"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saving the Republic

From today's Washington Post op-ed by Sandra Day O'Connor and Roy Romer:
A healthy democracy depends on the participation of citizens, and that participation is learned behavior; it doesn't just happen. As the 2003 report "The Civic Mission of Schools" noted: "Individuals do not automatically become free and responsible citizens, but must be educated for citizenship." That means civic learning -- educating students for democracy -- needs to be on par with other academic subjects.

This is not a new idea. Our first public schools saw education for citizenship as a core part of their mission. Eighty years ago, John Dewey said, "Democracy needs to be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife."

But in recent years, civic learning has been pushed aside. Until the 1960s, three courses in civics and government were common in American high schools, and two of them ("civics" and "problems of democracy") explored the role of citizens and encouraged students to discuss current issues. Today those courses are very rare.

What remains is a course on "American government" that usually spends little time on how people can -- and why they should -- participate. The effect of reduced civic learning on civic life is not theoretical. Research shows that the better people understand our history and system of government, the more likely they are to vote and participate in the civic life.

We need more and better classes to impart the knowledge of government, history, law and current events that students need to understand and participate in a democratic republic. And we also know that much effective civic learning takes place beyond the classroom -- in extracurricular activity, service work that is connected to class work, and other ways students experience civic life.

Preserving our democracy should be reason enough to promote civic learning. But there are other benefits. Understanding society and how we relate to each other fosters the attitudes essential for success in college, work and communities; it enhances student learning in other subjects. . . .


  1. Anonymous9:01 PM

    With all due respect -- rubbish. The common failure to participate in the civic process stems not from a failure to understand it, rather we understand it too well. Politics is rife with crooks, liars and special interests. Who can blame anyone for focusing on what little we can influence in our lives: family, jobs, neighborhood and ignoring, as much as possible, the idiots in the state capital and Washington, DC

  2. Anonymous1:03 AM

    I agree and disagree with whomever commented above. I'm 14 years old, and although I try to keep up with polotics, it's hard, because I don't know what they're talking about. If History teachers took time out of the class to help explain this to students I think it would help them develop an independent opinion on what they think would be a good policy for the government. Most teenagers form their opinions based solely on what their parents believe in. It's not even that we need to be learning about the history of our goverment, I think we need to learn about what's going on in the present. If I asked around I'm sure maybe 1 or 2 of my peers would know that Bush was just issued a censure, that South Dakota just made abortion illegal. I think there should be class discussions on this and students should be required to write to the editors with their opinions. Help them form a mind of their own. And I believe everyone will benefit from it.