against civic schooling

against civic schooling - AGAINST CIVIC SCHOOLING* By James...

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By James Bernard Murphy I. Introduction: What Is Civic Education? A fierce debate about civic education in American public schools has erupted in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many liberals and conservatives, though they disagree strongly about which civic virtues to teach, share the assumption that such education is an appropriate responsibility for public schools. They are wrong. Civic ed- ucation aimed at civic virtue is at best ineffective; worse, it is often sub- versive of the moral purpose of schooling. Moreover, the attempt to impose these partisan conceptions of civic virtue on America’s students violates the civic trust that underpins vibrant public schools. Here is how the recent debate has unfolded and what we might learn from it. In response to demands from teachers about how to deal with the messy emotional, racial, religious, and political issues occasioned by the September 11 attack and its aftermath, the National Education Associa- tion (NEA) offers a Web site titled “Remember September 11.” The site is full of materials about how to counsel distressed students; how to place September 11 in some kind of historical, cultural, and international con- text; and what moral lessons might be drawn from the attack. 1 These moral lessons range from “Remembering the Uniformed Heroes at the World Trade Center” to “Tolerance in Times of Trial.” Similarly, the Na- tional Council for Social Studies (NCSS) offers lesson plans for “9/11” on its Web site 2 : these materials range from “The Bill of Rights” to “My Name is Osama,” the story of an Iraqi-American boy taunted by his peers because of his name and Muslim customs. Although the materials offered by these organizations vary widely, their pervasive theme is well articu- lated by the president of the NCSS: “[W]e need to reinforce the ideals of tolerance, equity, and social justice against a backlash of antidemocratic sentiments and hostile divisions.” * For comments on an earlier draft of this essay, I am indebted to Mark Stein, Lucas Swaine, Shelley Burtt, Stanley Fish, Mary Beth Klee, Ellen Frankel Paul, and the other contributors to this volume. I also wish to thank my indefatigable research assistants and copyeditors, Karen Liot and Emily Mintz. I began this inquiry in response to questions about the relation of academic to moral excellence from the late Patty Farnsworth, to whom I dedicate this essay. 1 Available on-line at http://neahin.org/programs/schoolsafety/september11/materials/ hshome.htm [accessed April 30, 2003]. 2 Available on-line at http://www.socialstudies.org/resources/moments [accessed April 30, 2003].
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against civic schooling - AGAINST CIVIC SCHOOLING* By James...

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