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December 10, 2003

ideology and civics

I spoke yesterday at the Learn & Serve America conference, which convenes people who run federally-funded community-service programs in schools. I talked about the Civic Mission of Schools report, which my organization and Carnegie Corporation of New York published earlier this year. One person in the audience said that he had read the first sentence to colleagues back at his home college, and they interpreted it as ridiculously and offensively conservative. Neither the questioner nor I had the report with us, so we argued about exactly what it says. In fact, it begins as follows:

"For more than 250 years, Americans have shared a vision of a democracy in which all citizens understand, appreciate, and engage actively in civic and political life. In recent decades, however, increasing numbers of Americans have disengaged from civic and political institutions such as voluntary associations, religious congregations, community-based organizations, and political and electoral activities such as voting and being informed about public issues."

I didn't write this language, but I like it and would resist seeing it as conservative. I do think that there has been strong ideal of equality and democratic participation in America since its founding. (Reality has been a different matter, but ideals are important.) Moreover, the last few decades have witnessed substantial and troubling declines, especially a one-third drop in youth voting and a four-fifths drop in young people's expressed interest in news. Incidentally, these trends are of greater concern to liberals than to conservatives, because they result in a smaller and older electorate. What's more, one reason for these trends is the demise of traditional mobilizing institutions, especially unions. If there's nostalgia in the report, it's for the activist 1960s, not for 1950 or 1850.

December 10, 2003 8:43 PM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


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