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Civics is the study of the theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government.[1] It includes the study of civil law and civil code, and the study of government with attention to the role of citizens ― as opposed to external factors ― in the operation and oversight of government.[1]

Within a given political or ethical tradition, civics refers to educating the citizens. The history of civics dates back to the earliest theories of civics by Confucius in ancient China and Plato in ancient Greece. In China also along with Confucianism developed the tradition of Legalism. These traditions in the East and in the West developed to an extent differently, therefore, with bringing in the past different concepts of citizens rights and the application of justice, together with different ethics in public life. This was mainly valid before the translation of the Western legal tradition to Chinese which started in 1839 after which influence by Western tradition was brought to China, with periods of restoration of traditional Chinese law, influence by Soviet law; specific is the common ordinary language used in Chinese laws which has significant educational role.

Examples of civic activity


Voting is an important component of civics. Voting involves studying candidates on the ballot to understand each candidate's position and qualification. Voting also includes understanding the propositions that are on the ballot. Voting directly affects how government functions by selecting the candidate to work in the government.


Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, reportedly said by Holmes in a speech in 1904. Money provided by taxation has been used by states and their functional equivalents throughout history to carry out many functions. Some of these include expenditures on war, the enforcement of law and public order, protection of property, economic infrastructure (roads, legal tender, enforcement of contracts, etc.), public works, subsidies, and the operation of government itself.

Governments use taxes to fund welfare and public services. These services can include education systems, health care systems, pensions for the elderly, unemployment benefits, and public transportation. Energy, water and waste management systems are also common public utilities.

Governments use different kinds of taxes and vary the tax rates. A nation's tax system is often a reflection of its communal values and/or the values of those in power. To create a system of taxation, a nation must make choices regarding the distribution of the tax burden—who will pay taxes and how much they will pay—and how the taxes collected will be spent. In democratic nations where the public elects those in charge of establishing the tax system, these choices reflect the type of community that the public wishes to create. In countries where the public does not have a significant amount of influence over the system of taxation, that system may be more of a reflection on the values of those in power. Wikipedia entry of taxes

Jury duty

Jury duty is a responsibility of a citizen to participate in the legal process. Usually given people to people once a year after a drivers license is issued[citation needed].

Townhall meeting

The Townhall meeting is another example of civics. Townhall meetings allow government representatives and members of civil society in specific voting districts meet face to face to review issues and show support or opposition to initiatives. Meetings are publicly announced and attendance is open unless otherwise stipulated.


Of special concern are the choice of a form of government and (if this is any form of democracy) the design of an electoral system and ongoing electoral reform. This involves explicitly comparing voting systems, wealth distribution and the decentralization of political and legal power, control of legal systems and adoption of legal codes, and even political privacy — all seen as important to avoid social (civil) dystrophy[2] or a lapse into some undesirable state of totalitarianism or theocracy. Each of these concerns tends to make the process of governance different, as variations in these norms tend to produce a quite different kind of state. Civics was often simply concerned with the balance of power between say an aristocracy and monarchy—a concern echoed to this day in the struggles for power between different levels of rulers—say of the weaker nation-states to establish a binding international law that will have an effect even on the stronger ones. Thus world government is itself properly a civic problem. Also, it is the study of duties and rights of citizenship and right to an ID.

On smaller scales, modern human development theory attempts to unify ethics and small-scale politics with the urban and rural economies of sustainable development. Notable theorists including Jane Jacobs and Carol Moore argue that political secession of either cities or distinct bio regions and cultures is an essential pre-requisite to applying any widely shared ethics, as the ethical views of urban and rural people, different cultures or those engaged in different types of agriculture, are irreconcilably different. This extreme advocacy of decentralization is hardly uncommon, and leads to the minimal theory of civics – anarchism.

Civics refers not to the ethical or moral or political basis by which a ruler acquires power, but only to the processes and procedures they follow in actually exercising it.

Recently, the concept of global civics has also been suggested as a way of applying civics in the highly interdependent and globalized world of the 21st century. Many people feel that increasing knowledge and awareness of individual citizen's rights can enhance global political and economic understanding. Nations such as the United States have been criticized for minimizing public civics education opportunities in the past several years.

Examples of different types

Most civic theories are more trusting of public institutions, and can be characterizing on a scale from least (mob rule) to most (the totalitarian) degree of trust placed in the government. At the risk of extreme oversimplification, an historical view of civic theory in action suggests that the theories be ranked as follows:

Philosophy Description Example
Oligarchy Power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or military control.— difficult for citizens to participate in governance.[3] Russia
Ochlocracy (aka: Mob Rule) Trusting of the instincts and power of large groups—no consistent civics at all.[4] Lynching, riot, for example, South African townships
Anarchism No government or other hierarchy, a common ethical code enforced only by personal governance (self-rule) and voluntary association.[5] Anarchist Catalonia,as advocated by Pierre Proudhon
Minarchy A minimal hierarchy—e.g. sometimes said to include Eco-anarchism as advocated by Robert Nozick
Libertarianism A philosophy based on the premise that all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and that personal and economic freedom should be maximized as much as possible without Government intervening in personal and business matters. The purpose of Government would only exist to protect and defend the freedom of the people. Another term would be Constitutionalism set forth by The United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. The people would live through Voluntary association through the Free market, This is commonly known as Limited government. Not to be confused with Anarchism. as advocated by Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Ron Paul,
Direct democracy Decisions made directly by the people without guidance or moral suasion, usually relying on multiple choices laid out by experts ancient Athens,As advocated by Ross Perot,local government in switzerland
Deliberative democracy Decisions made by locally grouped citizens obligated to participate in consensus decision making process wikipedia,as advocated by Ralph Nader
Representative democracy A political class of elected representatives is trusted to carry out duties for the electors – these may be responsible to any group in society, or none, once elected United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, USA, France, Germany, India
Technocracy Reliance on castes of bureaucrats and scientists to rule society, and define risk for the whole society – sometimes generalized into anticipatory democracy. Can be interpreted as leading to or including kleptocracy China
Aristocracy General trust in one class in society to rule and protect, e.g. members of particular noble families that have worked for and/or defended the community across many generations (i.e. "old" money), upholding traditions, standards of living, art, culture, commerce, and defense. Not to be confused with plutocracy, where rule is based solely on financial wealth. Ancient Greek city-states were by 8th century BC, generally ruled by an aristocracy. The Roman aristocratic class spearheaded the Roman Republic. The aristocratic families of Republic of Venice and Republic of Genoa held sway during most of the history of the mentioned Italian city-states. See also Patrician (post-Roman Europe), Republic of Ragusa.

see also oligarchy,technocracy

Theocracy Government led by religious beliefs or culture. Theocracies are led by powerful religious figures and follow rules based on religious documents. Vatican City, Islamic Republic of Iran
Constitutional monarchy A monarch, possibly purely symbolic and devoted to moral example, avoiding vesting such popularity in any less trustworthy political figure—typically tied to at least some deliberative institutions, and making the monarch a tiebreaker or mediator or coach United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Canada, and the Netherlands, sweden
Constitutional Republic A constitutional republic is a state in which the head of state and other officials are representatives of the people. They must govern to existing constitution. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers can be separated into distinct branches. United States of America, Brazil
Absolute monarchy A monarchy who carries absolute power, with no requirement to answer to the legislature, judiciary, or the citizenry. Rule is generally hereditary. Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman
Dictatorship A political or military ruler who has the powers of the monarch(people), but whose basis for rule is not hereditary, but based upon military or political power. Benito Mussolini, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Julius Caesar, Francisco Franco, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Seyed Ali Khamenei, Ferdinand Marcos
Note: examples are included only to help familiarize readers with the basic idea of the scale—they are not intended to be conclusive or to categorize these individuals other than the civics that they exercise or exemplify.

Civic Education

Rationale for Civic Education in the United States

The comprehension and promotion of democratic values in the civil society has been an important concern for policy-makers. Over time, they had understood that the promotion of democratic values in civil society can be an effective way to have an impact over people´s political perceptions, encouraging active political participation and the adoption of principles defended by the United States Constitution (e.g. Liberty, Freedom of Speech, Civil Rights). Based on these objectives, the subject of “Civics” has been integrated in the Curriculum and Content Standards, to enhance the comprehension of democratic values in the educational system. Civic literature has found that “engaging young children in civic activities from an early age is a positive predictor of their participation in later civic life”.[6] The introduction of civic instruction in early ages, must be supported by an “environment that offers the possibility of observing the relationship between saying and doing is powerful because in issues of identity and values, community, and civics, concrete actions matter as much as analytical thinking”.[6]

As an academic subject, Civics, has the instructional objective to construct and promote a type of knowledge that is aligned with self-governance and effective participation on matters of public concern.[7] These objectives, advocate for an instruction that encourages active students participation in democratic decision-making environments; such as voting to elect the course representative for the school government or deciding about school actions that will have an impact in the school environment or community. Thus, the intersection of individual and collective decision making activities, are critical to shape “individual´s moral development”.[6] To reach those goals, civic instructors must promote the adoption of certain skills and attitudes such as “respectful argumentation, debate, information literacy”, to support “the development of morally responsible individuals who will shape a morally responsible and civically minded society".[6] In the 21st century, young people are less interested in direct political participation (i.e. being part of a Political Party or simply Vote), but are motivated to use Digital Media (i.e Twitter, Facebook). Digital Media enables young people to share and exchange ideas rapidly, enabling the coordination of local communities that promotes local volunteerism and political activism, in topics principally related to Human Rights and Environmental (e.g. Global Warming).[8]

Young people are constructing and supporting their political identities in the 21st century by using Social Media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and digital tools (e.g. text messaging, hashtags, videos) to share, post, reply an opinion or attitude about a political/social topic and to promote social mobilization and support through online mechanism to a wide and diverse audience worldwide. Therefore, civics end-goal in the 21st century must be oriented to “empower the learners to find issues in their immediate communities that seem important to the people with whom they live and associate”, once “learners have identified with a personal issue and participated in constructing a collective framing for common issues”.[8]

Current State of Civic Education in the United States

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, one of the purposes of Civic Education is to “foster civic competence and responsibility” which is promoted through the Center for Civic Education’s We the People and Project Citizen initiatives.[9] However, there is a lack of consensus for how this mission should be pursued. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) reviewed state civic education requirements in the United States for 2012.[10] The findings include:

  • All 50 states have social studies standards which include civics and government.
  • 40 states require at least one course in government/civics.
  • 21 states require a state-mandated social studies test which is a decrease from 2001 (34 states).
  • 8 states require students to take a state-mandated government/civics test.
  • 9 states require a social studies test as a requirement for high school graduation.

The lack of state-mandated student accountability relating to civics may be a result of a shift in emphasis towards reading and mathematics in response to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.[11]

Students are also demonstrating that their civic knowledge leaves much to be desired. A National Center for Education Statistics NAEP report card for civics (2010) stated that “levels of civic knowledge in U.S. have remained unchanged or even declined over the past century”. Specifically, only 24 percent of 4th, 8th, and 12 graders were at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics.[12] Traditionally, civic education has emphasized the facts of government processes detached from participatory experience.[13] In an effort to combat the existing approach, the National Council for the Social Studiesdeveloped the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The C3 Framework emphasizes “new and active approaches” including the “discussion of controversial issues and current events, deliberation of public issues, service-learning, action civics, participation in simulation and role play, and the use of digital technologies”.[14]

Civic Education in the United States in the 21st Century

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, among teens 12–17 years old, 95% have access to the Internet, 70% go online daily, 80% use social networking sites, and 77% have cell phones.[15] As a result, participatory culture has become a staple for today’s youth, affecting their conceptualization of civic participation. They use Web 2.0 tools (i.e. blogs, podcasts, wikis, social media) to: circulate information (blogs and podcasts); collaborate with peers (wikis); produce and exchange media; and connect with people around the world via social media and online communities.[16] The pervasiveness of participatory digital tools has led to a shift in the way adolescents today perceive civic action and participation. Whereas 20th century civic education embraced the belief of “dutiful citizenship” and civic engagement as a “matter of duty or obligation;” 21st Century civic education has shifted to reflect youths' “personally expressive politics” and “peer-to-peer relationships” that promote civic engagement.[15]

This shift in students' perceptions has led to classroom civic education experiences that reflect the digital world in which 21st century youth now live, in order to make the content both relevant and meaningful. Civics education classrooms in the 21st century now seek to provide genuine opportunities to actively engage in the consumption, circulation, discussion, and production of civic and political content via Web 2.0 technologies such as blogging, wikis, and social media.[17] Although these tools offer new ways for engagement, interaction, and dialogue, educators have also recognized the need to teach youth how to interact both respectfully and productively with their peers and members of online communities. As a result, many school districts have also begun adopting Media Literacy Frameworks for Engaged Citizenship as a pedagogical approach to prepare students for active participatory citizenship in today’s digital age. This model includes critical analysis of digital media as well as a deep understanding of media literacy as a “collaborative and participatory movement that aims to empower individuals to have a voice and to use it.”[18][19]

Criticism of civic education

Sudbury schools contend that values, social justice and democracy must be learned through experience[20][21][22][23] as Aristotle said: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."[24] They adduce that for this purpose schools must encourage ethical behavior and personal responsibility. In order to achieve these goals schools must allow students the three great freedoms—freedom of choice, freedom of action and freedom to bear the results of action—that constitute personal responsibility.[25] The "strongest, political rationale" for democratic schools is that they teach "the virtues of democratic deliberation for the sake of future citizenship."[26] This type of education is often alluded to in the deliberative democracy literature as fulfilling the necessary and fundamental social and institutional changes necessary to develop a democracy that involves intensive participation in group decision making, negotiation, and social life of consequence.

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Frederick Converse Beach, George Edwin Rines, The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts and sciences, literature, history, biography, geography, commerce, etc., of the world, Volume 5, Scientific American compiling department, 1912, p.1
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  3. "Oligarchy" Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.
  4. "theocracy" Online Entomology Dictionary. 2001. Online Entomology Dictionary.
  5. "Anarchy" Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Bers, Marina Umaschi. (2008). “Civic Identities, Online Technologies: From Designing Civic Curriculum to Supporting Civic Experiences." Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008, pp.139–160.
  7. Ellen C. Lagemann & Harry R. Lewis. (2012). “Renewing Civic Education: Time to Restore American Higher Education's Lost Mission” (Harvard Magazine, March-Apr).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bennett, W. Lance. (2008). “Changing Citizenship in the Digital Age." Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008, pp.1–24.
  9. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, § 115, Stat. 1425 (2002)
  10. Godsay, S., Henderson, W., Levine, P., Littenberg-Tobias, J., & CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and, E). (2012). State Civic Education Requirements. CIRCLE Fact Sheet. Center For Information And Research On Civic Learning And Engagement (CIRCLE).
  11. Fleming, Nora. (2011) "Few States Test Students on Civics." Education Week, 32 (08). Retrieved from
  12. National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010 (NCES 2011–466). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
  13. Lin, A. (2015). Citizenship education in American schools and its role in developing civic engagement: a review of the research.Educational Review, 67(1), 35-63. doi:10.1080/00131911.2013.813440
  14. National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (2013), The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Jenkins, H. (2007). "Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century." Chicago: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
  16. Amanda Lenhart, Mary Madden, Aaron Smith, Kristen Purcell, Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie, Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of “digital citizenship” (Pew Internet & American Life Project, November 2011), (accessed on October 8, 2015).
  17. Don Tapscott, Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997); W. Lance Bennett, Deen Freelon and Chris Wells, “Changing Citizen Identity and the Rise of a Participatory Media Culture,” in Lonnie R. Sherrod, Judith Torney-Purta and Constance A. Flanagan (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. , 2010).
  18. All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement: The Report of the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge (Medford, MA: Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2013), commission-on-youth-voting-civic-knowledge/
  19. Mihailidis, P., & Thevenin, B. (2013). Media Literacy as a Core Competency for Engaged Citizenship in Participatory Democracy. American Behavioral Scientist, 0002764213489015.
  20. Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "'Ethics' is a Course Taught By Life Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  21. Greenberg, D. (1987), The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Teaching Justice Through Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  22. Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "Democracy Must be Experienced to be Learned." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  23. Greenberg, D. (1987) Chapter 35, "With Liberty and Justice for All," Free at Last — The Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  24. Bynum, W.F. and Porter, R. (eds) (2005) Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. Oxford University Press. 21:9.
  25. Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics - Moral basics." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  26. Curren, R. (2007) Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing. p 163.

External links