civic ed does work

James B. Murphy, a Dartmouth political scientist, has an article

in Education Next in which

he invokes very old research that found no benefits from civic education.

He concedes that newer research shows that civic education enhances

students’ knowledge, but not (he claims) their civic attitudes.

All the empirical experts in this field disagree. (Like me, Professor

Murphy is a political theorist, not an empiricist.) The empirical

folks claim that there were specific flaws in the 1960’s research

that reached skeptical conclusions about civics. They cite more recent

evidence, including massive, test-like assessments and numerous program

evaluations, that show that civic education programs do improve attitudes,

knowledge, skills, and behaviors. Not only government classes, but

also moderated discussions of controversial issues, extracurricular

activities, and service-learning programs make a demonstrable difference.

We summarized the leading evidence in the Civic

Mission of Schools. I can imagine someone going over this newer

material with a fine-toothed comb and detecting places where the case

is not closed. For example, I don’t think we can be sure that the

knowledge gains that result from taking government classes persist

into adulthood. But I cannot imagine citing Jennings and Langton (1968)

as if that study remained relevant today.