as voters across the country stand in long lines to perform their civic duty and cast their votes, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of why voting should be so important to Americans. In 1865, Frederick Douglass addressed the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston and provided a robust defense of black Americans’ desire to vote. His words are worth reading again today.

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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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