Civic Preparation of American Youth: Reflective Patriotism and Our Constitutional Democracy

Published date01 January 2023
AuthorPaul Carrese
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterFinding Common Ground among Progressive and Conservative Visions of Civic Education
The Seven Themes of the Educating for American Democracy Initiative
Overarching Thematic Questions
1Civic Participation
This theme explores the relationship between self-government
and civic participation, drawing on the discipline of history to
explore how citizens’ active engagement has mattered for
American society and on the discipline of civics to explore the
principles, values, habits, and skills that support productive
engagement in a healthy, resilient constitutional democracy.
This theme focuses attention on the overarching goal of engaging
young people as civic participants and preparing them to assume
that role successfully.
How have Americans come together in groups,
made decisions, and affected their communities,
the country, and the world?
How can that history inform our civic participa-
tion today?
What are the responsibilities and opportu-
nities of citizenship and civic agency in
America’s constitutional democracy?
How can I participate?
2Our Changing Landscapes
This theme begins from the recognition that American civic expe-
rience is tied to a particular place and explores the history of how
the United States has come to develop the physical and geographi-
cal shape it has, the complex experiences of harm and benefit
which that history has delivered to different portions of the
American population, and the civics questions of how political
communities form in the first place, become connected to specific
places, and develop membership rules.
The theme also takes up the question of our contemporary
responsibility to the natural world.
How has our geographic, social, economic, and
political landscape changed over time?
How has the land we inhabit—from our local
community to states and territories to the
American republic—changed over time, and how
have we shaped it?
What different perspectives are there on
those changes (see History Thematic
Question), and on the benefits and costs of
those changes?
What principles and values do Americans
invoke in our debates about these issues?
Special Editors’ Note:
We invited Peter Levine and Paul Carrese—principal investigators for the bipartisan Educating for American Democracy initiative—to give us their (sometimes contrasting and some-
times complementary) perspectives on the project. The Initiative is a case study of finding bipartisan consensus on approaches to civic education, and Levine and Carrese share their
respective liberal and conservative vantage points on the work that they have done to negotiate a shared roadmap of civics and history content and pedagogical principles with more
than three hundred contributors. Some of that consensus is laid out in the Figure on the following pages.
G.W., D.D., D.C. & C.L.
3We, the People
This theme explores the idea of “the people” as a political con-
cept—not just a group of people who share a landscape but a
group of people who share political ideals and institutions. The
theme explores the history of how the contemporary American
people have taken shape as a political body and builds civic under-
standing about how political institutions and shared ideals can
work to connect a diverse population to shared processes of soci-
etal decision-making.
The theme also explores the challenge of e pluribus unum: forging
one political people out of diverse experiences.
Who are “We, the People of the United States”
and how has the nation’s population changed over
What does our history reveal about the aspira-
tions and tensions captured by the motto e pluri-
bus unum?
Why does constitutional democracy
depend on the idea of “the people”?
What values, virtues, and principles can
knit together “We, the People” of the
United States of America?
4A New Government & Constitution
This theme explores the institutional history of the United States
as well as the theoretical underpinnings of constitutional design.
How did the U.S. government form and how
have civic participants changed its shape over
What is a constitution and what is its pur-
pose? What is power?
What are rights (natural rights, human
rights, civil rights, etc.)?
What is law? What is constitutional democ-
5Institutional & Social Transformation—A Series
of Refoundings?
This theme explores how social arrangements and conflicts have
combined with political institutions to shape American life from
the earliest colonial period to the present, investigates which
moments of change have most defined the country, and builds
understanding of how American political institutions and society
Is the American Revolution ongoing?
How and why has the United States transformed
its basic political, legal, economic, and social
arrangements over time?
How do you evaluate when changes are signifi-
cant enough to count as a refounding?
What is a just society?
How do laws and social structures change?
How can the Constitution be changed for-
mally and informally? (And how can your
state constitution or other charter be
What political and economic ideas have
contributed to these changes?

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