ERIC Identifier: ED390781
Publication Date: 1995-12-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.

Civic Education for Constitutional Democracy: An International Perspective. ERIC Digest.

The ideas of liberty, democracy, and constitutionalism have risen to global prominence in the 1990s, as major bastions of totalitarian communism have crumbled and collapsed. In various parts of the world, from Central and South America to South Africa to Central and Eastern Europe to Central Asia, newly empowered citizens have tried to build democratic foundations for their nation-states. And in their daunting pursuit of the "blessings of liberty," they have understood that new curricula for their schools are as important as new constitutions for their governments. Among other educational goals, they have recognized that schools must teach young citizens the theory and practices of constitutional democracy if they would develop and sustain free societies and free governments.

Regardless of their differences in history, culture, and resources, all people interested in teaching constitutional democracy authentically and effectively must address general educational elements pertaining to civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic virtues. These general and basic categories of civic education may be treated variously by educators of different countries. But there are certain themes within each generic category that are international and transcultural. They are the criteria by which we define civic education for constitutional democracy. So, these defining characteristics or standards must NOT be avoided or violated by anyone who would teach authentically the knowledge, skills, and virtues of civic life in a constitutional democracy dedicated to liberty.


The first objective of civic education is to teach thoroughly the meaning of the most basic idea, so that students will know what a constitutional democracy is and what it is not. If students would be prepared to act as citizens of a constitutional democracy, they must know how to distinguish this type of government from other types. The label, constitutional democracy, has often been used by regimes with showcase constitutions proclaiming popular governments and individual rights, which have meant little or nothing to the regime's victims of tyranny. The so-called "people's democracies" of former communist countries are tragic twentieth-century examples of the bogus use of a political label.

Through their civic education in schools, students should develop defensible criteria by which to think critically and evaluate the extent to which their government and other governments of the world do or do not function authentically as constitutional democracies. A few key concepts necessary to a deep understanding of constitutional democracy must be taught and learned, such as the rule of law, limited government, representative government, individual rights, popular sovereignty, political participation, and civil society. Students must learn how these key concepts of democratic political theory are institutionalized and practiced in their own country in comparison to other nation-states of the world.

Finally, students must pursue inquiries about the transnational, generic, perennial problems of any constitutional democracy: how to combine liberty with order, majority rule with minority rights, and private rights with the public good. They must understand that a constitutional democracy will fail (1) if the government has too much power or too little power and (2) if the government overemphasizes majority rule at the expense of minority rights or vice-versa. How to practically and effectively address these dilemmas is the ultimate challenge of citizenship in a constitutional democracy and the determiner of the political system's destiny.


Core knowledge must be applied effectively to civic life if it would serve the needs of citizens and their "civitas." Thus, a central facet of civic education for constitutional democracy is development of intellectual skills and participatory skills, which enable citizens to think and act in behalf of their individual rights and their common good. Intellectual skills empower citizens to identify, describe, and explain information and ideas pertinent to public issues and to make and defend decisions on these issues. Participatory skills empower citizens to influence public policy decisions and to hold accountable their representatives in government.

The development of civic skills requires intellectually active learning by students inside and outside the classroom. Students are continually challenged to use information and ideas, individually and collectively, to analyze case studies, respond to public issues, and resolve political problems.


A third generic category of democratic civic education pertains to virtues. These are traits of character necessary to preservation and improvement of a constitutional democracy. If citizens would enjoy the privileges and rights of their polity, they must take responsibility for them, which requires a certain measure of civic virtue.

Civic virtues, such as self-discipline, civility, compassion, tolerance, and respect for the worth and dignity of all individuals are indispensable to the proper functioning of civil society and constitutional government. These characteristics must be nurtured through various social agencies, including the school, in a healthy constitutional democracy.


Three generic components of democratic civic education, which transcend political boundaries and cultures are (1) core concepts that denote essential knowledge, (2) intellectual and participatory skills that enable practical application of civic knowledge, and (3) virtues that dispose citizens to act for the good of their community. The effective democratic teacher develops lessons and learning activities for students that emphasize and intertwine the three generic components of international civic education in a classroom environment compatible with the theory and practices of constitutional democracy and liberty.

The democratic teacher, for example, emphasizes interactive learning tasks in which students are challenged to take responsibility for their achievement of educational objectives. The democratic teacher encourages and protects free and open expression of ideas in an atmosphere of academic freedom. Further, the democratic teacher establishes and applies rules fairly, according to principles of equal protection and due process for each individual. There is recognition that true liberty is inextricably connected with just rules, and that the equal right to freedom of individuals depends upon an equitable rule of law for all members of the community. Finally, the democratic teacher creates a classroom environment in which the worth and dignity of each person is respected.

Democratic teachers take responsibility for developing challenging and interesting lessons for students. Thus, they continue to educate themselves through a life-long program of reading, thinking, reflecting, and planning to enhance their capacities for the education of citizens. And, they continue to seek, obtain, and use resources for civic education, such as those listed in this ERIC Digest.


The following list of resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche and/or 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, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information provided or requested through Interlibrary Loan.

Audigier, F., and G. Lagelee. CIVIC EDUCATION: TEACHING ABOUT SOCIETY, PASSING ON VALUES. Report of the Council of Europe Teachers' Seminar at Dinaueochingen, Germany (October 12-17, 1992).

Bahmueller, Charles F., general editor. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC EDUCATION. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1991. ED 340 654.

Bobbio, Norberto. LIBERALISM AND DEMOCRACY. London, England: Verso, 1990.

Broclawik, Krzysztof F., and others. SCHOOLS AND DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY:A COURSE SYLLABUS FOR POLAND'S FUTURE TEACHERS. Columbus, OH: The Mershon Center, 1992. ED 361 263.

Brzakalik, Krystayna, and others. LIFE IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY: A PRIMARY SCHOOL CIVICS COURSE FOR POLAND. Warsaw: Ministry of National Education, 1993. ED 369 683.

Dostalova, Radmila. HUMANISTIC AND DEMOCRATIC GOALS IN THE CZECH SECONDARY SCHOOLS: AIMS AND OUTLOOKS. Prague, Czech Republic: Comenius Center for Education and Democracy, 1993. ED 372 021.

Education for Democracy Project. EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY: A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 313 271.

Elster, Jon, and Rune Slagstad, eds. CONSTITUTIONALISM AND DEMOCRACY. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Hall, Kermit L. THE POWER OF COMPARISON IN TEACHING ABOUT CONSTITUTIONALISM, LAW, AND DEMOCRACY. Paper presented to the Conference on Education for Democracy at The Mershon Center of The Ohio State University, March 4-7, 1993. ED 372 025.

Maddox, Robert L. CONSTITUTIONS OF THE WORLD. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1995.

Melosik, Zbyszko, "Poland in the 1990's: The Role of Education in Creating a Participatory Society." SOCIAL EDUCATION 55 (March 1991): 191-193. EJ 430 541.

Patrick, John J. FOUNDING THE REPUBLIC: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Patrick, John J. CIVIC EDUCATION IN FORMER COMMUNIST COUNTRIES OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. Bloomington, IN: Social Studies Development Center (Occasional Paper), 1994. ED 374 056.

Patrick, John J. CONSTITUTIONALISM IN EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY: THE CONTINUING RELEVANCE OF ARGUMENTS ON CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDING ERA. Paper presented to the Conference on Education for Democracy at The Mershon Center of The Ohio State University, March 4-7, 1993. ED 359 118.

Patrick, John J. "Teaching the Bill of Rights in Secondary Schools: Four Keys to an Improved Civic Education." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 82 (November/December 1991): 227-231. EJ 447 868.

Quigley, Charles N., and others. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR CIVICS AND GOVERNMENT. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1994. ED 375 074.

Ravitch, Diane, and Abigail Thernstrom, eds. THE DEMOCRACY READER. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Ravitch, Diane. "A Report From Eastern Europe." THE SOCIAL STUDIES 82 (March/April 1991): 49-55. EJ 433 654.

Ravitch, Diane. DEMOCRACY: WHAT IT IS, HOW TO TEACH IT. Washington, DC: Educational Excellence Network, 1990. ED 319 650.

Remy, Richard, and Jacek Strzemieczny, eds. CIVIC EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY IN POLAND. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies in association with the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, forthcoming in 1996.

Remy, Richard C. TEACHING DEMOCRACY IN EAST CENTRAL EUROPE: THE CASE OF POLAND. ERIC Digest EDO-SO-94-4. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1994. ED 377 120.

Remy, Richard C., and others. BUILDING A FOUNDATION FOR CIVIC EDUCATION IN POLAND'S SCHOOLS: FINAL REPORT. Columbus, OH: The Mershon Center, 1993. ED 370 833.

Valdmaa, Sulev. CIVIC EDUCATION CURRICULA FOR THE FORMS IX AND XII. Tallinn, Estonia: Jaan Tonisson Institute, 1994. ED 374 054.

Varat, Jonathon D. REFLECTIONS ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT IN EASTERN EUROPE. Paper presented to the International Conference on Western Democracy and Eastern Europe in Berlin, Germany, October 13-18, 1991. ED 345 994.

Library Reference Search

Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit.  Further, this site is using a privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government. This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC.  No new content will ever appear here that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.

privacy policy