Preparing students for future political engagement ranked last when teachers were asked about the purpose of civics and citizenship education. The two topics are also often siloed into specific subjects, such as social science, rather than covered by teachers throughout a school’s curriculum, a new analysis finds.
Public school teachers were asked to rank 10 reasons for teaching civics and citizenship education in a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation, a research think tank. Here is how teachers prioritized building students’ skills in the following areas:
- Critical and independent thinking: 68%
- Conflict resolution skills: 54%
- Knowledge of citizens’ rights and responsibilities: 41%
- Community involvement: 35%
- Protecting the environment: 27%
- Knowledge of social, political and civic institutions: 23
- Learning effective strategies to reduce racism: 20%
- Participation in school life: 13%
- Defending one’s point of view: 11%
- Preparing for future political engagement: 5%
Knowledge of social, political and civic institutions ranked in the top three for high school educators while elementary teachers said that skills related to social-emotional development—such as respect for the environment—were the most crucial.
Integrating civics and citizenship education
But elementary school teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to say that civics and citizenship education are covered in all subjects. More than a third of elementary school teachers—compared to just 12% of high school educators—said civics and citizenship were embedded across multiple subjects.
This finding has implications for professional development. “Elementary schools, and the teachers in them, might have more experience drawing connections to civic and citizenship education topics during instruction in other subjects,” the researchers wrote. “Teachers at the secondary level could benefit from understanding more about how elementary teachers weave civic and citizenship education into students’ whole-school experiences.”
Views of the purpose of civics and citizenship education did not vary much by the subjects that teachers taught or their school’s characteristics. But the poll did uncover some differences based on the teacher gender. While both male and female teachers most often chose critical and independent thinking as the most important skill to build, female teachers cited conflict resolution and confronting racism as their civics priorities. Male teachers more often selected knowledge of social, political and civic institutions, as well as how to defend one’s point of view.