Could Civic Education Help Fight Terrorism?

Civic educationWhat’s the goal of American public education? Today, many people would say “to prepare students for good jobs.” But the answer used to be “to prepare students to be good citizens.”

This change in attitude is one of several factors that has led to a decrease in civic education in American public schools. In a piece for Politico, Jonathan Zimmerman, who teaches history and education at New York University, argues that the lack of civic education that fosters “a shared American identity and consciousness” may have left the United States vulnerable to home-grown terrorism.

Our schools are our central public mechanism for making Americans—that is, for socializing the young into the norms, traditions and beliefs of the nation. Or at least they used to be….

[T]he last thing we need in our own country is another round of flag-waving civics instruction, telling everyone how great America is. What we do need is a renewed commitment to teaching American history and government, in all of its complexity. That should include a close examination of our civil liberties and the ways they have been compromised during prior wars and national emergencies. But we also need to teach about our duties to each other and to the norms of democracy, which require us to settle our differences in a civil and nonviolent manner.

Such education may not be the solution, but it sure couldn’t hurt. There is a lot to be gained from teaching our children about some of the bedrock principles of America—that civic and civil discourse is important, that voting is a fundamental right and responsibility, and that religious freedom applies to every religion.

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