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Defining Civil Education in the Twenty-First Century

Civil Education

Much contested is the optimum approach to democratic education within American public schools. In perceiving a rigid line between conservative, civic education and transformative, civic education, teachers are charged to choose between cultivating protectionist attitudes of the political, status quo and activist attitudes for catalyzing political change amongst their student population (Engel 179). However, it is within the valid, grey area that stands and oscillates between conservative and transformative perceptions that effective, history education exists.

The heritage approach to history education is slowly but surely being eradicated in favor of the historical inquiry approach to the subject. Spoon-feeding students incomplete and in some cases downright dishonest versions of history that ostensibly support the arrogant view of America as the quintessential, modern nation does a gross disservice to the country’s children. More saliently, when the public school system ultimately does its job and graduates critically thinking citizens, young adults quickly realize that much of what they were taught during their primary education was wholly biased, at best.

The historical inquiry approach to teaching allows students to analyze and explore primary sources in order to both ascertain the true events of history but also to become sensitive to the roots of historical study; this method does not ignore the crucial, formative events of the nation’s history but rather highlights them as multifaceted occurrences in which there was a multiplicity of players and stories. In appreciating that the American government was not always infallible, it affords students recognition of their most critical right as democratic citizens; they can choose to disagree, and by extension verbalize or otherwise manifest that disagreement, with their government’s actions.

The California Department of Education’s (CDE’s) “History and Social Science Framework for California Public Schools” supports a three-pronged division of strands for K-12 history and social science education; those divisions are as follows: 1) Democratic Understanding and Civic Values, 2) Skills Attainment and Social Participation, 3) Knowledge and Cultural Understanding (11). The standards suggest that the state of California’s perception of history education in its public schools is markedly liberal in that it promotes a transformative, civic education. In teaching students how they can become active citizens through sociopolitical understanding, these standards support learning that extends far beyond simplistic, heritage-based models.

Teaching heritage in some instances does indeed have limited value. Heritage-learning fosters a sense of national identity, patriotic attitudes, and a valid connection between the students and their country. However, heritage-learning is incomplete and can fail to acknowledge how genuine, inquiry-based learning can have the same effects on students. For instance, there is little value in neglecting entire periods in history because they may rightfully cast the actions of the American government in a poor light.

History is the study of genuine sources and known facts in order to pursue a construction of the human past that is as true as possible given the temporal restrictions. Heritage is an emotionally charged, culture-specific study that can be both incomplete as well as untrue. The most valuable form of history teaching encompasses transformative, civic education in conjunction with historic, inquiry-based learning. Deeply rooted in critical thinking and conscious, informed action is American democracy; teaching students to embody these skills is the most salient purpose of a democratic education.

Works Cited

California Department of Education. History and Social Science Framework for California Public Schools. California Department of Education.

EssayChat Academic Paper Writing Guide for Students. https://essaychat.com/write-academic-paper/

Engel, M. The Struggle for Control of Public Education. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.