we need new civics texts

I’m working ineffectively on lots of separate projects, including trying

to fix the NACE Website so that it works for

older Web browsers. In between things, I’ve been writing a proposal for

a new kind of high school civics textbook. If I ever found a publisher

interested in it, I’d have to shelve a lot of other writing projects,

but it would be worthwhile.

The leading texts for high school government classes are basically political

science primers written at the tenth- or twelfth-grade level. They describe

the mechanics of the federal government as if from a distance, without

explaining how an ordinary citizen can play important roles in community

affairs, without addressing complex ethical and moral questions; without

helping students to reason about contemporary issues, and without describing

civic and political institutions other than the federal government (which

is remote from students’ lives).

Because textbooks deal mainly with the structure of the national government,

government classes have little connection to students’ direct experience

of civic and political issues, which they gain through community service,

membership in groups outside the school, and extracurricular participation.

Meanwhile, students’ practical experiences are largely separate from their

academic work, despite evidence that community service best encourages

civic development when it is combined with learning in the classroom.

In short, there is a profound need for a textbook that combines analysis

of political institutions; guidance about how to think about complex public

issues at all levels from the school to the world; a thorough and challenging

treatment of ethics; and practical instructions for meaningful community

service projects.