CRF Blog

CIVICS, Not Government

by Gregorio Medina

As Small Learning Communities (SLCs) begin to establish themselves in school districts across the country, a renewed emphasis is being placed on linking classroom content to real-world applications. What needs to be done to prepare high school students for success in higher education, in an increasingly competitive job market, and as effective citizens?

The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation addresses these questions in a recently published study titled CIVICS, Not Government. This study distinguishes between an education in civics that “trains students for an informed and responsible life in their communities” and government courses that “train students in democratic principles, leadership structures, and the federal system.” It goes on to describe the “knowledge trap” resulting from a “system that requires teachers to teach too much political information and too few practical lessons that could train students to be engaged citizens in their communities.”

While this situation may not be news to many, the method that this study employed to seek answers to remedy this “knowledge trap” is what I found to be particularly intriguing. Instead of relying on the feedback from traditional sources (e.g., policymakers, scholars, and veteran educators), they solicited the input of a “new set of stakeholder groups” consisting of workplace managers, college professors, city employees, and recent high-school graduates. Their response to current practices and recommendations for improving civic education can be found in CIVICS, Not Government on the California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools site.