• Schools in the US are failing on teaching children civic involvement
  • Simply learning facts about democracy (for example) is not nearly enough
  • Educators should get their hands dirty and focus more on controversial issues



More and more researchers, teachers and educators are starting to support the idea of a major revolution in education. Now, a new report argues for an overhaul in civics education, saying students aren’t being taught how to become engaged in society.

It’s been understood by many for quite a while that focusing on professional skills in schools is simply not enough – school has a major social component, its main purpose is helping and/or enabling students to become useful members of society in the best way they can. Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor William Damon explains that the U.S. educational system is falling down on its job.

William Damon.

William Damon.

“It’s an urgent issue if this country wants to succeed as a democracy,” said Damon, who directs the Stanford Center on Adolescence, which published the report with the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington-Seattle. Heather Malin, a research associate with the Center on Adolescence, is also one of the co-authors.

His report stresses that being prepared for civic life is not about learning facts about democracy, civil rights and history. Curriculum must also incorporate a sense of belonging and involvement in the civic and even political matters, instilling the true values of democracy.

“A common grounding in the history, values and workings of the American constitutional tradition is essential to ensure access and dedication to citizenship for all students in our increasingly diverse society,” the report says.

The report suggests more emphasis on ideas and concepts such as liberty, equality, opportunity, justice, independence and interdependence. Another thing that is underlined is the importance of understanding power – who has it, what does this mean – and what this means for the general society.

Moreover, educators shouldn’t shy away from delicate subjects that may involve political and ideological controversy, urging them to ‘get their hands dirty’. However, they shouldn’t inspire their own ideas and beliefs, leaving the children to form their own opinions and discussions.

“Democracy in practice is emotionally exhilarating and often conflict-ridden. Civic education should reflect this,” the report says.

Active participation is a must; opportunities for involvement in civic and politic matters form an integral part of this type of education.

“This revitalized view of civics is all about inspiring and motivating kids to internalize the values of democracy and get involved,” Malin said. “Learning about how they can be part of the power structure and influence society is empowering for them.”

You can read the full report here: “Youth Civic Development and Education“.