The Rise and Fall of Civic Education in American Schools

  • Sandra Day O’Connor
Part of the Frontiers in Sociology and Social Research book series (FSSR, volume 1)


Early in its history, the American experiment in self-government had its fair share of skeptics. Many believed that our society’s heterogeneity and geographic expansiveness were insurmountable barriers to self-rule. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and other founding fathers believed that the answer to this skepticism was public education. In the preamble to his 1779 bill for free schools in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson argued for public education as a way to preserve self-rule. With knowledge of the experiences of other societies, Americans could identify and defeat would-be tyrants. Jefferson further asserted that people need to be educated so that Americans can draw from the widest possible pool of citizens to find wise and honest lawmakers. And since educating citizens would benefit society at large, he reasoned, all should share the cost of this education (Jefferson 1905).


Civic Engagement Civic Participation Civic Education Internet Gaming Civic Knowledge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author would like to thank Gretchen Blauvelt-Marquez and Abigail Taylor for their excellent assistance with this chapter.


  1. Elam, Stanely, Lowell C. Rose, and Alec M. Gallup. 1996. The 28th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Phi Delta Kappan 78(1): 41–59.Google Scholar
  2. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Michael Hennessy. 2007. Public understanding of and support for the courts: Survey results. Georgetown Law Journal 95: 899–902.Google Scholar
  3. Jefferson, Thomas. 1905. A bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge. In The works of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, ed. Ford Paul Leicester, 414–426. New York/London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Retrieved from Online Library of Liberty on August 10, 2010.Google Scholar
  4. Lenhart, Amanda, Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, Chris Evans, and Jessica Vitak. 2008. Teens, video games, and civics. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved August 10, 2010.∼/media// Files/Reports/2008/PIP_Teens_Games_and_Civics_Report_FINAL.pdf.
  5. Levinson, Meira. 2007. The Civic Achievement Gap. CIRCLE Working Paper 51, CIRCLE: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Retrieved August 10, 2010. PopUps/ WorkingPapers/WP51Levinson.pdf.
  6. Mann, Horace. 1848. Twelfth Annual Report to the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education. Retrieved August 10, 2010.  =  true&ID  =  159&filename  =  Horace  +  Mann  +  Twelfth  +  Report  +  to  +  MA  +  Board  +  of  +  Education  +  1848.rtf.Google Scholar
  7. O’Connor, Sandra Day, and Lee H. Hamilton. 2008. Schools must teach rudiments of self-government. New Jersey Record, November 14, A12.Google Scholar
  8. Pryor, John H., Sylvia Hurtado, Linda DeAngelo, Laura Palucki Blake, and Serge Tran. 2010. The American freshman: National norms fall 2009. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.Google Scholar
  9. Putnam, Robert D. 1995. Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy 6(1): 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Quigley, Charles N. 1999. Civic education: Recent history, current status, and the future. Albany Law Review 62: 1425–1450.Google Scholar
  11. Rainie, Lee, and Aaron Smith. 2008. The internet and the 2008 election. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 10, 2010.∼/media//Files/Reports/2008/PIP_2008_election.pdf.
  12. Roberts, Donald F., Ulla G. Foehr, and Victoria Rideout. 2005. Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8–18 year-olds. Menlo Park: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved August 10, 2010. entmedia/upload/Generation-M-Media-in-the-Lives-of-8–18 -Year-olds-Report.pdf.Google Scholar
  13. Rush, Benjamin. 1806. Of the mode of education proper in a republic. In Essays, literary, moral and philosophical, 2nd ed, 6–20. Philadelphia: Thomas and William Bradford.Google Scholar
  14. Save a Tree Per Year Using E-Textbooks. 2007. Café Scribe. Retrieved August 10, 2010. http://
  15. Vedantam, Shankar. 2008. The power of political misinformation. The Washington Post, September 15, A06.Google Scholar
  16. Webster, Noah. 1790. On the education of youth in America. In A collection of essays and fugitive writings on moral, historical, political and literary subjects, 1–37. Boston: I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews.Google Scholar
  17. Westheimer, Joel, and Joseph Kahne. 2004. What kind of citizen? The politics of educating for democracy. American Educational Research Journal 41: 237–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Supreme Court of the United StatesWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations