Education for Responsible Citizenship: The Report of the National Task Force on Citizenship Education
reviewed by Robert G. Hanvey - 1979
Title: Education for Responsible Citizenship: The Report of the National Task Force on Citizenship Education
Author(s): B. Frank Brown
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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This volume opens with twenty-one committee-generated recommendations for strengthening civic education (some useful, others bland) and closes with a totally uninspired "citizenship test" prepared by George Gallup. In between there is semi-nourishmenta collection of eleven papers written for the most part by white male academics with professional roots or interests in education. At least half of the papers have some punch; they instruct us in the history of ideas, point to defects in the way we have traditionally conceived and organized the transmission of civic values and skills, analyze the implications of change in the world and the implications of research, propose fresh goals.
Ralph Tyler talks of the need for "comprehensive citizenship education" in which planned out-of-school educational programs are at least as important as those in school. He admits the implicit threat to schools:
The school cannot easily deal with comprehensive citizenship education, because it cannot be the chief contributor to such education and cannot effectively dominate the coalition of community groups that must work out a feasible program of mutual responsibility. The school has little practice in planning and implementing programs in which it plays a junior partner's role, (p. 22)
The desirability of moving beyond the boundaries of the classroom is picked up in other papers. Speaking of the need for student participation in the community, Dan Conrad and Diane Hedin note:
There is something wrong with our socialization process when adolescence, the stage of life during which energy and sometimes even idealism are highest, has become a time when waiting is the central task. This is damaging both to the community and to the adolescent. . . . Youthful apathy, cynicism, hostility and even delinquency, are some of the consequences of treating youth as incompetent and childish, (p. 136)
Stephen Bailey writes of the citizen's need for political skills, one of them being negotiating skill:
Who is willing any longer to be at the beck and call of either a domineering employer or sovereign? . . . And so it is no matter where one turns. Nobody in his right mind orders a plumber around. The United States does not order the Soviet Union around. The president of General Motors does not order the president of the United Automobile Workers around. If common purposes are to be achieved in a world of often willful autonomies, legitimate authority must be coupled with skills of negotiation . . . the ability to persuade . . . to talk people down from their "highs" of anger and mistrust ... the capacity to bargain, to discover areas of agreement, . . . American education needs to create a new facet to the curriculum . . . which exercises regularly the negotiating abilities of young people, (p. 39)
Edwin Fenton examines citizenship education in the light of Kohlberg's research on stages of moral development:
The Constitution is based on a Stage Five morality. It assumes the existence of basic rightslife, liberty, equalitywhich antedate the formation of the government. The government comes into existence to guarantee these rights to citizens. . . . As a minimal goal of civic education, educators should aim to raise the level of moral thinking to the level at which students can understand the principles behind the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. For many people that will be Stage Five; for others it will be Stage Four. Getting most high school seniors to use Stage Four thought predominantly will be no easy task. (p. 103)
Howard Mehlinger considers the implications of global change for citizenship education:
The world is different from what it was fifteen or twenty years ago. Global interdependence is a fact of life. . . . What does this have to do with civic education? Civic education has traditionally been concerned with promoting nationalism. While nation-states will not suddenly disappear or lose their influence, nevertheless students must increasingly find identification with the species as a whole and not with American citizens only, be loyal to the planet as well as to the fifty states, and be committed to policies and goals intended to ensure the survival of the species rather than merely increasing American power and prestige at the expense of others, (p. 76)
Mehlinger's is a fairly gentle formulation of the need for a citizenship that transcends the nation. The last paper in this volume, written by Saul Mendlovitz, Lawrence Metcalf, and Michael Washburn, sets forth a more dramatic analysis of world conditions and issues a blunt call for the schools to allow discussion of bold changes in the present world order:
It is proposed that the school become an institution devoted in its social studies to the creation of a climate favorable to drastic change in the international system, and that it create this climate by opening up the classroom to the study of "radical" proposals for changing the character of the existing international system. . . . The task of teachers of world order is to help students assess the capacity of existing and alternative international systems to reduce drastically the occurrence of war. With equal objectivity, assessment should be made of alternative systems and institutions for their capacity to solve the other world order crises of global poverty, loss of human rights, and environmental deterioration, (p. 198)
There are voices missing in this collection. Practicing teachers and school administrators are nowhere to be found. That has to make us wary. There probably should be a rule. Anyone presuming to write about the education of the young should be required to sit in classrooms for a week, or otherwise spend some time with groups of children. This has the admitted risk that such confusion and agony might ensue that no writing of wisdom would occur.
This reviewer kept wishing for some fresh voices, or at least some well outside the arena of formal education. How about Nader? He has created a citizens' movement of enormous power. Surely he has something to tell us. And the feminists, what about them? They have been struggling for new power and new roles. They must wish a very different kind of education for girls than has been the case. There are scientists, policy analysts in think tanks, businesspeople, labor organizers, with useful perspectives.
With such limits noted, this is a book that should be a useful resource in workshops, especially for administrators and school board members. In-service teachers might respond to some of the specific issues raised, but they lack the power to make many of the fundamental changes called for.