« does the Left care about Alabama? | Main | GWB on an aircraft carrier »

September 04, 2003

civic ed does work

James B. Murphy, a Dartmouth political scientist, has an article in Education Next in which he invokes very old research that found no benefits from civic education. He concedes that newer research shows that civic education enhances students' knowledge, but not (he claims) their civic attitudes.

All the empirical experts in this field disagree. (Like me, Professor Murphy is a political theorist, not an empiricist.) The empirical folks claim that there were specific flaws in the 1960's research that reached skeptical conclusions about civics. They cite more recent evidence, including massive, test-like assessments and numerous program evaluations, that show that civic education programs do improve attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors. Not only government classes, but also moderated discussions of controversial issues, extracurricular activities, and service-learning programs make a demonstrable difference. We summarized the leading evidence in the Civic Mission of Schools. I can imagine someone going over this newer material with a fine-toothed comb and detecting places where the case is not closed. For example, I don't think we can be sure that the knowledge gains that result from taking government classes persist into adulthood. But I cannot imagine citing Jennings and Langton (1968) as if that study remained relevant today.

Posted by peterlevine at September 4, 2003 12:21 PM