The Role of Civic Education

The Role of Civic Education
I. Introduction
Societies have long had an interest in the ways in which their young are prepared for citizenship and in how they learn to take part in civic life. Today that interest might better be described as a concern-in fact as a growing concern, particularly in democratic societies. There is evidence aplenty that no country, including our own United States, has achieved the level of understanding and acceptance of the rights and responsibilities among the totality of its citizens that is required for the maintenance and improvement of any constitutional democracy.
In the past decade we have witnessed dramatic demands for freedom on the part of peoples from Asia to Africa and from Central and Eastern Europe to Latin America. And as we have seen one totalitarian or authoritarian regime after another toppled and fledgling democratic governments replace them, we may have become too optimistic about the future of democracy. We also may have become too complacent, too sure of democracy's robustness or of its long term viability. History, however, teaches us that few countries have sustained democratic governments for prolonged periods, a lesson which we as Americans are sometimes inclined to forget. Americans, of course, should take pride and confidence from the fact that they live in the world's oldest constitutional democracy and that the philosophical foundations underlying their political institutions serve as a model for aspiring peoples around the world. The "shot heard 'round the world" two centuries ago at the opening of the American Revolution continues to resound today, and it should remind Americans that free institutions are among humanity's highest achievements and worthy of their full energies and earnest devotion to preserve.

Americans also should realize that civic education is essential to sustain our constitutional democracy. The habits of the mind, as well as "habits of the heart," the dispositions that inform the democratic ethos, are not inherited. As Alexis de Toqueville pointed out, each new generation is a new people that must acquire the knowledge, learn the skills, and develop the dispositions or traits of private and public character that undergird a constitutional democracy. Those dispositions must be fostered and nurtured by word and study and by the power of example. Democracy is not a "machine that would go of itself," but must be consciously reproduced, one generation after another.

Civic education, therefore, is-or should be-a prime concern. There is no more important task than the development of an informed, effective, and responsible citizenry. Democracies are sustained by citizens who have the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Absent a reasoned commitment on the part of its citizens to the fundamental values and principles of democracy, a free and open society cannot succeed. It is imperative, therefore, that educators, policymakers, and members of civil society make the case and ask for the support of civic education from all segments of society and from the widest range of institutions and governments.

It is relatively easy for a society to produce technically competent people. But the kind of society Americans want to live in and the kind of government they want to have requires effort and commitment on the part of its citizens. Americans want a society and a government


in which human rights are respected

in which the individual's dignity and worth are acknowledged

in which the rule of law is observed

in which people willingly fulfill their responsibilities, and

in which the common good is the concern of all.
Making that kind of society, that kind of government a reality is the most important challenge Americans face and the most important work they could undertake.



II.What is civic education?
Civic Education in a democracy is education in self government. Democratic self government means that citizens are actively involved in their own governance; they do not just passively accept the dictums of others or acquiesce to the demands of others. As Aristotle put it in his Politics (c 340 BC), "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost." In other words, the ideals of democracy are most completely realized when every member of the political community shares in its governance. Members of the political community are its citizens, hence citizenship in a democracy is membership in the body politic. Membership implies participation, but not participation for participation's sake. Citizen participation