What It Means to Be American
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Washington | Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Has America Ever Been Good at Teaching Civics?

Flanked by the busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, students at Seattle's Bailey-Gatzert School sing "America" on November 24, 1941. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

Flanked by the busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, students at Seattle's Bailey-Gatzert School sing "America" on November 24, 1941. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.


The United States demands much of its citizens—to understand enough of the history and structure of American government so that they can understand difficult issues, discuss their differing opinions with civility, and participate in their own government. But how good has the country been at developing the civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions a self-governing people need? Throughout our history, concerns have been raised about whether our schools and our governing institutions are preparing Americans for civic life. And in today’s digital age, civics has been pushed aside as American classrooms put more emphasis on STEM education. Could more effective civics courses help temper the country’s political polarization and conflict? And how could we find more space for high-quality civic learning at a time when educators are already asked to do so many different things? Academy Award-winning actor and Dreyfuss Civics Initiative founder Richard Dreyfuss and Republican political strategist Frank Luntz discuss whether Americans’ civic knowledge can catch up with our civic duties.