With Dr. Paul Gagnon’s help, co-operation, inspiration and encouragement, I assembled this CitizensAll Broadside almost twenty years ago. Regrettably, Dr. Gagnon passed away in 2005. Nonetheless, his spirit lives on. I believe these ideas have stood the test of time — they are every bit as valid today as they were then … perhaps more so … yes?
As citizens of a democratic republic, we are part of the noblest political effort in history.
If we expect to perpetuate this undertaking, our children must learn, and we must teach them, the knowledge, values, and habits that will best protect and extend this precious inheritance. We suggest that the time has come for the nation’s educational system to modify its objectives, and adopt a new set of priorities. These priorities, developed based on the research and findings of nationally recognized educators, scholars, and leaders, represents what we believe to be a cohesive, cogent and wise plan for American Education. We submit that …
The Objective of Education is threefold:
Participation in the educational process is to prepare our children, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or social position
- to be good citizens, and to accept the rights and responsibilities thereof;
- to develop a “personal culture,” including a sense of value and dignity, that will prepare them to make their life’s choices wisely; and
- to assist them in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive members of the society, to work, contribute and fulfill the measure of their creation.
These are the skills which will fulfill Jefferson’s imperative, to provide a general education for all citizens that will “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” We believe that these objectives can be best achieved by making Civics, Government and History central to the thread of the educational experience.
Why Study Civics & Government?
As the years pass, we become an increasingly diverse people, drawn from many racial, national, linguistic, and religious origins.Ourcultural heritage as Americans is as diverse as we are, with multiple sources of vitality and pride. But our political heritage is one–the vision of a common life in liberty, justice and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Devotion to human dignity and freedom, to equal rights, to justice, to the rule of law, to tolerance of diversity, to mutual assistance, to personal and civic responsibility, to self-restraint and self-respect — all these must be taught and learned and practiced. They cannot be taken for granted or regarded as merely one set of options against which another may be accepted as equally worthy. — Dr. Paul Gagnon, Education for Democracy: A Statement of Principles, 1987 –
Why Study History?
We regard the study of history as a major subject in education for democracy, much as the founders in the United States did two centuries ago. Our goal is to enable the student to comprehend what is important, not merely to memorize facts and formula. A student can gain a genuine comprehension of economic, political, social, and cultural questions only by examining them in their historical context. History enables students to compare themselves realistically with others–in the past and elsewhere on earth–and to think critically, to look behind assertions and appearances, to ask for the “whole story,” to judge meaning and value for themselves. History is also the integrative subject, upon which the coherence and usefulness of other subjects depend, especially the social sciences, but also much of literature and the arts.’
Civics & Government
Civic Education should be considered central to the purposes of American education and essential to the well being of American democracy. If we are to achieve the equality implicit in Lincoln’s “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Civics & Government should be taught, as a discipline equal to others, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Otherwise, students will not have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills essential for informed, effective, and responsible citizenship.
Ultimately, a free society must rely on the knowledge, skills, and virtue of its citizens and those they elect to public office. Civic education, therefore, is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy.
Many institutions help to develop Americans’ knowledge and skills and shape their civic character and commitments. The family, religious institutions, the media, and community groups exert important influences. Schools, however, bear a special and historic responsibility for the development of civic competence and civic responsibility. Schools fulfill that responsibility through both formal and informal curricula beginning in the earliest grades and continuing through the entire educational process.
The goal of education in civics and government is informed, responsible participation in political life by competent citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy. Their effective and responsible participation requires the acquisition of a body of knowledge and of intellectual and participatory skills. Effective and responsible
participation also is furthered by development of certain dispositions or traits of character that enhance the individual’s capacity to participate in the political process and contribute to the healthy functioning of the political system and improvement of society.
First, citizens must know the fundamental ideas central to the political vision of the eighteenth-century founders–the vision that holds us together as one people of many diverse origins and cultures. Not only the words–never only the words, but the sources, the meanings and the implications of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.
Second, citizens must know how democratic ideas have been turned into institutions and practices–the history of origins and growth and adventures of democratic societies on earth, past and present. How have these societies fared? Who has defended them and why? Who has sought their undoing and why? What conditions–economic, social, cultural, religious, military–have helped to shape democratic practice? What conditions have made it difficult–sometimes even impossible–for such societies to take root? How has it all happened?
Third, citizens in our society need to understand the current condition of the world and how it got that way, and to be prepared to act upon the challenges to democracy in our own day. What are the roots of our present dangers and of the choices before us? For intelligent citizenship, we need a thorough grasp of the daily workings of our own society, as well as the societies of our friends, of
our adversaries, of the Third World, where so many live amid poverty and violence, with little freedom and little hope.
This is no small order. It requires a systematic study of American government and society; of comparative ideologies and political, economic, and social systems; of the religious beliefs that have shaped our values and our cultures and those that have shaped others; and of physical and human geography. Above all, it takes an acceptance on the part of each member of the society to accept the obligation to study the issues, make well-informed decisions, and let our voices be heard — in short, to fulfill to the highest measure our rights and responsibilities as free people in a free nation.
In recognition of the critical value of historical study to the education of Americans, we submit the following resolutions, addressed to all citizens who bear responsibility for designing and implementing sources of study in our schools:
I. The knowledge and habits of mind to be gained from the study of history are indispensable to the education of citizens in a democracy. The study of history should therefore, be required of all students.
II. The study of history must reach beyond the acquisition of useful information. To develop judgment and perspective, historical study must often focus upon broad, significant themes and questions, rather than the short-lived memorization of facts without context. Therefore it follows …
III. That the curricular time essential to develop the genuine understanding and engagement necessary to exercising judgment must be greater than that now afforded American school programs in history.
IV. That kindergarten through grade six social studies curriculum should be history centered.
V. That states and local school districts implement a social studies curriculum requiring no fewer than four years of history among the six years spanning grades seven through twelve.
This time is indispensable to convey the three kinds of historical reality all citizens need to confront. American history to tell as who we are and who we are becoming, the history of Western Civilization to reveal our democratic political heritage and its vicissitudes, world history to acquaint us with the nations and people with whom we shall share a common global destiny.
VI. That history can be best understood when the roles of all constituent parts of society are included; therefore the history of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and men and women of all classes and conditions should be integrated into historical instruction.
VII. That the completion of a substantial program in history (preferably a major, minimally a minor) at the college or university level be required for the certification of teachers of social studies in the middle and high schools.
VIII. The college and university departments of history review the structure and content of major programs for their suitability to the needs of prospective teachers, with special attention to the quality and liveliness of those survey courses whose counterparts are most often taught in the schools: world history, Western Civilization, and American history.
What Citizens Should Know About America
History is a great, suspenseful story whose turning points and consequences are best revealed in a narrative that is analytical and comparative. Chronological development is essential, but within it, major topics and questions must make clear the significance of the unfolding story. The following are central to the history of the United States:
- The quest for a free society, with religious, economic, and political liberty for all.
- The evolution of American political democracy, its ideas, institutions, and practices from colonial days to the present; the Revolution, the Constitution, slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, and civil rights.
- The development of the American economy; geographic and other forces at work; the role of the frontier and agriculture; the impact of technological change and urbanization on land and resources, and on society, politics, and culture. The role and emancipation of American labor.
- The gathering of people and cultures from many countries, and the several religious traditions, that have contributed to the American heritage and to contemporary American society.
- The changing role of the United States in the outside world; relations between domestic affairs and foreign policy; American interactions with other nations and regions, historically and in recent times. The United States as a colonial power and in two world wars. The Cold War and global economic relations.
- Family and local history, and their relation to the larger setting of American development.
- The changing character of American society and culture, of arts and letters, of education and thought, of religion and values.
- The distinctly American tensions between liberty and equality, liberty and order, region and nation, individualism and the common welfare, and between cultural diversity and civic unity.
- The major successes and failures of the United States, in crisis at home and abroad. What has “worked” and what has not, and why.
These materials are drawn from The National Council for History Education’s Building a History Curriculum; The American Federation of Teacher’s Education for Democracy, A Statement of Principles; and The Center for Civic Education’s National Standards for Civics and Government.