"Can education help others to think for themselves and make their own decisions?" Facing History student Jamarr Johnson asked this question in a speech he presented at a Facing History and Ourselves event. His answer, excerpted below, describes how experiences in school not only influence how students define their role in society, but also shape their behavior as community members.
One thing I'd like to focus on is the
way that education affects the way people act and think in a society...In
Nazi Germany, the educational system was set up to implant ideas and
the opinions of the Nazi officials. One of the goals of that system was
to teach people, especially children, to give control of their lives
and their decisions to people of authority. My class discussed how
propaganda and education became the same thing...According to Nazi
officials, students who don't have the capacities for absolute
obedience and submission must be expelled. German students were taught
to scapegoat the Jews (and others) for their problems. Race science and
eugenics showed kids that they, the Aryans, were on top. With all this,
it should be clear that the basic purpose of Nazi education was to
raise a generation of childlike soldiers who would obey their every
There was a time when I was hanging out with the wrong crowd...One day my friend got into an altercation with a man I had never seen before. Soon my friends started to jump the man and encouraged me to join the fight...I decided not to fight, but to try and convince my friends to stop...
Thinking about that situation, I asked myself, can education help others to think for themselves and make their own decisions? I think so. Looking back at the fight, it makes me feel good that there is a place to discuss group behavior and conformity, so that people like my old friends can understand what they are doing and question it. Facing History and Ourselves doesn't prepare students to be childlike soldiers, but instead it helps to instruct thoughtful citizens.
Jamarr's story highlights the powerful role of schools in the preparation of citizens. As he mentioned in his speech, the education system designed by the Nazis in the 1930s was intentionally designed to prepare German youth to follow authority, believe in their supremacy, and ostracize those whom they were taught were different and inferior. Classroom Connections #1 explores the Nazis' civic education program in greater detail.
By highlighting the power of schooling to influence the moral and civic backbone of a nation, the case study of Nazi Germany prompts us to consider questions such as: What is the difference between preparing citizens for a dictatorship and preparing citizens for a democracy? Where is the line between education and indoctrination? Where is the line between teaching students to have "blind obedience" as opposed to what psychologist Ervin Staub refers to as "critical loyalty?"2 How do schools reinforce "we-and-they" distinctions among people? On the other hand, how do schools help students recognize difference, while also developing awareness of their connections to other communities and peoples? What can teachers do in their classrooms to prepare students to develop as ethical and civically-engaged community members? The readings and resources provided in Making Connections: Civic Education have been selected to help educators and students address these questions.
While most people agree that schools share some responsibility to prepare youth for citizenship, the purpose and practice of civic education has varied throughout history. Civic education continues to hold distinct meanings in different political and social contexts. For example, the emergence of new democracies in the 1990s (according to the United Nations, the number increased from 76 to 117) brought a renewed emphasis on civic education. In many of these young democracies, most of the population had never experienced a fair election or freedom of speech. So, civic education first meant introducing students to the procedural aspects of democracy-voting, separation of powers, and constitutional rights. Today, with increasing immigration and diversity, many civic education programs, particularly in Europe, are focusing on issues of tolerance and conflict-resolution. Understanding the many purposes of civic education can help us clarify our own ideas about what it means to be a "good citizen." Refer to Classroom Connections #2 and #3 for more about defining democratic citizenship and the purpose of civic education.
A deeper awareness of our current civic education context is especially important today given the increasing complexity of citizenship in a multicultural, global environment coupled with mounting evidence that today's youth is not being adequately prepared to meet these challenges. Where might we look to learn more about students' civic preparation? Analyzing national education policies and curricular materials-including textbooks and classroom teaching practices-through the lens of the "civic mission of schools" can provide insights into what schools are already doing to prepare students for their role as democratic citizens, and what more can be done. Classroom Connections #4 provides specific questions and readings designed to help students and educations develop a deeper understanding of their own civic education context.
There is a lot at stake in how we prepare students for their role as citizens. History has demonstrated the terrible consequences when youth have not developed their capacity to think and act for others, and when schools have served to teach hatred and exclusion, rather than tolerance and community-building. Facing History and Ourselves joins an international community of educators, policymakers, parents, and others who are vitally concerned with strengthening democratic culture in these globally interdependent times so that the next generation of citizens has the ability to peacefully coexist.
1. In this piece, the use of the word "citizen" represents individuals as members of local, national and global communities, regardless of legal citizenship status.
2. Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence (New York: Cambridge University Press,1989).
3. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,"Peace and human rights education" UNESCO.org.
Civic Education: Classroom Connections
1. How can studying about schooling in Nazi Germany help us learn about the role of civic education in a democracy?
Hitler said, "I am beginning with the young.... With them I can make a new world." Following through on his belief in the importance of capturing the hearts and minds of German youth, the Nazis initiated a widespread Hitler Youth movement. Nazi officials also recognized the role of education in preparing future citizens for his dictatorship and ensured that the Nazi Party controlled the curriculum of German schools. Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior Resource Book includes the following readings that focus on how the Nazis used the classroom as a vehicle for their racist and nationalist propaganda:
- "Changes at School," Chapter 4 p. 175
- "Racial Instruction," Chapter 5 p. 243
- "School for Barbarians," Chapter 5 p. 228
- "Propaganda and Education," Chapter 5 p.242
- "A Lesson in Current Events," Chapter 5 p. 246
After reading these texts, students might discuss questions such as:
- How does schooling influence our ideas and actions as citizens and members of communities?
- How can schooling be used as a tool for the teaching of hate and prejudice? How can schooling be used as a tool for the teaching of tolerance and humanity?
- What does civic preparation for a democracy look like? Should the schools have a role in civic preparation in a democracy?
- What is the difference between education and indoctrination?
- How do you think you are being prepared for your role as a citizen? What is the role of schools in this endeavor? What do you think could be done to improve your civic preparation?
2. What is a "good" citizen? What skills, knowledge, and attitudes does citizenship in our global world require?
- In the article, "Educating the Good Citizen: Political Choices and Pedagogical Goals," Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne propose three kinds of citizens: the personally responsible citizen, participatory citizen, and justice-oriented citizen. These three visions of citizenship are described in a succinct chart on page 2 of the article. You might ask students to review this chart and then brainstorm other types of citizens. Then, students can discuss what vision of a citizen best suits the needs of living in a democracy. Students' discussion could also be structured as a debate. The SPAR teaching strategy found on Facing History's online campus represents one way you might structure this debate. After students create a working definition of a "good" citizen in a democracy, you might ask them to brainstorm what schools might do to help prepare students to become this kind of citizen. Students can also consider how other institutions, such as the family or religious institutions, contribute to the civic development of youth.
- Fernando Reimers, Director of the International Educators Program at Harvard University, writes, "Educational institutions exist to achieve public purposes. One of those purposes is to develop citizenship. In the twenty-first century citizenship includes global citizenship." Ask students to think about the meaning of the phrase "global citizenship." Prompts that might be used to guide a discussion or journal writing include: What is the difference between national citizenship and global citizenship? What skills, knowledge, and attitudes do citizens need to work across national and cultural boundaries?
3. What is the purpose of civic education? How does this change throughout history? What is the relationship between civic education and immigration?
Historically, in many nations, one of the purposes of education has been to acculturate recent immigrants to the norms, laws, language, and culture of their new homeland. The reading, "Doors of Opportunity" on pages 109-112 of the Facing History resource book Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement explores how schools in the late-nineteenth century were used to assimilate (or "Americanize") immigrant students. After reading this text, students can explore the practice of civic education for immigrant students today. Questions for discussion include: What does assimilation mean? What are the costs and benefits of assimilation? To whom? How might schools strike a balance between preparing immigrant youth for life in a new country while also valuing the cultures these students have brought with them? What do immigrants in your country need to know and be able to do in order to participate in the democratic process and in the civic life of your community? This topic also presents an opportunity to listen to the voices of immigrant students in your classroom. How do they describe their experiences as students in a new country? What ideas and skills have they wanted to acquire so that they can function as active community members?
4. What are students learning about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society? Where might we look for answers to this question?
- What is the relationship between education policy and civic education?
Students can investigate the influence of national and local education policies on students' preparation for democratic citizenships. Since 2002, all secondary school students in Great Britain have been required to take coursework in citizenship. In the United States, federal policies mandate that students take yearly tests in math and reading (English), but not in history, geography or civics. These examples raise questions such as: Should students be required to take a civics course? If so, what should be the curriculum of this course? Should students be tested on their civic skills and knowledge in order to graduate? If so, what should this test look like? The "Readings" section of Making Connections: Civic Education includes the following articles that provide more detail on the influence of national education policies in the UK and the US on civic education:
"Schools ‘must teach Britishness' "
"Test gains reigniting old debate"
- What is the relationship between curricular materials, including textbooks, and civic education?1
- What is the relationship between teaching practices and civic education?
Teachers influence their students not only through the curricular materials they select but also through their pedagogy. You might ask students to brainstorm the skills required for engaged citizenship and their opportunities to practice these skills while in school. For example, citizens should be able to make decisions based on informed judgments. When are students asked to do this in the classroom or school context? Citizens should be able to listen to diverse viewpoints in order to more fully understand issues. When do students have the opportunity to practice respectful listening? Professor Melinda Fine's paper, "Facing History and Ourselves and Civic Learning," found in the Readings section of this piece, explains how the content and pedagogy supported by Facing History's materials is designed to nurture students' social, civic and moral development.
1. Fernando Reimers."Citizenship, Identity and Education: Examining the Public Purposes of Schools in an Age of Globalization." Prospects XXXVI, no. 3, (September 2006), http://gseacademic.harvard.edu/~reimers/Reimers-ecor_1.doc (accessed on May 31, 2007).
Civic Education: Related News Articles
In this paper, Professor Melinda Fine explains how Facing History's pedagogy and resources contribute to students' civic development. For educators who are new to Facing History or for experienced Facing History teachers, reading this "pedagogy brief" provides a useful reminder of the underlying purpose on which Facing History's work is based: helping adolescents develop the hearts and minds that are necessary for democratic participation.
The journal Phi Delta Kappan published a special issue on Patriotism and Education in 2006, and a special issue on Democracy and Civic Engagement in 2003. Both issues can be accessed through the Democratic Dialogue website. While most of their articles are intended for an educator audience, the "Points of view pieces" might also be appropriate for classroom use with students. These short essays by educators and activists provide different perspectives on how patriotism should be taught, if at all, in schools.
"Schools ‘must teach Britishness' "
In 2002, citizenship coursework became mandatory for secondary school students in the UK. Since that time, educators have been debating about the content for this coursework. This BBCarticle discusses results from a study of Britain's civic education program that suggested more emphasis on the teaching of "core British values." Others say that what is needed is more coursework on cultural diversity. Reading this article raises questions about how to balance the goal of national cohesion and respect for individual and group identities, especially within societies with vibrant immigrant communities.
"Test gains reigniting old debate"
This recent Education Week article demonstrates how national education policy can influence students' civic preparation. Reporting on the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal education policy passed by the US government in 2002, this article exposes different ideas about the consequences of this policy on students' acquisition of civic knowledge.
The Civic Mission of Schools
In 2003, the Civic Mission of Schools: Executive Summary was published, which is the result of a collaboration of over 50 educators, scholars, and policy makers. While the report is several years old, it still provides relevant information about the condition of civic education in the United States and provides suggestions for what teachers, administrators, policy makers and researchers can do to improve the civic preparation of American youth. These suggestions are also relevant for enhancing civic education programs in other countries.
Civic Education: Facing History Resources
Choosing to Participate Exhibit
Choosing to Participate is a multifaceted educational and civic initiative that challenges us to think deeply about what democracy means-and what it asks of each of us. As an initiative of Facing History and Ourselves, Choosing to Participate has won nationwide praise for encouraging people of all ages to consider the consequences of their everyday choices and for inspiring them to make a difference in their own schools and communities.
Choosing to Participate
Designed as a companion to the Choosing To Participate exhibit, this study guide focuses on a time in American history when people were struggling to expand democratic traditions and strengthen democratic ideals. The readings focus on the 1950s and early 1960s. Many of the issues that divided the nation then still threaten democracy today. The study guide is also available in Spanish.
Participating in Democracy: Choosing to Make a Difference
Participating in Democracy explores the challenges and possibilities of citizenship by highlighting the stories of four young Americans. Their work deepens and expands our understanding of the word citizen and helps us see good citizenship as a creative act-a work of the imagination. This study guide is divided into two parts. Part One explores the meaning of such terms as community, democracy, and citizenship. Students then expand their understanding of those terms by applying them to the four individuals featured in the video. Part Two adds new voices and perspectives to discussions prompted by the four interviews. It also considers some of the moral questions inherent in the choices we make as individuals and as citizens.
Choosing to Participate
This book examines how Americans have chosen to participate in the democratic process. It is about people who have volunteered their time and resources over the course of history to improve some aspect of their society. The way they have participated challenges our thinking on what constitutes a democracy.
Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement
In the early twentieth century, eugenicists and their supporters translated their beliefs about difference into public policy. One of these policies included using IQ tests as a way to determine a student's course of study. For more information on the relationship between intelligence testing, eugenics, and citizenship, refer to the readings in Chapter 5, "Eugenics and the Power of Testing," and Chapter 6, "Toward Civic Biology," of Facing History's resource book, Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement. The online module Race and Membership: The Eugenics Movement includes additional resources on this topic. For example, the testimony of Julian Nava, a Mexican American who grew up in Los Angeles, reveals how IQ testing limited his access to a quality college-prep education. Stories such as these challenge students to consider how the consequences of testing might influence students' opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge required of effective citizenship. They also provide another way to study how education is used and abused in the preparation of immigrants as community members and citizens.
Talk to Me: Americans in Conversation
Talk to Me is a film that stresses the importance of discussion within a democratic society. It raises questions about what it means to be an American and then explores both the values and beliefs that hold the nation together and those that pull it apart. Scholars, historians, and other citizens discuss their notions of democracy, tolerance, and the challenges of pluralism at the end of the twentieth century.
Toward a More Perfect Union
Toward A More Perfect Union is a discussion-starter video based on material shot for and included in Talk to Me: Americans in Conversation. It looks at critical questions such as: Who are we? What is community? What ties us together? Writers, historians, and other citizens from communities around the country share their own experiences and reflect on what it means to be an American today.
Civic Education: Additional Web Resources
This is an online resource and service that promotes civic education all over the world.
This website includes articles and research studies related to the intersection of education and democracy.
This British non-profit provides extensive information and resources related to citizenship education. Designed for a UK context, many of the materials are relevant for any educator interested in learning more about how to foster students' civic development.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement
This center funds and disseminates research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.
Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools
This website has resources and examples of lesson plans to help teach civic education in the classroom. It also has suggestions that can link teachers together and help them get involved in promoting civic education in the classroom. The campaign works with 40 coalition partners to bring about changes in state, local, and national policy that promote civic learning.
Center for Civic Education
Specializes in civic/citizenship education, law-related education, and international educational exchange programs for developing democracies.