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Civic Commentaries

Civics Education and
Home Schooling

The Civics Textbook Project

Elsewhere, we describe this Web site as a civic detective story. The culprits we seek are the purloiners of American citizenship. The word “citizenship,” as we use it in our Web site, has little to do with immigration, passports, or voting qualifications. Rather, it refers to the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are required for self-government. Our use of the term also includes the proposition that, when people create government, they cannot simply walk away from it, assuming that it is a machine that will “go of itself,” to use an old term. About all we know at the moment about the civic thieves is that they may not be as obvious as one might think. Possibly our situation resembles one that Sherlock Holmes faced in one of his cases: The crucial clue was not that a dog barked at nighttime while evil was afoot but that it remained silent.

Our investigative hypothesis is not necessarily that someone or a mysterious cabal deliberately high jacked the civic knowledge, energy, and skill needed for the self-governing citizens of a republic. As big as the heist is, probably more than a few gonifs were required to pull it off—maybe even two or more institutions. No doubt some readers are asking, “Why do you think citizenship was stolen in the first place?” One good reason is that it doesn’t seem to be around when it’s needed. We’ll expand on this comment abundantly in future articles on this Web site. Meanwhile, we want to tell you about one investigative tool we will use to solve our mystery.

Among the investigative leads that might be explored, we decided some time ago to collect civics textbooks, particularly those published early in our Country’s history. Possibly, we thought, such books would be promising for our purpose; thus, the closer the publication dates of the textbooks were to the Constitutional Convention, the better. One would think, after all, that textbook authors who wrote a generation or two after 1789 would be more likely to incorporate the results of that summer salon in Philadelphia into their textbooks than those who wrote civics textbooks 150 years later. One of our working hypotheses is that the more recent the publication date of a civics textbook, the fewer references will be in it to the principles of constitutional self-government and its origins. At this writing, we have not quite figured out a method to test our hypothesis, but several ideas are being considered.

With this hypothesis in mind, we began our search for old civics textbooks in antiquarian bookstores, antique stores, and second-hand shops or thrift stores. To date, we have found most of our books on visits to New York State, the Midwest, and to the upper northwest corner of America. The collection now consists of about sixty textbooks published before the New Deal era. We have reason to believe that our sample, so to speak, might be about 20% of all the civics textbooks that were published from the Constitutional period to the present day. One might contend that this is not a satisfactory sample size on which to base firm conclusions, but it is adequate for preliminary research. As time passes, we will add more to our database from additional textbooks as we acquire them. Incidentally, one problem that confounds our project is the slipperiness of the term “civics,” a point we will also develop more fully later.

After examining about half of our collection, we decided to post our reviews of them on this page as a service to home-school parents and their pupils. We often find interesting sections or chapters in them about subjects rarely found in more modern civics textbooks. We will either make these available for downloading from this Web site or direct readers to copyright-free sites where they can be obtained. Parents and their pupils alike might enjoy discussing these materials in terms of their implications for contemporary issues.

Speaking of civics books now available for home schooling, we have not read all of them, but our preliminary assessment of them is that they differ little from those now in use by government schools. This comment might surprise home-school parents, especially those who use civics texts purchased from publishers who cater to the Christian market. One would expect that, if home-school parents want to protect their youngsters from the civic atmosphere of government schools, they would choose texts suited for that purpose. However, based on the civics textbooks we have seen in home-school Web pages, this does not seem to be the case. Possibly, as we acquire more familiarity with the home-school culture, we will revise this opinion. For the present, our principal object is to continue to review civics textbooks of earlier times. This is necessary to establish a baseline for future commentary about contemporary civics textbooks.

Our reviews might also be of interest to visitors other than home-school parents and their young learners: researchers and writers who are interested in the subject of civics education. For this reason, we also will include in this series, reviews of another kind—for example, textbooks or scholarly writings of earlier times about the philosophy, so to speak, of teaching civics. We also plan to briefly review contemporary articles in professional journals about the same subject.

You will notice that our reviews of civics textbooks do not include the page numbers in the textbooks where they may be found. Although we would be obliged to provide these numbers in a scholarly publication, we have omitted them in these postings as a concession to those who find the numbers bothersome. We draw the line, however, at removing the quotation marks. One more explanation is in order, namely, that we concede that some of our reviews are lengthy. Unlike the editors of tabloid newspapers, we do not hold our reviews to an 800-word limit. After all, it stands to reason that the more clues a detective discovers, the more there will be to report.

As the project develops, we will tell you more about it and how close we are getting to obtaining an arrest warrant for the perpetrators of The Great Civics Heist. Meanwhile, read the reviews yourself and collect your own set of clues. You will find some of the reviews in the Civics Education and Home Schooling section and others in the Civic Commentaries section.


March 5, 2009

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