Making civics count

“A resurgence in civics could stem—and perhaps even reverse… the polarization of US politics and thus the paralysis of the government... If subpar academics in US schools can cause economic problems, then couldn’t subpar civics education cause political problems?” --David E. Campbell, Meira Levinson, and Frederick M. Hess in Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE, October 1, 2012

In their new book Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation (Harvard Education Press 2012), civic education experts David E. Campbell, Meira Levinson, and Frederick M. Hess suggest that improved civic education—a subject commonly considered superfluous among pressures to improve math and reading test scores— has the potential to unhinge a static and polarized democratic society.

Bringing together voices from across field, Making Civics Count provides a broad-minded but coherent account of innovations, impediments, and possibilities in each of these areas.

The contributors in Making Civics Count offer the following takeaways:

  • Improve teacher preparation and development, emphasizing the need for stimulating classroom discussion on real-world issues, civics experiences outside of the classroom, and online civics instruction. Authors include three case studies of successful professional development, highlighting Socratic seminars, Project Citizen, the Supreme Court Summer Institute.


  • Prioritize civic education in classroom curriculum, recognizing that better civic education creates and more informed citizenry, better prepared to constructively participate in a democratic society.  Authors suggest conducting field trips and simulations, such as the Kids Voting USA program, where students register for elections and then vote for their candidate as a part of a school-wide simulation—alongside adults at official polling sites.


  • Leverage diversity in the classroom as an opportunity to learn how to “do democracy” together, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic background. For example, South Philadelphia High School hosts Mix It Up Day, in which students and teachers are specifically encouraged to breach established social and geographic barriers. Anoka-Hennepin School District No. S1 in Minnesota holds a Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy, which requires teachers to design lessons that help students examine, understand, and think critically about differing opinions.


"This collection of state-of-the-art essays advances the discussion of civics from noble aspiration to empirical evidence and pedagogical practice. The authors, all noted scholars, have shown us how to improve civic education and—in the process—how to strengthen our democracy. It’s time for policymakers to pay attention."       — William A. Galston, Ezra Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

"'Making Civics Count' models a brilliant alternative to the ideological polarization and paralysis that dominates civic education discourse. Campbell, Levinson, Hess, and the other contributors to this volume hail from across the political spectrum but share a critical commitment to reinvigorate dialogue around civic education. They seek not consensus but spirited engagement—with ideas, with solid empirical data, and with visions for a more robust democracy. This is an important book for scholars, policymakers, and anyone interested in civic education’s future."       — Joel Westheimer, university research chair, sociology of education, University of Ottawa

David E. Campbell is professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy. Meira Levinson is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. All of the editors can also be reached through Lauren Aronson at [email protected] or 202.862.5904.
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