Between 1970 and 2000, most academic researchers said that adults’ political and civic behavior was not affected by what they had learned in their schools. In short, civic education didn’t work. Meanwhile, schools were moving away from their traditional mission of creating good citizens–among other things, by dropping their courses on civics, government, and contemporary issues. Nevertheless, some nonprofit groups labored to provide good civics textbooks and curricula; some teachers worked hard to implement those programs or ones of their own devising; and a few scholars collected data on civic development.
Because that body of research and educational work existed, it was possible around 2000-2 to gather the field together in several venues and forums (at the Education Commission of the States, under the aegis of NACE, and then at the invitation of Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE). At these meetings, the participants agreed that there were specific forms of civic education that worked, as shown by fairly rigorous research; but public policies needed to be changed to allow all students to benefit. One result of those discussions was the launch of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, whose Steering Committee met today.
At the meeting, which I chaired, we were shown an elaborate website that allows anyone to find civic education “practices” (curricula, programs, etc) by type, state, purpose, or grade level. This website is a useful tool created by the Campaign. More important, it collects much of the valuable work on which the campaign itself is based. The launch of the website is thus a significant symbolic moment for my little community.
We also saw (most of us for the first time) a set of exam and survey questions that can be used to assess civic learning. These quuestions have been selected by some of my colleagues from hundreds of tests and surveys conducted since 1973. Their collection of vetted and approved questions is another handy tool–and another symbol of past work that supports current and future practice.