Policy Documents

The Role Of Political Science And Political Scientists In Civic Education

James W. Ceaser –
August 8, 2013

UVA professer James Ceaser writes that civic education in America today is widely said to be in trouble. Whether the concern is primary and secondary education (K–12), where national civics tests show that only a quarter of 12th graders score at a level considered proficient; higher education, where requirements in core American history and government courses are being rapidly abandoned; or adult education for immigrants, where communities and businesses have fallen woefully short in providing English language and civics instruction, all signs point to a failure in imparting the basic knowledge that contributes to good citizenship.[1]

We cannot say for sure if things have gotten worse than they were in the past, but leaders and educators today are certainly worried. As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now active in promoting civic education, recently noted, “We have a terrible problem on our hands.”[2]

Although not alone in expressing alarm, members of one profession can perhaps lay special claim to a proprietary interest in this problem: political scientists. Practitioners of political science in ancient Greece first identified the concept of civic education, and political scientists to this day continue to produce some of the most significant commentary and scholarship on the subject.

In studying a major area of public policy, analysts sometimes examine the set of relations that exist among a body of knowledge, an organization, and the provision of a key social function. Applying this model to the case at hand, this essay will look at the discipline of political science, the profession of political science, and the provision of civic education. Each term, though familiar, needs to be considered more carefully.