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 Digest. 

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 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. 


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. 


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 current events. 

* 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 problems. 

* 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 family life. 

* Monitor and reinforce at home lessons in school about the responsibilities of citizenship. 


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 present. 

* 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. 


Information and materials on how to teach rights and responsibilities of citizenship can be obtained from the organizations or centers listed below. 

* American Bar Association 

Special Committee on Youth Education for Citizenship 

541 N. Fairbanks Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60611-3314 

(312) 988-5735 

* American Federation of Teachers 

Education for Democracy Project 

555 New Jersey Avenue, N.W. 

Washington, DC 20001 

(202) 879-4575 

* Center for Civic Education 

5146 Douglas Fir Road 

Calabasas, CA 91302 

(818) 340-9320 

* Close Up Foundation 

44 Canal Center Plaza 

Alexandria, VA 22314 

(703) 706-3300 

* Constitutional Rights Foundation 

601 S. Kingsley Drive 

Los Angeles, CA 90005 

(213) 487-5590 

* Council for the Advancement of Citizenship 

1200 Eighteenth Street, N.W. 

Suite 302 

Washington, DC 20036 

(202) 857-0580 

* Educational Excellence Network 

112 16th Street, N.W. 

Suite 500 

Washington, DC 20036 

(202) 785-2985 

* National Council for the Social Studies 

3501 Newark Street, N.W. 

Washington, DC 20016 

(202) 966-7840 

* Social Science Education Consortium 

3300 Mitchell Lane 

Boulder, CO 80301 

(303) 492-8154 

* Social Studies Development Center 

Indiana University 

2805 East Tenth Street, Suite 120 

Bloomington, IN 47408 

(812) 855-3838 


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 313 268. 

Gagnon, Paul. Democracy's Half-Told Story: What American History Textbooks Should Add. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1989. ED 313 305. 

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 329 636. 

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 285 800. 

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