ERIC Identifier: ED332929
Publication Date: 1991-04-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science
Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching the Responsibilities of Citizenship. ERIC
Education for citizenship in a constitutional democracy has been a long-standing
goal of schools in the United States. To achieve this goal, students must
learn their civil rights and responsibilities in a free society. This ERIC
Digest discusses (1) the importance of teaching about the responsibilities
of citizenship, (2) deficiencies in learning about responsible citizenship,
(3) how to improve learning about responsible citizenship at home, (4)
how to improve learning about responsible citizenship at school, and (5)
where to obtain information and materials about how to teach responsible
WHY SHOULD WE TEACH THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF CITIZENSHIP?
Civil rights and liberties, claims based on law, are enforceable through
the judicial system (e.g., the individual's right to freely express public
policy preferences, to vote in a public election, or to have a trial by
jury). By contrast, responsibilities of citizenship are obligations to
contribute to the common good by performing duties to benefit the community
(e.g., the individual's responsibility to become informed about public
policies, to vote in public elections, or to serve willingly as a juror).
The preservation of civil rights and liberties is linked to performance
of responsibilities. For example, the right of political participation
means little when most citizens fail to exercise it. Furthermore, the right
to free expression of political ideas is diminished when individuals do
not gain knowledge about government. Responsibilities of citizenship--such
as voluntary service to the community, participation in the political system,
acquisition of knowledge about civic life, and public commitment to the
values of constitutional democracy (e.g., liberty, justice, and the rule
of law)--are essential to the health of a free society.
WHAT ARE THE DEFICIENCIES OF YOUNG AMERICANS IN LEARNING ABOUT RESPONSIBLE
Surveys of civic knowledge, attitudes, and actions reveal serious deficiencies
in the citizenship education of young Americans. Reports on civic learning
by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for example,
indicate that the majority of 12th graders have a rudimentary knowledge
of government and citizenship in the United States. However, half of the
students in grade 12 fail to demonstrate knowledge needed for responsible
participation in the political system. Further, in 1988, only six percent
of the high school seniors achieved the highest level of civic proficiency
as defined in the NAEP test. A very disturbing finding was that high school
students did "significantly less well" in civics in the most recent assessment
(1988) than their 1982 counterparts (National Assessment of Educational
Progress 1990, 13).
Surveys of attitudes show a weak orientation by adolescents toward voluntary
service for the community (Hart 1988). Most students acknowledge the importance
of voting and campaigning in public elections; but they also tend to express
low levels of political interest and efficacy (Miller 1985). The percentage
of 18- to 24-year-olds voting in public elections lags far behind the rate
for those over age 25, which also tends to be much lower than desired by
advocates of responsible citizenship.
There is a clear need to improve the learning of young Americans about
their responsibilities as citizens of a democratic society. Parents and
school teachers must act in concert to strengthen the desire and capacity
of children for performance of civic obligations.
WHAT CAN BE DONE AT HOME?
Parents and guardians are the child's first and most influential teachers
of civic values and attitudes. Lessons learned at home about political
participation or community service, for example, are likely to set the
terms and tone for later learning about these responsibilities of citizenship.
Parents and guardians can enhance the child's learning of citizenship
responsibilities by doing the following things at home.
* Set a good example by participating in the political system and volunteering
for community service projects.
* Show interest in civic affairs and government through initiation of
conversations at dinner time or in response to television programs about
* Require children to perform duties regularly at home as lessons in
the value of contributing to the common good of their family unit.
* Encourage children to take part in community service projects, such
as neighborhood clean-up or beautification activities, re-cycling of materials
to conserve natural resources, and tutoring of younger children with learning
* Provide civic learning resources in the home--books, magazines, newspapers--and
use them with children.
* Transmit and reinforce the civic values of our constitutional democracy
through discussions, exemplary behavior, and use of fair rules for orderly
* Monitor and reinforce at home lessons in school about the responsibilities
WHAT CAN BE DONE AT SCHOOL?
After the family, the school has a major effect on the civic attitudes
of children. It is the primary agency for teaching knowledge about politics
and government. Examples are presented below about how to enhance education
about citizenship responsibilities at school.
* Increase the amount of time that all students are involved in civic
education at all levels of school.
* Infuse lessons about the responsibilities of citizenship into all
subjects of the curriculum at all levels of schooling, with special emphasis
in the social studies and literature courses.
* Require students to read, analyze, and discuss cases and stories about
people involved in the civic life of their communities in the past and
* Establish cooperative learning experiences in which groups of students
take responsibility for their own achievement of educational objectives.
* Involve students in simulations and role playing activities about
various aspects of civic responsibilities.
* Establish school-based programs for performance of community service
as a regular part of the civics curriculum.
* Emphasize lessons about the civic values of our constitutional democracy
at all levels of schooling through role modeling, reading and writing assignments,
and open discussion of public issues and current events.
* Make assignments that require students to write letters to government
officials or newspapers to advocate opinions about public issues and policies.
* Make assignments that require students to participate in political
activities outside the classroom.
WHERE CAN INFORMATION AND MATERIALS BE OBTAINED ABOUT HOW TO TEACH
Information and materials on how to teach rights and responsibilities
of citizenship can be obtained from the organizations or centers listed
* American Bar Association
Special Committee on Youth Education for Citizenship
541 N. Fairbanks Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-3314
* American Federation of Teachers
Education for Democracy Project
555 New Jersey Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
* Center for Civic Education
5146 Douglas Fir Road
Calabasas, CA 91302
* Close Up Foundation
44 Canal Center Plaza
Alexandria, VA 22314
* Constitutional Rights Foundation
601 S. Kingsley Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90005
* Council for the Advancement of Citizenship
1200 Eighteenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
* Educational Excellence Network
112 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
* National Council for the Social Studies
3501 Newark Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
* Social Science Education Consortium
3300 Mitchell Lane
Boulder, CO 80301
* Social Studies Development Center
2805 East Tenth Street, Suite 120
Bloomington, IN 47408
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system.
They are available in microfiche and paper copies from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS,
7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone
numbers are 703-440-1400 and 800-443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number
are annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
which is available in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries
by using the bibliographic information provided below.
Barber, Benjamin R. "Public Talk and Civic Action: Education for Participation
in a Strong Democracy." Social Education 53 (October 1989): 355-356, 370.
EJ 398 352.
Boyer, Ernest L. "Civic Education for Responsible Citizens." Educational
Leadership 48 (November 1990): 4-7.
Callahan, William T., Jr., and Ronald A. Banaszak, Editors. Citizenship
for the 21st Century. Bloomington, In: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1990.
Conrad, Daniel, and Diane Hedin. Youth Service: A Guidebook for Developing
and Operating Effective Programs. Washington, DC: Independent Sector, 1987.
ED 287 028.
Education for Democracy Project. Education for Democracy: A Statement
of Principles, Guidelines for Strengthening the Teaching of Democratic
Values. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 313 271.
Gagnon, Paul. Democracy's Untold Story: What World History Textbooks
Neglect. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 313
Gagnon, Paul. Democracy's Half-Told Story: What American History Textbooks
Should Add. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1989. ED 313
Hart, Peter D. Democracy's Next Generation: A Study of Youth and Teachers.
Washington, DC: People for the American Way, 1989.
Laughlin, Margaret. "Sources of Materials for Developing Enlightened
Citizens." Educational Leadership 45 (October 1987): 82-84. EJ 362 233.
Miller, Jon D. Effective Participation: A Standard for Social Science
Education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Social Science
Education Consortium, Racine, WI, 1985. ED 265 083.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Civics Report Card.
Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1990. ED 315 376.
Newmann, Fred M., and Robert A. Rutter. "A Profile of High School Community
Service Programs." Educational Leadership 43 (January 1986): 65-71. EJ
Parker, Walter, and John Jarolimek. Citizenship and the Critical Role
of the Social Studies. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social
Studies, 1984. ED 244 880.
Patrick, John J. Schools and Civic Values. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1988. ED 313 270.
Ravitch, Diane. Democracy: What It Is, How To Teach It. Washington,
DC: Educational Excellence Network, 1990. ED 319 650.
Reische, Diana L. Citizenship: Goal of Education. Arlington, VA: American
Association of School Administrators, 1987. ED 292 714.
Stotsky, Sandra. Civic Writing in the Classroom. Bloomington, IN: ERIC
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1987. ED 285