America’s crisis of civic education is acute, requiring a major change in the way students are taught about the workings of American government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. So contends David Feith, an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, in his introduction to Teaching America, a well-crafted collection of essays from a distinguished and diverse group of authors—progressives and conservatives, policy makers and professors, jurists and political commentators.
The case for civic education—what might have been called “civics” in an earlier generation—is straightforward. Just as, say, doctors who receive defective medical training will be handicapped in the performance of their professional tasks, so too citizens whose civic education is lacking will be less than competent as members of an extended political community. Studying the Constitution—not to mention American political ideas and institutions—can help us all to exercise our rights, respect the rights of others, and weigh the merit of contending policies. More generally, as Feith notes, civic education can nourish a common culture by showing that partisan disputes often reflect conflicting interpretations of a shared commitment to freedom and equality.