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Volume 17, Number 6
November/December 2001

Teaching Civics after September 11

Will the swell of patriotic expression translate into better civics teaching and learning in U.S. schools?


If there is a silver lining to the awful events of September 11, it may be found in the way Americans have responded. Across the United States, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, have refreshed a spirit of community and appreciation for the democratic ties that bind a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious nation of 280 million. There have been some ugly exceptions, including threats against Arab Americans and Muslims, but such incidents have been relatively rare. For the most part, tolerance, generosity, and unity have prevailed.

Interestingly, the U.S. institutions best prepared to deal with the shock of September 11 may have been K-12 schools. Following a rash of deadly school shootings, many schools already had crisis-intervention plans in place to comfort and counsel fearful students in case of another Columbine. At the same time, the spread of anti-bullying programs and multicultural curricula in the 1990s laid important groundwork for teaching tolerance and discouraging the stereotyping of Arab and Muslim children.

Schools have also led the way in a national resurgence of patriotic expression. The national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are back in places like New York City, where they long ago had fallen out of favor. On October 12, school kids from Hawaii to Maine recited the Pledge in unison, led by U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige. Across the country, children have been drawing the Stars and Stripes, discussing America's global role with renewed appreciation (and some apprehension), and writing letters of encouragement to firefighters, police, and other civil servants.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Center for Civic Education (CCE). National Standards for Civics and Government. Calabasas, CA: CCE, 1994.

W. Damon. "Restoring Civil Identity Among the Young," in Making Good Citizens, ed. D. Ravitch and J. Viteritti. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

J. Glenn. "The Benefits of Service-Learning." Harvard Education Letter 17, no. 1 (January/February 2001): 8.

J.A. Heath and P. Vik. "Elementary School Student Councils: A Statewide Study." Principal 74, no. 1 (September 1994): 31-32, 34.

B. Kleiner and C. Chapman. Youth Service-Learning and Community Service Among 6th- through 12th-grade Students in the United States: 1996 and 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999.

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Washington, DC: Author, 1994.

R.G. Niemi and J. Junn. Civic Education. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Public Agenda. A Lot to Be Thankful for: What Parents Want Children to Learn About America. New York: Public Agenda, 1998.

S. Zeldin and S. Tarlov. "Service Learning as a Vehicle for Youth Development," in Service Learning: Ninety-Sixth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, ed. J. Schine. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education, 1997.