ERIC Identifier: ED348318
Publication Date: 1992-05-00
Author: Stotsky, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
The Connections between Language Education and Civic Education.
Civic education "means explicit and continuing study of the basic concepts
and values underlying our democratic political community and constitutional
order" (Butts 1988, 184). It draws its content chiefly from four disciplines:
political science, jurisprudence, history, and economics. Political science and
jurisprudence provide an understanding of ideas, institutions, and procedures
about law and government that protect individual rights and promote a government
based on law, majority rule with minority rights, and the public good. The study
of history gives us knowledge of our country's past, who we are as a people, and
our successes and failures in realizing our country's political and legal
ideals. And economics offers knowledge about how to use scarce resources to
satisfy human needs and wants within a constitutional government based on the
values of democracy and individual rights. However, language education, too,
makes an important contribution to civic education.
HOW CAN LITERARY STUDY CONTRIBUTE TO THE FORMATION OF CIVIC IDENTITY AND CHARACTER?
Literary study can contribute to the formation of
civic identity and civic character in several distinct ways (Stotsky 1991a).
SIGNIFICANT NATIONAL LITERATURE
First, it can expose
students to historically significant works that illuminate our nation's cultural
history and values (Stotsky 1989). Such works as Benjamin Franklin's
autobiography, Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays, or Henry Thoreau's ON CIVIL
DISOBEDIENCE and WALDEN POND are among those literary works that contribute to
an understanding of our political and social values and to our civic identity.
Of course, students need to read not only what we can be proud of as Americans,
but also what we have failed to do well and what we need to improve upon. A
well-conceived literature program provides a balanced view of our country's
social and political experiences. For example, teachers could use John Hershey's
A BELL FOR ADANO in tandem with Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE. Or teachers might
use James Comer's MAGGIE'S AMERICAN DREAM, a story about a strong-minded black
mother whose four children all became successful professionals despite racial
discrimination, to balance Gloria Naylor's THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE, a bleak
story about mainly single mothers and their children in an urban housing
CHARACTERS AS INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL MODELS
can also expose students to strong characters with clear moral and intellectual
values. Students who identify with those characters may then internalize their
values. Such works as ANTIGONE,
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, A
ALL SEASONS, JEAN CHRISTOPHE, and THE FOUNTAINHEAD feature protagonists with strong intellectual or moral principles who choose to live
by the dictates of their conscience, whether or not they suffer social
disapproval, isolation, or even death. Because principled thinking, the
expression of individual conscience, and the assumption of personal
responsibility for one's actions are central values in the history of Western
civilization and in a liberal constitutional democracy, literature programs can
make a significant contribution to civic education by offering students such
works to read (Jones 1966). A good literature program should also expose young
students to characters who exhibit such traits as courage, hope, optimism,
ambition, individual initiative, love of country, love of family, the ability to
laugh at themselves, a concern for the environment, and outrage at social
LITERATURE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLES
Finally, literature programs
can expose students to works about people who live in countries or societies
that differ markedly from their own. Such works can help students understand why
human beings, despite often vast cultural differences, value both personal
freedom and social justice, and want liberal constitutional democracies for
their own countries. Chinua Achebe's WHEN THINGS FALL APART, Alexander
Solzhenitsyn's GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, and Ignazio Silone's FONTAMARA and BREAD AND
WINE are among those works that can broaden students' knowledge of diverse ways
of living and the different problems people in other societies have encountered
at the same time that they learn how similar most people are in their basic
human needs and wants.
HOW CAN WRITING INSTRUCTION DEVELOP INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL AUTONOMY?
Writing instruction can help develop the intellectual and moral
autonomy desired in a democratic citizenry in several ways.
INDEPENDENT THINKING THROUGH THE RESEARCH PROCESS
who assign research projects help their students develop some of the most
important skills citizens need: how to seek answers to their own questions; how
to locate, on their own, sources of needed information; how to evaluate their
relevance and quality; and how to organize information and ideas for their own
purposes (Stotsky 1991b). Regular experience with the research process is
probably the best means for developing the intellectual habits that are basic to
informed and responsible public discourse: open-ended inquiry, the use of both
primary and secondary sources, independent reading, and critical thinking.
ETHICAL ASPECTS OF ACADEMIC WRITING
Writing instruction can
also help students develop a conscious appreciation and use of the ethics of
academic writing, which should underlie public and academic discourse (Stotsky
1991c). For example, students should learn as part of their academic writing
that responsible writers do not quote other writer's ideas out of context; seek
information on all points of view about a question; do not assume their readers
will agree with their point of view without being given reasonable evidence; and
present the results of their inquiry in a way that does not insult many possible
DESIRABLE QUALITIES IN COMMUNICATIONS TO PUBLIC OFFICIAL OR
Finally, writing teachers can help students learn about the
major purposes for which citizens write -- whether to public officials or to
other citizens (Stotsky 1991d). Citizens may write to thank a public official
for a good law she may have helped to pass, or by expressing sympathy to her for
losing a re-election campaign. Citizens also frequently write to request
information or help from their public officials. In addition, some citizens
regularly gather and offer the public useful information or services, as does
the League of Women Voters. Finally, citizens may write whenever they wish to
other citizens or their public officials to criticize a public service and/or to
advocate a position on a public issue, political party, or public figure.
If teachers are careful to observe certain professional guidelines (spelled
out in Stotsky 1992), they can design a variety of classroom-based activities
that give their students opportunities to participate as writers in local or
national affairs (see Stotsky 1987 and 1990 for descriptions of participatory
writing activities that teachers have carried out in elementary and secondary
schools across the country). Indeed, teachers can help all students learn how to
write succinctly, clearly, and courteously to public officials or other
citizens, and with appropriate information to support their purpose for writing.
HOW CAN TEACHERS HELP ENHANCE THE QUALITY OF PUBLIC
Students should learn to see reading and writing as vital support
for the most direct way that citizens can express themselves and participate in
public life -- as public speakers. Public speaking was the primary medium for
participation in public affairs at the birth of democracy in ancient Athens, and
even today public dialogue or argument is for most citizens the chief means for
participating in public life. But too often public dialogue is little more than
polarized or polarizing debate, with neither side genuinely listening to and
learning from the other, as Ede (1991) found in an analysis of a local
controversy. Language teachers can help enhance the quality of public dialogue
by teaching their students how to engage in class discussions that require them
to paraphrase as well as to respond to the points made by others (Katula 1991).
They can especially advance the cause of improving civic discourse in this
country if they teach their students certain strategies for public debate that
derive from classical rhetoric: to avoid logical fallacies in developing their
arguments; to construct arguments that respect the truth and demonstrate an
understanding of, if not sympathy with, alternative positions; and to seek
common ground in debates on controversial issues (Ede 1991; Katula 1991).
Perhaps a basic speaking skill to develop in all students is their ability to
generate their own questions about a topic they are studying (Stotsky 1987). All
students must become active learners who know how to pursue their own curiosity
and who can engage in independent critical thinking.
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 or (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 larger public libraries or
university libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS. However, they
can be located in the journal sections of most libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided below or ordered through Interlibrary Loan.
Butts, R. Freeman. THE MORALITY OF DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: GOALS FOR CIVIC
EDUCATION IN THE REPUBLIC'S THIRD CENTURY. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic
Crenshaw, Shirley, and others. "Teaching History Across the Elementary
Curriculum." SOCIAL STUDIES AND THE YOUNG LEARNER 2 (November-December 1989):
1-4. EJ 420 682.
Ede, Lisa. "Language Education and Civic Education: Recovering Past
Traditions, Reassessing Contemporary Challenges." In CONNECTING
CIVIC EDUCATION AND LANGUAGE EDUCATION: THE CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGE, edited by
S. Stotsky. New York: Teachers College Press, 1991.
Goldman, Eric, and Terri Langan. "The Civic Achievement Award Program: Civic
Learning for Adolescents through Research, Writing, and Community Service."
CIVIC PERSPECTIVE 3 (Fall 1990): 7-11. EJ 428 346.
Heacock, Grace Anne. "The We-Search Process: Using the Whole Language Model
of Writing to Learn Social Studies Content and Civic Competence." SOCIAL STUDIES
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Jones, Howard Mumford. JEFFERSONIANISM AND THE AMERICAN NOVEL. New York:
Teachers College Press, 1966.
Katula, Richard. "The Uses of Argument in Civic Education: A Philosophy and
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Knight, Carol Lynn H. TEACHING FOR THINKING IN HISTORY AND THE SOCIAL
SCIENCES. Paper presented at the Preconference Workshop, "What Current
Curricular Trends Tell Us About General Education," held prior to the Annual
Convention of the Virginia Community College Association, Roanoke, VA, October
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Sensenbaugh, Roger. WRITING ACROSS THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM.
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Stotsky, Sandra. "Connecting Reading and Writing to Civic Education."
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Stotsky, Sandra. "Teaching Contemporary American Literature: A Professional
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Stotsky, Sandra. "On Developing Independent Critical Thinking: What We Can
Learn From Studies of the Presearch Process." WRITTEN COMMUNICATION 8 (1991b):
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Stotsky, Sandra. "Participatory Writing: What Citizens Can Write." In
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