Civic education involves the knowledge, skills, and will or character needed to participate in democracy. It teaches citizens that political change is possible but must include everyone equally.
This book demonstrates that educators, governmental institutions, new technologies, and interest groups can help shape an informed public. It aims to revitalize the civics curriculum and raise civic engagement in a democracy.
While the national education goals, academic standards, and curricula of many states extol the importance of civic learning, they should be given more sustained attention in schools. This neglect stems partly from the false assumption that knowledge and skills for citizenship emerge naturally as byproducts of other subjects or as a result of the process of schooling itself.
Formal classroom instruction should include the study of government and democracy, history, economics, law, and the arts in ways that provoke analysis. Such education helps citizens understand how their political and economic systems work and why they work as they do. It helps them to see the interdependence of all countries on one another.
In addition, schools should encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities related to civic learning. These opportunities can help them become accustomed to civic life habits, which enable citizens to work together and solve complex problems.
The intellectual skills that good civic education fosters are sometimes called “critical thinking” skills. They include identifying and describing, explaining and analyzing, evaluating, taking, and defending positions on civic issues.
Teachers must be trained to understand the role of civics in students’ learning and be willing to devote time and effort to incorporating civics into all subjects. Students at all grades should profit from studying a variety of exemplary citizens, both past and present; the use of age-appropriate historical narratives, biographies, autobiographies, and current media accounts should be encouraged.
Democracies cannot succeed without a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to sustain them. An excellent civic education book must develop all of these. But the most essential requirement is a reasoned commitment on the part of citizens to the fundamental values and principles of democracy.
The goal of civic education is not only to raise citizens’ awareness of their responsibilities but also to foster attitudes of responsible participation. These attitudes are rooted in the values of democracy, which include respect for human rights and a commitment to the ideals of liberty and equality.
This means teaching students that democratic self-government is most fully achieved when all citizens participate in their political community to the fullest extent possible. That entails voting, seeking or serving in school and public office, monitoring the adherence of political leaders and institutions to constitutional principles, and performing public service.
Civic education should involve classroom instruction, discussion of current events and media literacy skills, and co-curricular activities allied to civic education, such as mock elections, simulated legislative hearings, and service learning. Research shows that such programs can help promote civic involvement and attitudes.
In democracies, the ideals of freedom and equality are most fully realized when citizens participate in the government of their communities. Democracies cannot succeed, however, without a reasoned commitment by citizens to the fundamental values and principles that bind their societies together.
Civic education is the task of fostering the qualities of mind and heart that sustain a constitutional democracy. These include the recognition of public and private responsibilities, the belief that politics is a noble calling and civil society an honorable endeavor, the understanding that civic participation involves making personal sacrifices for the public good, and the disposition to engage in civic discourse with others and assume leadership roles when appropriate.
The classroom instruction that promotes civic readiness includes direct teaching about history, economics, government, and law in ways that encourage critical thinking and analysis. It also focuses on developing the civic character traits of respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, and tolerance.
In a democracy, citizens must have the knowledge, skills, and will to empathize with their fellow citizens. This entails recognizing others’ interests as a moral obligation and requires sharing power and resources.
To this end, civic education should be highly experiential and closely linked to vocational education. The pedagogical approach of service learning seems particularly promising.
Moreover, it should address collective action problems in polycentric ways, from the local to the global. This view is rooted in the work of others, who emphasize that individuals are citizens of multiple, overlapping, and nested communities, from neighborhood and family to society and the world. It also echoes the notion of “collective efficacy”, emphasizing that governments and communities function best when people have social networks to work.