After decades of neglect, civic education is back on the agenda of political science in the United States. Despite huge increases in the formal educational attainment of the US population during the past 50 years, levels of political knowledge have barely budged. Today's college graduates know no more about politics than did high school graduates in 1950. Recent research indicates that levels of political knowledge affect the acceptance of democratic principles, attitudes toward specific issues, and political participation. There is evidence that political participation is in part a positional good and is shaped by relative as well as absolute levels of educational attainment. Contrary to findings from 30 years ago, recent research suggests that traditional classroom-based civic education can significantly raise political knowledge. Service learning—a combination of community-based civic experience and systematic classroom reflection on that experience—is a promising innovation, but program evaluations have yielded mixed results. Longstanding fears that private schools will not shape democratic citizens are not supported by the evidence.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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