ERIC Identifier: ED346016
Publication Date: 1992-03-00
Author: Bahmueller, Charles F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
The Core Ideas of "CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education."
CIVITAS is a framework that specifies core ideas for civic education in our
American constitutional democracy. It states what adults will ideally know and
be able to do to be effective democratic citizens.
CIVITAS was developed by the Center for Civic Education in cooperation with
the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship and with support from The Pew
Charitable Trusts. More than 60 scholars contributed to this project as
consultants and authors of various parts of CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC
EDUCATION. This ERIC Digest highlights core ideas in CIVITAS on the rationale
for civic education. It also addresses educational goals and substantive ideas
for teachers and learners on civic virtue, civic participation skills, and civic
THE RATIONALE FOR CIVIC EDUCATION
Civic education in a
democracy is education in self-government, which means active participation and
not passive acquiescence in the actions of others. The health of the polity
requires the widest possible participation of its citizens consistent with the
common good and the protection of individual rights. No one's civic potential
can be fulfilled without forming and maintaining an intention to pursue the
common good; to protect individuals from unconstitutional abuses by government
and from attacks on their rights from any source, public or private; to seek the
broad knowledge and wisdom that informs judgment of public affairs; and to
develop the skill to use that knowledge effectively. Such values, perspectives,
knowledge, and skill in civic matters make responsible and effective civic
participation possible. Fostering these qualities constitutes the mission of
Civic education should consist of the intensive study and understanding of
the nation's system of self-government, its values, commitments, and
assumptions, and its relevant history; in short, it should involve the theory
and practice of a free and open democratic society as it has developed in the
United States of America. Civic education should treat the purposes of
government, the nature of law, the way private behavior affects the public order
and the political system, and the international context of politics. Developing
civic participation skills is essential to fulfillment of the promise of
The revitalization of education for citizenship is especially timely. The
failure of citizens to take part in elections at every level is just one
indication of widespread disengagement of citizens from the political system.
Americans tend to perceive the Constitution as a self-executing mechanism; its
very success has created indifference in many citizens to investing themselves
in the political system that sustains their prosperity and well-being. But it is
a dangerous illusion to suppose that our American constitutional democracy is
like a self-perpetuating machine. The reality is that the system requires
careful attention and assiduous cultivation by knowledgeable, skillful, and
Many citizens, however, lack an adequate understanding of the core ideas of
constitutional democracy. They need deeper knowledge of the American political
system than is currently commonplace, both as a framework for judgment and as
common ground for public discussion and virtuous and skillful participation.
GOALS ON CIVIC VIRTUE
The ultimate goal of CIVITAS is to
enable students equipped with the requisite civic knowledge and the skills of
civic participation to make their own commitment, carried to adulthood, to the
civic values deemed necessary for nurturing American constitutional democracy.
This goal is summarized in the term "civic virtue."
Civic virtue has an ancient lineage, rooted in the tradition of classical
republicanism, which admonishes citizens to place the public good above private
interest. America inherited this republican tradition of civic virtue in the
course of its founding. The republic's founders also drew upon another political
tradition, classical liberalism, which viewed the chief end of government as the
protection of individual rights. CIVITAS argues that both the classical
republican and liberal views of citizenship are legitimate elements in the
historical spectrum of American civic values.
CIVITAS describes civic virtue in terms of civic dispositions and civic
commitment. Civic dispositions refer to those attitudes and habits of mind of
the citizen that are conducive to the healthy functioning and common good of the
democratic system. Civic commitments refer to the freely given, reasoned
commitment of the citizen to the fundamental values and principles of American
These commitments and dispositions are imperative for two reasons. First,
they enable the political process to work effectively to promote the common
good. Second, they contribute to the realization of the fundamental ideals of
the American political system including protection of the rights of the
individual. CIVITAS enumerates and discusses the civic dispositions and
commitments to fundamental civic values and principles and provides an extended
commentary on civic values.
GOALS ON CIVIC PARTICIPATION SKILLS
unique responsibility is not simply to increase civic participation but also to
nurture competent and responsible participation. Civic participation should
involve more than attempts to influence public policy. It must be based upon
moral deliberation, knowledge, and reflective inquiry.
The framework emphasizes that the preservation of individual rights and
furtherance of the common good depend upon an enlightened citizenry that
participates in the common life of the political community, respecting its
constitutional norms and adhering to its fundamental values. CIVITAS also
stresses that the right to participate carries with it certain moral and
CIVITAS is concerned with identifying and fostering the skills required for
competent civic action, its adherence to constitutional values and limits, and
its adherence to constitutional morality. Thus, the framework discusses three
central aspects of active civic participation: governing and managing groups;
monitoring public policy; and influencing public policy. It presents a full and
detailed account of the step-by-step stages in the process of participation,
from the decision to act to full involvement.
The framework's concept of civic participation adds a much-needed caveat to
current thinking on the subject. The fulfillment of the democratic citizen's
potential is increasingly thought to have occurred when the citizen acts within
civil society, the wide arena of society at large, outside of the institutions
and processes of government and politics. Broadly interpreted, civic
participation involves the monitoring and influencing of the policies of any
organization that significantly affects individual rights and the common good.
But, while CIVITAS recognizes the value of civic action in this realm, it argues
that the foundations of American democracy are imperiled to the extent that
citizens withdraw from political institutions in favor of primary or exclusive
involvement with the broader arena of civic activities in civil society. Neither
sphere of participation should be ignored.
GOALS ON CIVIC KNOWLEDGE
Knowledge is the necessary
foundation of civic virtue and participation. Thus, the coverage of civic
knowledge in the framework is extensive and ranges from considerations on the
history of Western political thought and action to twentieth-century regimes,
law, propaganda, television and politics, civil disobedience, religion and
politics, subjects in American government, and much more. The criterion used to
include and exclude subject matter was a simple question: What should an
individual ideally know in order to be an effective citizen? The framework
developers did not expect an adult, still less a student, to know everything in
the extensive body of knowledge presented. However, the adult citizen should
have a sound working knowledge of the main points.
Of special importance for the curriculum envisaged by CIVITAS is the
three-fold division of the subjects presented in the civic knowledge section of
this volume. Each section opens with the main ideas of the subject--the
"conceptual perspective." It is followed by a "historical perspective" and a
"contemporary perspective," which are designed to inform the reader of the
current significance of the concepts and the historical development of these
Receiving attention in this part of the framework are core subjects of
American government and politics, such as Congress and the presidency, the
judicial system, bureaucracy, state and local politics, federalism, the role of
the press, and so forth. There are pieces on morality and politics, economics,
geography, religion and public life, gender issues, America and the
international system, and racial and ethnic diversity. In addition, an extensive
section discusses a number of aspects of law, from a conceptual and historical
comparison of common and civil law systems to a presentation of the concepts and
history of international law. Several non-Western subjects are covered in the
framework. China is used as an example of non-Western concepts of the state, and
the history of China in the twentieth century, especially China under communism,
is discussed. Subjects treated under the heading of "informal institutions and
processes of government" include television and politics, propaganda,
environmental issues, public opinion and the informal processes of Washington
politics, and other subjects.
The "Civic Knowledge" section concludes with "The Role of the Citizen."
CIVITAS emphasizes the responsibilities of citizens and contains a conceptual
and historical account of individual rights and human rights. The framework
closes with a general critical assessment of the current state of civic life in
the United States of America that underscores the importance of a regenerated
concept of citizenship in a constitutional democracy.
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.
Bahmueller, Charles F., Charles N. Quigley, et al. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR
CIVIC EDUCATION. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1991. ED 340 654.
Barber, Benjamin. "Public Talk and Civic Action: Education for Participation
in a Strong Democracy." SOCIAL EDUCATION 53 (October 1989): 355-356, 370. EJ 398
Boyer, Ernest L. "Civic Education for Responsible Citizens." EDUCATIONAL
LEADERSHIP 48 (November 1990): 4-7.
Butts, R. Freeman. THE MORALITY OF DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: GOALS FOR CIVIC
EDUCATION IN THE REPUBLIC'S THIRD CENTURY. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic
Education, 1988. ED 341 593.
Callahan, William T., Jr., and Ronald A. Banaszak, eds. CITIZENSHIP FOR THE
21ST CENTURY. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1990. ED 329 450.
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.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. THE CIVICS REPORT CARD.
Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1990. ED 315 376.
Patrick, John J. "Teaching the Bill of Rights in Secondary Schools: Four Keys
to an Improved Civic Education." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 82 (Nov./Dec. 1991):
227-231. EJ 447 868.
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 285 800.