Civic Education Survey

Summary of Definitions Memo


To: †† ††††††† HB1151 Civic Education Study Committee

From: †††††† Dale Kuehne, Tony Prizio, and Ken Relihan

Date: †††††† 1/31/03

Re: ††††††† Civic Education Definitions


In order to help provide a starting point for our discussion on definitional issues surrounding civic education and engagement, we submit to you the following definitional summary.As you can see there are many different approaches to addressing the problem of the disengagement of young Americans from politics and civic life.Rather than recommending just one approach for our adoption, we believe that the full committee ought to be aware of the variety of approaches, so that we can consider together which approach(s) we should adopt.If you are interested, we are happy to provide you with a bibliography that details additional literature and supporting information for each approach.One resource that has been valuable in preparing this summary (and which we reference extensively) can be found at the website of NACE (National Alliance of Civic Education) at

We believe that there are seven basic approaches to civic education today:

1)    The History-Curricular Approach: "Some stress the importance of knowing and respecting our nation's social and political history, founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist papers, and the Constitution and the visions of freedom that our country was founded upon." They assert that the history curriculum is (THE) primary vehicle for true civic education. They argue that the reason for the current disengagement of young people is a curricular deficiency in history, and that the remedy is in revision of the history curriculum and requirements.

2)    The American Government / Civics -Curricular Approach:Proponents of this group assert that the primary reason for the disengagement of young people is their lack of knowledge of American Government. They propose that every student take at least a one semester civics course that focuses on teaching students the structure of American government, the law-making process, campaigns, elections, public policy and current events. Such a curriculum will help students understand government and politics and thereby remove the obstacle to involvement created by ignorance of these matters.

3)    The Critical-Thinking Pedagogical Approach:"Some prize a willingness and ability to think critically, to deliberate with others, and when necessary to challenge authority and to make society more just." Those in this group understand the decline in voting and civic engagement to be the fault not of the curriculum, but the foundational pedagogical approach to modern education. Having students sit in classrooms, listening to lectures and reading books only as instructed creates passivity that is antithetical to democracy. Hence, what is needed is not a new curriculum, per se, but a whole new approach to education in which students take an active part in learning. This entails giving them meaningful involvement in the creation of curriculum, classroom like, and school organization and governance. Such an approach teaches democracy by practice.

4)    The Community Service Approach:"Some see "responsible citizens" as people who provide direct, voluntary care for others in need." Those in this group argue that the way to re-engage young people as citizens is to encourage / require them to participate in community service in an extra-curricular manner during evenings and weekends. Part of the reason students are disengaged is due to the segregated nature of modern life. It is very easy for young people today to be utterly disconnected from the broader world of social need, and ignorant of the agencies and institutions that seek to address these needs and problems. Community service gets students involved in public life, exposes them to people and agencies responding to need, and shows them how to live in as an engaged, responsible citizen.

5)    The Service-Learning Approach:†† This approach bears many similarities to community service, except that rather than viewing community service in an extra-curricular context, it is seen as an extension of the curriculum and a component of traditional coursework. Teachers involve students in deliberately designed community service learning experiences that complement and connect directly with classroom learning and are incorporated into the grading process. Such experiences help students understand the world better, create frames of reference that will enable their classroom learning to be effectual, and create the opportunity for students to learn the meaning of citizenship.

6)    The Public Achievement Approach: This approach also bears similarities to the previous two approaches. What is unique about this approach, pioneered by Harry Boyte at the Humphrey Institute of the University of Minnesota, is its emphasis that it is not enough to involve students in service-oriented projects that adults create and organize. Rather, students need to be taught to learn how to work together in small groups to identify real issues of a public nature that interest and affect them personally (like repairing a playground), and then learn how to work within existing political and social institutions to resolve the issue. Public Achievement accomplishes this by getting an adult mentor to work with groups of 5 or 6 (K-12) students.

1)    The Voter Training and Mentoring Approach:Some see that we need to make voting the focus of our efforts, with education and training directed at the actual process of voting, and the issues surrounding elections. They argue that the real impediment to voting is a lack of understanding of how the process works, a lack of mentoring by family and society, and a lack of education surrounding election issues. The way to resolve this is by registering students to vote in the classroom, designing classroom curriculum to help educate students about electoral issues (using newspapers, TV news, or the internet news in the classroom is a primary approach), and involving students of all ages in very realistic mock elections. The hope is that by the time students turn 18, they feel educated enough to participate in campaigns and elections.


Clearly this summary is not exhaustive.But, we submit it in hopes that it will create a constructive dialogue as we consider how we can work to re-engage New Hampshireís young people as citizens.