Civic Learning and Engagement Must Become Staples of American Education

Kanter with Students

Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter chats with students during a school visit in 2012. Official Department of Education photo.

The importance of civic learning and a vision of citizenship and social efficacy must become the staples of every American’s education, shared by higher education, K-12 schools, states and the federal government. In too many schools and on too many college campuses, courses and programs of study about the essence of a democracy and the importance of civic learning are peripheral to the core academic mission.

In late 2012, Under Secretary Martha Kanter had an opportunity to travel across the country visiting with educators and students that understand this challenge. While on the road, Dr. Kanter visited institutions such as Western Kentucky and Wright State, schools that are making strides toward placing civic education, service learning, public dialogue and debate, political participation and community service at the center of their mission to prepare all students for informed, engaged participation in the civic life of our nation.

There were numerous lessons to be learned from the professors, administrators, students and community members at these schools. The experiences they shared reinforced the work the Department of Education is doing through its Civic Learning and Engagement Initiative, and helped to underscore the broader efforts of civic learning advocates across our nation.

You can read more about Dr. Kanter’s trip and the vital importance of civic learning and engagement here.

Civic Learning: Renewing Our Sense of Who We Are

“Education is more than just book knowledge. It’s about how we engage in a vibrant democracy,” Secretary Duncan said yesterday afternoon at the White House. Duncan joined Obama Administration officials and education leaders at the launch of a national conversation about the importance of advancing civic learning from grade school to graduate school.

U.S. Capitol

Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol

Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter noted that “it’s time to renew our sense of who we are and what we stand for.” Kanter explained that the benefits of civic learning range from “instilling civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and promoting civic equality, to building 21st century competencies, along with helping to improve school climate, engage students in learning, and lower the dropout rate.”

In conjunction with today’s event, ED released the report “Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action.” The report says that while America’s democratic ideals remain a model for the world, civic knowledge and democratic participation in the U.S. are lacking. The Road Map points to a 2010 report that shows less than 30 percent of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders were proficient in civics.

The Road Map highlights nine steps that ED will take to advance civic learning and democratic engagement, including promoting public service internships and careers, leveraging federal programs and public-private partnerships, and adding civic indicators to national student surveys.

Visit to read the full set of ED’s commitment, the entire Road Map, and for additional civic learning resources.

Click here to watch the video of the forum.