March 15, 2016 by

What Does Excellent Civic Education Look Like?

By Peter Levine, Educational Leadership author

Educational Leadership: The Question Each Citizen Must AskKindergartners in Lowell, Massachusetts, create a class constitution, with help from a program called Discovering Justice, by discussing rules that would make their classroom “a safe and peaceful place in which to work and play.” Fifth graders work together to address problems beyond their classroom: They assess their neighborhood, choose issues to tackle, investigate each issue, and establish an action plan.

Similarly, high school students, using a “historic guide” created by The National Issues Forums Institute, have envisioned themselves as decision makers during the difficult spring of 1787 and discussed together how the United States should move forward as a new nation. And students participating in the Deliberating in a Democracy Program—a partnership among Street Law, Inc., Constitutional Rights Foundation, and Constitutional Rights Foundation-Chicago—discuss current controversies with their peers, including fellow students in post-communist countries with whom they videoconference.

These examples—ranging across grade levels and involving topics from early American history to classroom climate—exemplify excellent civic education. In my March 2016 Educational Leadership article, “The Question Each Citizen Must Ask,” I explain why civic education should involve these kinds of activities. A citizen’s fundamental responsibility is to ask, “What should we do?” To answer that question well requires deliberating with other people, actually taking collaborative action, and building relationships with fellow citizens. Learning those skills and habits is the main purpose of civic education.

My EL article gives more examples of practices that meet this standard and offers suggestions for how to educate all children for citizenship.

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Peter Levine is Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Service and Associate Dean for Research in the Tisch College at Tufts University in Massachusetts.