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The national defense education act of 1958 and its impact on voter turnout

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Title:
The national defense education act of 1958 and its impact on voter turnout
Creator:
Villani, Tony James
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
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159 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
National Defense Education Act of 1958 (United States) ( fast )
1900 - 1999 ( fast )
Political participation -- History -- United States -- 20th century ( lcsh )
Political participation ( fast )
United States ( fast )
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History. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
History ( fast )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 156-159).
Thesis:
Political science
General Note:
Department of Political Science
Statement of Responsibility:
by Tony James Villani.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Resource Identifier:
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ocm53873653
Classification:
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Full Text
THE NATIONAL DEFENSE EDUCATION ACT
OF 1958
AND ITS IMPACT ON VOTER TURNOUT
by
Tony James Villani
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1997
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Political Science
2002


This thesis for the Master of Arts
Degree by Tony James Villani
has been approved
by

Date


Villani, Tony James (M.A. Political Science)
National Defense Education Act of 1958
and its Impact on Voter Turnout
Thesis Directed by Dr. Anthony Robinson.
ABSTRACT
Since the 1960s, voter turnout in national elections in the United States
has been in a steady decline. There have been numerous causes for the decline
advanced by scholars, but no one has come to a concrete solution as to why
turnout rates are dropping even while the political process is becoming more
accessible to all. During the period in question, many requirements for
registration and voting have relaxed the rigors of voting to make it easier for
people to participate. Levels of education in America have also risen across the
board, and so it has been viewed by many that there can be no link between
education and declining turnout.
One factor that has gone overlooked in the dismissal of education as a
factor in decline of turnout is that people are now educated differently than they
were before the 1960s. When the Russians defeated the United States in the race
to outer space, the Americans reacted by overhauling education to close the
perceived technological gap between the countries. This reaction was embodied
in the National Defense Education Act of 1958, and the change included emphasis
on the sciences and scientific thinking processes. The move toward analytical
thinking led to a destruction of the traditionally patriotic education that
concentrated on indoctrination of American ideals into the minds of our children.
Without the inculcation of civic duty that previously underscored public
education, students have grown up feeling that it is not vital that they participate
in politics.
Factors that have continually been blamed for the decline of voter
turnout are accepted, but all of these factors have been exacerbated because
people have not had that sense of obligation to participate that they held prior
to the NDEA. Many would argue that the analytical processes that were
advanced in the time following the NDEA are more important to democracy
in


than the blind obedience of civic mindedness that was prevalent before the
act, and this is not disputed. A value judgement about the worth of one type
of education is not made. Instead, it is merely an attempt to show that decline
in turnout can in fact be traced to education.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis.
I recommend its publication.
Signed
IV


DEDICATION
I wish to dedicate this thesis to my parents and brother for their unwavering support
throughout my time in school.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My love and thanks to Dr. Anthony Robinson, who has been patient and generous
with me in not only the course of this work, but also in the years I have worked for
and under him. He is the professor I wish to be.


CONTENTS
TABLES
INTRODUCTION 1
CHAPTER ONE 7
Decline of Voter Turnout
Current Statistics Regarding Turnout 8
Democracy in Peril 13
Should We Be Concerned? 13
A Problem for Democracy 16
Profile of the Nonvoter 19
Low Turnout v.s. Declining Turnout 24
Institutional Framework 25
Party Competition 27
Prevailing Theories for Decline of Turnout 30
Voter Alienation and Cynicism 30
Failure to Mobilize the Electorate 33
Fracturing of Social Ties 35
Media Impact 36
Conclusion 38
vii


CHAPTER TWO
40
Civic Education in America
Demands of a Democratic Society 44
Approaches to Educating for Citizenship 48
Morality 49
Character Education and Moral Development 50
Values Education 50
Academics 51
Diverse Perspectives 53
Education Outside the School 54
Implications 56
History of Civic Education 60
Evolving Ideas 61
Modem Era 69
Conclusion 71
CHAPTER THREE 72
National Defense Education Act of 1958
Cold War Ideology 73
Concerns About American Education 77
Legacy of Progressivism 77
Critics of Progressive Style Education 80
Political Climate Regarding Federal Involvement 83
viii
The Catalyst for Change
86


American Response 88
National Defense Education Act 89
Conclusion 98
CHAPTER FOUR 100
Decline of Civic Education
Completing the History of Civic Education 101
Crisis of Civic Education 103
The Need for Civic Education 104
Societal Attitudes Towards Civic Education 105
Societal Knowledge About Civics 107
Students Attitudes About Civics 109
Students Knowledge About Civics 110
When the Decline Started 114
State of the Art 117
Topical Configuration 118
Textbook Quality 120
T eacher Quality 121
Assessment 122
Summarizing the Flaws of the Social Studies 124
Education Can Make a Difference 125
Conclusion 126
CHAPTER FIVE 128
IX


A New Explanation for Declining Voter Turnout
The Various Factors 130
Voter T umout 130
Civic Education 131
National Defense Education Act 134
Civic Education After Sputnik 136
Tying the Pieces Together- A New Theory 137
Testing the Theory 143
Putnams Taxonomy 144
Applying the Taxonomy 144
Solving One Major Riddle 146
Conclusion 147
Notes 149
Bibliography 157
x


LIST OF TABLES
TABLE 1 10
TABLE 2 10
TABLE 3 31
xi


INTRODUCTION
This thesis is an attempt to link the National Defense Education Act of 1958
with the current problem the United States is experiencing with voter turnout. The
U.S. experiences voter turnout rates below that of nearly every industrialized country.
This decline started after the national election of 1960. Civic education also changed
dramatically at this time, and there is reason to believe that we are not turning out at
the polls because we are not expected to do so, nor trained to do so by our educators.
There are several highly contentious ideas presented in this work and the
reader is cautioned to take stock of all of the evidence to prevent feelings of
alienation. For example, the fourth chapter offers various authors comments that
blame the multicultural revolution of the 1960s for the decline in civic education.
What these authors provide is merely their viewpoints on the problem as a whole.
What is being argued in this work is not that the 60s or any other single factor is to
blame for the decline in voter turnout. In fact, numerous theories are accepted. What
is presented here is the notion that the decline in voter turnout was going to happen
due to the ideas presented in other theories.
However, it was changing from one style of education prior to 1960 to a new
style after 1960 that has allowed the decline to continue. The failure of the United
1



States to meet the problem of participatory decline with an educational program that
adequately informs and encourages participation has exacerbated all of the causes of
decline in voter turnout.
The first chapter is a look into the problems surrounding the decline of voter
participation in America. A number of important points are explored in this
introductory chapter. First, the rate at which citizens are voting in this country is in a
dramatic state of decline. At no point in our history have voters participated less, and
there is little reason to believe that this fact will change in the near future. Second,
this is a highly dubious commentary about the state of democracy in our country.
When people are not participating in a government that is dependent on that
participation for legitimacy, and less than half of those eligible to vote are casting
their vote, we are left to wonder Who exactly is making the decisions that affect our
lives? If only half of the people are voting in presidential elections, in a closely
contested election the outcome may be decided by little more than one quarter of the
eligible electorate. This result can hardly be understood to be the will of the people.
Third, this problem is worsened by the fact that the nonvoter has a specific,
identifiable set of characteristics. Because those who do not vote can be recognized
due to their tendency to have common traits, there is a specific segment of the
population that is being underrepresented in the political arena today. This fact
makes the decisions that are being made by those who are elected to be ever-more
questionable as reflecting the will of the people. Without at least proportional input
2


by all of societys demographics, there can never be a balanced dialogue upon which
to base a decision. Finally, the variety of reasons that are currently being given to
explain the decline of voter turnout are explored. There are a number of plausible
explanations for the decline, but due to the sheer number of viewpoints about the
issue, it is clear that consensus about a cause is not going to develop any time soon.
Chapter Two diverges from the information developed in the first chapter and
dissects civic education in America. Public schools originally were founded in this
country for the express purpose of educating people to be good citizens. Our
founding fathers believed that it was incumbent upon the people to keep their
government in check, and without the tools to interact with their government
responsibly, citizens would fail at this task. Though puritans had established schools
to develop morally responsible Christian citizens, the founders motivation was to
create a citizenry capable of meaningful interaction with their governors. As the
country evolved, business entities began to have an interest in public education, as it
provided a training for those that business would employ. This is changing of the
goals for education would be common throughout our history.
Numerous approaches to educating for citizenship are uncovered in the second
chapter. Every school district in the country has its methods for teaching students
how to participate, and this lack of uniformity in the curriculum is a major problem
with the enterprise today. While Chapter Four will go into detail about how the
teaching of citizenship is in disarray, Chapter Two provides the reader with a glimpse
3


into how truly chaotic teaching this value has become. There are literally dozens of
approaches being taught all around the country, with no national standards to measure
achievement. This leads to no uniform instruction or goals, and there is no standard
by which people are judged to be citizens, even though all are providing citizenship
education in theory.
The chapter concludes with a history of civic education in America. As our
country evolved, this purpose was first modified, then altered, then segmented into
specific parts of the curriculum, and eventually left out altogether as a purpose of
primary and secondary education. It is important to note, in reading this chapter, that
civic education always held some sort of place in education on the national level until
the time frame discussed in Chapter Three.
Chapter Three is an examination of the National Defense Education Act of
1958. The time period in question was dominated by the ideology of the Cold War.
This was a set of beliefs that truly served to raise the tension of the people at the time
and keep everyone on edge about the potential end of our civilization. This ideology
used bipolar notions of good versus evil, obsession with national survival, and race
imagery to inculcate the understanding that America was in a fight for survival with
Communist Russia. At the time there was also growing concern over the state of
education in America. Many commentators were blaming the legacy of
progressivism in education for the perception that American students were not being
equipped with the tools necessary for life as an educated person.
4


These two factors would be brought together when the Soviets beat the United
States into space by launching the Earths first artificial satellite. Sputnik soared into
space on October 4, 1957, and immediately shock waves were felt in the U.S. It did
not take people long to realize that a great deal of advancement was unnecessary for
the Soviets to be able to launch atomic weapons at our cities. People wanted to know
how the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space, and Cold War hysteria quickly placed
the blame at the feet of American educational standards.
In order to make up the ground that was lost to the Soviets, the U.S. passed
the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958. This act set aside money
specifically for the teaching of courses relevant to the long-term defense of our
country. Generally this meant that any courses contributing to engineering fields
were included, but more specifically this meant that science, math, and foreign
language would receive significant boosts. Social studies would not be aided, and
would in fact begin to mirror the scientific processes being taught in the affected
courses. The indoctrination that had been a part of educating for citizenship before
Sputnik was replaced with more scientific critical thinking and analysis.
Chapters Two and Three each end with the same point in time, the passage of
the NDEA. Chapter Four picks up the development of civic education at this point
and traces it to the present day. There will be numerous statistics provided that will
show the drop in students knowledge about civics, as well as societys growing civic
ignorance as a whole. The effects felt by the crowding of the curriculum with courses
5


\
different from those originally used for civic education are detailed, and the long and
slow descent of civic education is chronicled. What should be becoming clear to the
reader at this point is that the decline of civic education is correlated with the decline
in voter turnout.
After diagramming the decline of civic education, the state of the practice will
be clearly laid out. All of the problems that civic education is experiencing today are
included in this section, from the quality of teachers and texts, to the way the
discipline is being taught, to the lack of national standards. Finally, evidence will be
provided that shows that when students are taught in a specific manner and held to
standards, their interest and performance in civics-related courses improves.
Finally, Chapter Five will synthesize the material covered in the first four chapters
and provide a new possible answer for why people are not voting: they are not being
educated to do so. This is a remarkable claim because education is always dismissed
as a cause for declining turnout because it is universally accepted that education
levels have risen during the time turnout has dropped. The evidence will show,
however, that education is a possible candidate for the decline we are witnessing. If it
is true, then education will receive the blame once again for the United States being
behind, just as it education did when Sputnik was launched. This conclusion will
have consequences both for Political Science and Public Administration, as it
becomes a possibility that it is, in fact, the public policy and educational style of the
United States that has led to the crisis we are experiencing in our democracy.
6


CHAPTER ONE
DECLINE OF VOTER TURNOUT
Political scientists are struggling to explain why electoral turnout in the
United States is on a downward spiral. There are numerous theories as to why this
decline is taking place, but as of yet no one theory can adequately explain why
Americans are participating less and less in every sequential electoral cycle. This
chapter will delve into these theories and attempt to make some sense of a puzzle that
mystifies observers of the political arena.
The first section of this chapter will elaborate on the numbers that tell the tale
of American voting participation, and describe exactly how bad the state of affairs is
in this country. Following a breakdown of the facts of this case, arguments against
increasing voter participation will begin the second major section. It is possible, after
all, that what we are experiencing might in fact be reasonable and appropriate, and
maybe even preferable to universal participation. However, while some believe that
it is not a worrisome trend, others claim the very health of democracy is at stake in
America. This section will conclude with an examination of who the nonvoter is.
The fact that the nonvoter is so easy to describe makes this entire situation one that
requires attention.
7


The third part of this chapter will explain the differences between low voter
turnout and declining turnout. The United States is reputed to, and in fact does have
one of the lowest rates of turnout of any industrialized democracy. However,
institutional changes have not made voting more difficult, and consequently the
current decline cannot be blamed on institutional factors. Therefore, clarification as
to the differences between low and declining turnout is necessary so as not to confuse
the causes for each. After this section, the theories that attempt to explain the decline
we are now experiencing will be dissected.
The Current Statistics Regarding Turnout
One of the biggest questions in political science today is why voter turnout in
national elections is steadily declining: turnout for the presidential election of 1876
was 82.6% of the legally eligible electorate, while no election since 1900 has reached
even 70%.' Even though it is obvious that the beginning of the twentieth century
started a slow drop in turnout that continues to this day, the fact is that it has only
become worrisome to some political scientists because the most recent decline is so
long and steady in nature. For example, turnout for the 1924 presidential election was
the lowest of the century, dropping nearly thirteen percentage points from the 1916
level of 61.8% to 48.9%. However, by 1936 turnout had risen again to 61%. A
similar drop took place from 62.5% in 1940 to 53.4% in 1948, only to be followed
8


again by a rise. With the exception of a few slight bumps in 1984, 1992, and 2000,
however, turnout for presidential elections has declined every year since 1960.
The slight increases in the aforementioned years are not enough to warrant
optimism that the trend will be averted anytime soon, and this is evident for a number
of reasons. First, according to the Committee for the Study of the American
Electorate, these bumps have been followed by declines in the very next presidential
election year that more than erase any gains that the temporary raises produced.2 As
the table and graph on the following page indicate, the increase of .5% in 1984 was
immediately followed by a 3% decline in 1988. The remarkable increase of 5.1% in
1992 proved to be just as short lived, as the 1996 election produced an equally
remarkable drop of 6.2%, immediately erasing any ground that had been gained in
voter participation. And while the election of 2000 witnessed an increase of 2%, this
increase only brought the participation levels to just over 50%. This trend is hardly
anything to be oveijoyed about if one is concerned about the health of our democracy,
and there is no reason to hold out hope that there will be a change in this trend. Curtis
Gans, Director of the Committee stated recently that Nothing in this turnout picture
indicates that we have turned the comer on declining voter turnout.
Second, the last time that there were two consecutive elections with an
increase of participation were 1936 and 1940. That is a time span of sixty years, and
fifteen elections. Prior to the current drop there were very few occasions in electoral
history when there were in fact two consecutive years of participation increase.
9


TABLE 1
Presidential Election Voter Turnout
1924-2000
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TABLE 2
Year Turnout
1924 48.9%
1928 51.8%
1932 52.6%
1936 56.8%
1940 58.8%
1944 56.1%
1948 51.1%
1952 61.6%
1956 59.4%
1960 62.8%
1964 61.9%
1968 60.9%
1972 55.2%
1976 53.5%
1980 52.6%
1984 53.1%
1988 50.1%
1992 55.2%
1996 49.0%
2000 51.0%
10


Closer examination of the numbers reveals that it is cause for concern because while
there were not that many instances of consecutive gains in electoral participation,
there was also no time in which there were so many consecutive declines in turnout.
This point raises the third reason why the current trend will most likely
continue. It is the longest steady decline in presidential election history. From 1960,
when voter turnout was 62.8% to its low of 49% in 1996, election turnout has
dropped nearly 13%. There have certainly been more precipitous drops in history,
but none over this length of time without large spikes of participation in the
intervening years. From 1960 to 1980, there were six national presidential elections.
From the high point in 1960, turnout decreased almost every year in this time span.
What small reprieve was gained in the years where there were spikes was quickly
erased in the very next election. Strikingly, there were five consecutive elections
where turnout declined. The longest decline of this type previously was only over the
course of three elections. Furthermore, while drops of this magnitude have occurred
over shorter time spans, turnout rates never failed to regain half of the drop within
two elections.3
While the focus of this study is on voter turnout, it is but one manifestation of
a much larger problem: alienation and frustration of the electorate. The voters are not
turning out at the polls, that much is certain. But there are other indicators that
support the conclusion that there is a large level of dissatisfaction of the public with
their representative institutions. Data showing this dissatisfaction was collected by
11


the Center of Political Studies at the University of Michigan and was reproduced by
Gordon S. Black and Benjamin Black in their book The Politics of American
Discontent. Also included in the book was information compiled by Warren E.
Miller and Santa A Trauge from their studies on American elections. The data are a
series of survey questions and the responses to these questions over the course of 16
years. As the authors point out in their work, the questions deal with the attitudes
that are central to a healthy, functioning democracytrust in those who govern, a
belief that elections have an impact, and that people are connected to a system of
governance.4
One question asked respondents if they felt that the almost all of the people
running the government are smart people who usually know what they are doing, or
do you think that quite a few of them dont seem to know what they are doing? In
1964 only 27% of respondents answered that people who run the government dont
know what they are doing. By 1980 that figure had more than doubled, as 62% of
those asked responded in a similar manner. This is either the result of an increased
intellectual level of the electorate, or a decrease in awareness as to what is going on
around them in the political sphere. The focus of this study is to emphasize the latter.
Another question asked people if they felt that public officials cared about
what people such as the respondents thought. In 1964, 36% said that they thought
that government officials did not care what the individual thought, and by 1980 that
number had risen to 52%. Finally, a question asked people how much they felt
12


elections would be helpful in making sure the government paid attention to them as
voters. In 1964 the number responding that elections forced the government to listen
to the voters was 65%, and by 1980 it had fallen to 51%.
Numerous other independent studies have been undertaken that reached the
exact same conclusion: that people simply do not feel that the government is
responsive to their needs. In his book, The Disappearing American Voter, Ruy A.
Teixeira tabulated information from National Election Study data and found that from
1960 to 1988 those polled who were asked if they felt that government
responsiveness and efficacy was high dropped from 61.7% to 29.9 %. At the same
time, those who rated the same category as low rose from 15.7% to 42.8%.s
Obviously voter dissatisfaction with government is evident in a number of arenas;
low voting rates are just one indication of this discontent.
Democracy in Peril
Should We Be Concerned?
Many authors consulted for this work entertained the question of whether or
not it was important to care if there is high voter turnout at the polls. The first and
most frequently recited reason to ignore voter apathy is the idea that if voters are not
turning out it is because they are satisfied with the way things are. The idea being, of
course, that voters know that they can make a difference if they want to, and since
they choose to avoid voting they must be happy with the state of affairs. Estimates of
13


the number of people who fall into this category range as high as 3 5%.6 This notion
is contradicted by the aforementioned statistics that note that people do not feel their
government can be responsive. If a person does not feel that their vote is going to
count, then it certainly serves to marginalize that individual and make them less likely
to vote.
Second, some authors feel that it serves the functionality of government to
keep disagreement and discord to a minimum. As long as there is a certain level of
apathy and disinterest, the system will be able to be flexible and accommodate the
diverse interests in a reasonable way. William Crotty summarizes the words of
Carole Patemen in his book Political Participation and American Democracy by
saying that limited participation and apathy have a positive function for the whole
system by cushioning the shock of disagreement, adjustment, and change.7 This
sentiment is echoed by Bernard Barelson, Paul Lazarsfeld, and William Mcphee in
their book Voting, published in 1954. They wonder how a large democracy might
work if everyone were deeply involved in politics.
This logic supposes that if there were a large number of additional votes, they
would automatically cause divisiveness. This may in fact be the case, but there is no
definitive proof to claim so. In the ten presidential elections contested from 1952
through 1988, a majority of the nonvoters disagreed with the choice of the voters only
twice, in 1952 and 1980.9 That is to say that those polled after the election actually
approved the choice that the rest of the electorate made. This suggests that a large
14


influx of voters might not dramatically alter the institutions and create a large amount
of strain on the system. Why bother doing it then, if nothing will be changed? That
is an important question that goes right to the legitimacy of the government, and will
be covered shortly.
A third argument is that people who dont vote are uneducated about the
issues anyway, and it is far more important that only those who take the time to
prepare themselves for the vote should have a say in the outcome of elections. In
short, democracy is better off to only have the educated few making the decisions.
This sentiment has been repeated by numerous individuals in the history of our
nation, most notably Thomas Jefferson. In his book The Empty Polling Booth, Arthur
T. Hadley delves into the lineage of thinkers both before and after Jefferson who felt
that it was best to restrict the voting public to only the enlightened.10 He states that
Aristotle wanted only the upper classes to vote because those at the lower rungs of
society did not have the background or training to maintain a democracy.
Furthermore, he points out that Plato would restrict the franchise even further,
excluding those in the arts because they were too frivolous to govern themselves.
Finally, according to Hadley, John Stuart Mill was an outspoken critic of slavery, yet
wanted to weight the ballot more heavily in favor of those who had more education.
15


changed the elections is relevant only to the extent that it shows the system would not
be disrupted. If the government is not being chosen by a majority of those it
represents, then it can hardly be considered a legitimate entity.
A second view of this problem is that not all non-participants are in fact
abstaining from voting. There is some support for the notion that those who do not
vote are actually prevented to some degree from voicing their opinions. Despite all of
the advances made in recent years in voting registration laws, many are still unable to
make their views known. Francis Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward take particular
exception to the idea that nonvoting is healthy for democracy as a whole. In their
book Why Americans Still Dont Vote, published in 2000, they point out that those
who feel that a certain level of nonvoting is appropriate fail to deal with the
decidedly undemocratic consequences of muffling the demands of some group of the
polity and not others.14
This leads to another justification for improving voter turnout that may very
well be as important as the legitimacy of the government itself. The fact that the
nonvoter in this country has specific identifiable characteristics makes it vital to make
sure these people are included. For if nonvoters were simply a cross section of the
populace, and people from all demographic groups stayed away from the polling
booths, it would be of less concern. But because there is actually a profile for the
nonvoter, it means that there are segments of society, not a microcosm of society, that
are not being represented. This goes directly to the point made by Piven and
17


Cloward. It is severely undemocratic to allow portions of the eligible electorate to be
kept from making an impact. In a democracy, policy alternatives presented to the
public should ideally reflect the needs and interests of the people as a whole. If they
do not, some segments of the population may be disadvantaged by these alternatives,
even if the specific preferences about them differ little from those of the rest of the
population.15
Earlier it was noted that in the last ten presidential elections, nonvoters
disapproved of the presidential choice of voters only once. Then the arguments of
Piven and Cloward were expounded upon to show the importance of legitimizing
government through maximum inclusion, because it is undemocratic to keep people
from making their voices heard. At first glance it may seem that the preceding
arguments are contradictory. Either the nonvoters will make an impact in the
electoral outcomes if they are included, or they will not, but it must be one or the
other.
The evidence showing the nonvoters tendency to agree with the majority of
those who voted is included only to expose the fallacy of the argument that upheaval
will certainly ensue of the franchise is expanded. All through history, there have been
those who were concerned about the growth of the franchise, and wished to restrict it
to avoid disaster. Each time there were new additions to the number of voters, the
predicted anarchy never materialized.
18


The issue is not whether there will be an overhaul in electoral outcome, it is
that the legitimacy of the government hangs in the balance. As we are about to find
out, there is a specific demographic that is not voting. Whether or not there is change
in the system with the inclusion of these groups is not important. What is important
is that any election or vote without the inclusion of these people cannot be considered
valid. In short, there is not necessarily going to be a dramatic shift in the outcome of
public policy because of maximizing the eligible electorate, but even if there is, it is
the type of democratic governance we should be attempting to achieve.
Profile of the Nonvoter
So who is the nonvoter? Studies have shown that race, socioeconomic status,
and education all play roles to a certain degree in helping to identify those who will
not vote. According to Perm Kimball, author of The Disconnected, race is the most
common factor, in that non-voters are predominantly non-white. The urban poor, the
young, Blacks, Mexican Americans, the American Indian, groups with the largest
stake in social change, have the least connection with the political structure which is
the supposed instrument of orderly change.16 Other authors feel that education levels
are the best indicator of how likely it is that an individual will vote, and there is some
evidence to support that claim.
Piven and Cloward cite Census Bureau statistics that show that even though white
voter turnout dropped 9.8% from 1964 to 1980, black voter turnout fell only 8%. The
19


real difference was between those who failed to complete high school and those who
completed four years of college. High school dropouts turned out at the polls 19.8%
less in 1980 than they did in 1964. Conversely, voters who attended four plus years
of college dropped by only 7.6%.17 Obviously, education is a solid predictor of who
will and will not show up on election day.
Education has been taken into account on its own, but higher levels of
education do not always translate into higher voting rates. That is why
socioeconomic status (SES) is a better indicator for some authors, because it takes
race and education into account along with income level. For example, the same
information that Piven and Cloward use to indicate differences in education levels can
be expanded to include race and occupation, giving a more clear picture of who
exactly is voting and who is not. They compare the voting returns of the 1976
election to show that white male laborers with a grade school education turned out at
half the rate of their managerial counterparts. It is this kind of information that allows
the authors to take into account both race and education and combine it with
occupation to arrive at the conclusion that non-voters are more likely to come from
more humble economic backgrounds than those that vote regularly. Piven and
Cloward note that this fact is alarming because this section of the population is also
liable to have policy preferences that are in line with the Democrats, and their
abstention from voting allows policy to be made that directly affects their individual
groups.
20


\
Since race can be included in SES, it is not helpful to examine the nonvoter in
terms of race alone. While race does show some differences when it comes to voter
participation, some studies have actually shown that blacks vote at higher rates than
whites when socioeconomic factors are held constant.18 Pat Dunham cites a study by
Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone included in their 1980 work Who Votes
that makes this very point. Due to the strong ties that blacks tend to feel with other
members of their race and community, they are more likely to be motivated to be
politically active. In short, while race is one factor in helping to identify the non-
voter, socioeconomic status is a more complete indicator.
In his book Electoral Participation, published in 1980, Richard Rose includes
a chapter written by Walter Dean Burnham. In it, Burnham lists some statistics
regarding economic class and voter turnout rates. He examined Census Bureau
statistics and compiled a table that shows four separate occupational categories. The
first is the propertied middle class, which he defines as professional, managerial,
and farm owners. Next is the dependent middle class, which include clerical and
sales workers. Third is the upper working class, which are craftsmen and kindred
workers, as well as service workers. The last group is the lower working class, and
this group is the lowest paid laborers in society. While all four groups experienced
declines in voter turnout between 1968 and 1972, it is the lower working class that
witnesses the most dramatic loss of participation: four times as much as the
propertied middle class and almost twice as much as the dependent middle class.
21


Even within the working class, the lower working class had a drop of nearly 30%
more in this time period than the upper working class. The off-year elections saw
similar declines. As Burnham notes, the lower the social class, the more rapid the
decline in turnout.19
Predominantly then, it is the poor who are the most likely to avoid voting.
Every other factor that plays a part in showing who will and will not vote can be
found to describe the poor. First there is race. Minority groups are disproportionately
represented in the ranks of the poor. Education is also important because length of
time spent in formal education is higher the further one moves up the economic
ladder. Since the better educated voters tend to find good jobs and earn higher
salaries, it follows that the poor would have fewer educational opportunities.20 A
sense of political effectiveness also lends to participation, as people who feel their
vote is actually going to make a difference are more likely to absorb the cost of voting
to engage in it. Party affiliation is a fourth factor in helping to identify the non-voter,
and once again it is common to the poor. The failure of Democrats to enroll new
voters in the latter third of the twentieth century is well documented, and the poor
make up a large number of democratic sympathizers. As Piven and Cloward have
shown with their examination of Census Bureau data, lower class groups, which were
potentially the strongest democratic partisans, showed the greatest turnout declines
between 1964 and 1980.21
22


With all of this in mind, it would be difficult to come to the conclusion that it
is satisfactory to allow the current state of affairs to continue unchecked. The poor
are underrepresented, and will continue to be so unless something is done to increase
their levels of participation. Once again, if it were simply a matter of an equal portion
of each class that was not voting, then maybe the arguments regarding the health of
system and a certain level of nonparticipation would have some merit. But since the
non-voters are so obviously poor, and as Piven and Cloward refer to them muffled,
one must call into question the very validity and legitimacy of the system. The policy
implications for bringing these people into the fold must be contemplated. Evidence
has been presented that the overall scope of decision making might not change a great
deal. But even if policy decisions are radically affected, shouldnt it be something
that we strive for?
Consider what would happen if any other segment of society were so
dramatically underrepresented within the framework of our system. What if the
elderly were marginalized the way the poor are? Would relatives of the elderly,
political activists, representatives in their districts, or any other group allow for the
elderly to remain on the fringe, while policy that directly affects them is made on a
regular basis? What if veterans were continually left out of the policy process? Or
corporate attorneys? Or academic faculty? The fact is that the poor are dropping off
the political landscape, and very little is being done to avert it. It is widely
acknowledged that the health of a democracy can be measured by who participates in
23


the process. If people are being marginalized, it is indicative of a system that is not
achieving all that it should. This is exacerbated when entire demographics are being
left out, as is currently the state of affairs in America. One of the themes throughout
this study is that while little can be done about many of the contributing factors to a
poor individuals abstinence from voting, education is the one area where gains can
be made.
Low Turnout Versus Declining Turnout
There is a considerable amount of literature regarding the current level of
voter turnout for elections in the United States. While newer studies have
concentrated on the decline in turnout since the middle of the twentieth century,
traditionally the emphasis has been on the degree to which U.S. turnout lags behind
other industrialized nations. In The Disappearing American Voter, Ruy Teixeira cites
average turnout figures for twenty democracies in the 1980s, showing that the United
States comes in next to last, in front of only Switzerland when it comes to
participating in elections. The top ten ranking countries all had above 83% turnout.
The top fifteen were above 73%. The United States comes in at 53% of the legally
eligible electorate participating in elections. This rate is certainly not healthy for a
democracy, but there are many reasons for such a tremendous gap.
24


Institutional Framework
The first reason for such a remarkable difference in the amount of citizens that
cast their votes is the legal structure of the system itself. In the United States it is
fairly simple to register to vote. When compared with many other tasks that
Americans do on a regular basis such as paying income taxes or making big ticket
purchases, it does not seem to be very difficult. But it is reliant on the individual
motivation to actually get the registration completed. In many countries, voter
registration is automatic. This takes a great deal of the cost of voting, however small
it may seem, out of the hands of the voter and gives them one less reason to avoid
voting. Despite the fact that there are obviously higher costs in a system that requires
its citizens to register on their own accord, there is some question how much
difference this cost of voting. Between 1960 and 1976 the increase in nonvoting was
9% nationally. Leading this surge were precisely those states where registration was
the easiest. North Dakota, where even registration is unnecessary, is generally
conceded to be the easiest state in which to vote. In the aforementioned sixteen year
period, nonvoting rose 9.1% in this state. Registration by mail is the next easiest
form of registration, yet in ten of the eighteen states that had some form of mail
registration, the rise in nonvoting between 1960 and 1976 was higher than the
national average.
25


Registration issues may or may not have a dramatic impact one way or the
other on turnout rates, but it would be difficult to argue that relaxing registration
requirements would do any harm. Compulsory voting, such as in Australia, is also a
feature of many modem democracies, but there is no similar practice in the United
States to compare this with. Any reasonable person can deduce that it would be
certainly increase turnout rates if voting were required. But as Gordon S. Black and
Benjamin Black point out in The Politics of American Discontent, while many
Americans lose faith in the institutions that represent them, most also tend to cling to
the core values that underlie our democracy. They note that academic studies have
found that some fundamental values of our political system have not decayed in the
same manner as attitudes about the sustem.23 One of those is choice, and to force
people to vote if they are not so inclined would serve as an infringement on that
freedom of choice. There are other issues which tend to make voting a high cost
endeavor, such as having to vote on a workday, frequency of elections, number of
issues on the ballot, and so forth, but extensive examination of each of these issues is
unnecessary, for reasons that will be made clear shortly.
Other differences between the United States and other democracies is what
Teixeira calls the nature of electoral competition. That is to say, because the
United States employs a system where the winner of the district must only win by one
vote, it reduces the level of incentive to vote. In a country that uses direct or
proportional representation, minority voters in lopsided districts know that they will
26


still have a voice so they do not lose incentive to participate. But in the U.S. where
the winner-take-all system of election is utilized, voters supporting either side in an
unbalanced election will have reduced incentive to cast a ballot.24 Similarly, if the
voter prefers a candidate that is perceived to be running away with the election, that
person may feel their vote is wasted as well.25
Party Competition
A second factor that separates the United States from other countries that rank
much higher in terms of voting turnout is the predominance of only two parties in our
system. While there are certainly other parties to choose from, the nature of the
winner-take-all system lends itself to aiding the survival of only two major parties.
Along these same lines, it is seldom that a member of a third party gets elected to
Congress. Because of this fact, some authors believe that there is less turnout than
there would be if voters interests were better represented with a wider variety of
parties. These same authors advance the idea that there is just not enough diversity of
viewpoints between the Republicans and Democrats.
Pat Durham illustrates this point when she notes that while the major parties
are dominated by the middle class, no meaningful socialist party has developed that
might appeal to the lower strata of society, namely the working class.26 If such a
party were to take shape, it is certainly possible that the working class, who is the
most absent from the polling booth, would re-enter the voting scene and make their
27


views heard. Whether or not this new party would ever have enough support to
topple one of the other major parties, or even compete with them, is something of a
question. Voters realistic choices are limited to one candidate from each major
party. Out of nearly 8,000 state legislative and congressional seats, third party
candidates won a grand total of four in 1998.27
Durham goes on to state that matters of party affiliation have not been helped
by the fact that those who came of age in the 1960s have not passed on any sort of
allegiance to one particular party to their children, exactly the kind of thing that has
been prevalent in times past. This has helped to shape, rightly or wrongly,
individuality among the voters. This in turn creates a situation where the voter is not
interested in being party automatons, but such individualism exacts a high price when
researching candidates and issues. The gap in information that is left as a result of
decreased research helps to encourage people to refrain from voting because they
understand that they will have to put a great deal of effort into making an educated
choice. This fact leaves quite an interesting paradox. Where once people voted
strictly along party lines, now they are thinking for themselves. Consequently, they
are possibly less involved because they have to think for themselves
While it would be difficult to find a political scientist that does not
acknowledge the fact that the United States has a system that imposes far greater
costs on its citizens in terms of the voting process than do other democracies, it can
hardly be said that the cost of the system is the reason why voter turnout has
28


decreased since the 1960s. Ruy Teixeira lists all of the changes that have been made
to the voter registration system alone in this period, including the abolition of poll
taxes and literacy tests; the formal prohibition of discrimination in the registration
process; the increased availability of bilingual registration materials, the large
increase in the number of states permitting registration by mail; the sharp decline in
the length of state residency requirements; and the improvements in minimum
standards for absentee registration. One thing he fails to mention is the Twenty-
Sixth amendment to the Constitution which made it legal for eighteen-year-olds to
vote. But what Teixeira does point out is all of these changes to the system since the
1960s have made registration easier, not more difficult. He also states that there
have been no major changes of note to any other aspect of the institutional factors of
our system that might explain how it is possible that such a large decline has taken
place. In sum, there is no way to link the institutional factors which depress turnout
relative to other democracies with the decline we are currently experiencing.
An important point to recognize now is that the intent of this work is to
highlight a possible cause for this decline. The previous information regarding the
systemic causes of low turnout have been included only to show that institutional
factors (party competition, registration requirements, etc.) may cause low turnout,
but cannot be blamed for declining turnout. The focus then, for the rest of this
chapter, will be on some of the current explanations for the decline that has taken
place since the 1960s.
29


Prevailing Theories for the Decline of Turnout
When the investigation regarding voter turnout shifts from one of low turnout
to an inquiry that is strictly interested in the reasons behind decline, the type of
literature on the subject changes quickly. This shift is due to the fact that, while there
are very obvious and factual reasons why the United States lags behind other
countries in voter turnout, reasons for the recent decline are debatable. There is
naturally a great deal of disagreement about the culprit or culprits. It is clear though,
that blame cannot be put on either education levels or socioeconomic status as a cause
for this decline, because as Putnam notes in Bowling Alone, both rose dramatically in
the very time period we are investigating.
Some explanations combine parts of each of the following theories, but for the
most part attempts to decipher the riddle fall somewhere into one of the following
categories. While certainly not intended to be a comprehensive listing of every
possible explanation, these theories cover most recent work on the topic.
Voter Alienation and Cynicism
Of all of the competing theories that attempt to explain the decline in
participation at the polling booth, perhaps the one that gets the most attention, is the
idea that voters are simply alienated from the process and cynical about the system as
30


a whole. Seymore Martin Lipset has said that while part of the problem has been
attributed to the bureaucracy linked to voter registration, there is a larger problem,
and it is found in voters lack of confidence in their leaders and institutions.30
Evidence for this insecurity is everywhere, and whatever theory one subscribes to
regarding the decline in voter turnout, it seems that this explanation plays at least
some part in the answer.
In 1991, Mark D. Uehling wrote for American Demographics that Public
alienation is approaching an all time high, with more than six out of ten American
adults experiencing a sense of powerlessness and disillusionment with government
institutions and officials, according to the Harris Polls 1990 Alienation Index.
When this measure was first taken in 1966, 29% of adults felt alienated. By
December of 1990 that figure had risen to 61%.31 Uehling felt at the time that people
did not believe that they had any political efficacy. It should be recalled that the
Teixeira was credited with a similar finding in the beginning of this chapter; that
people did not feel that their votes would make any sort of difference. Events such as
Watergate, Vietnam, federal deficits, and the savings-and-loan nightmare have
convinced many Americans that politicians make promises only to break them.
This notion is corroborated further by National Election Study Data, compiled and
analyzed by Teixeira. Where his study was previously used as an illustration of how
people felt about the responsiveness of government, in this case his tabulations help
to establish what he calls indicators of political cynicism. The original question
31


asked in 1964 and every presidential election year following until 1988 are listed
below. The responses in 1964 and 1988 are then given to show the change in that
time period.
TABLE 3 1964 1988
Can government be trusted?
Never 22.3 58.8
Sometime 63.2 36.9
All of the time 14.5 4.2
Is government run by big interests?
By big interests 30.9 67.3
For benefit of all 69.1 32.7
Does government waste tax money?
A lot 48.1 64
Some 45.2 33.5
Not very much 6.7 2.5
Is government crooked?
Many are 30 41.8
Not many are 51 46.6
Hardly any are 19 11.6
Notice that every single answer marked a worsening in the attitude of
Americans toward their government. This cynicism regarding the workings of
government turns to alienation as Americans begin to feel that there is simply nothing
that can be done to change the way they are affected by government. Alienated
Americans do not ordinarily have a large stake in the organizational world, and
politics is their last concern. According to Robert S. Gilmore and Robert B. Lamb,
32


authors of Political Alienation in Contemporary America, citizens response is one of
indifference to politics and withdrawal from political participation.33 It is no wonder
then, according to this perspective on voter turnout, that there has been such a drastic
decline in the last forty years.
Failure to Mobilize the Electorate
A second hypothesis about why voters continue to turn out in lower numbers
at every election has to deal with the idea that the unions, labor parties, and political
parties as a whole are not doing the type of job they have done in the past of turning
out the vote. This can be either intentional or unintentional, and there are authors on
both sides of the debate. Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward have written
extensively about this very topic. Their view is that the bottom section of the
electorate has been removed from the national political spectrum due to a
combination of intentional policy by conservatives and a splintering of the
Democratic Party.
To Piven and Cloward, the Democrats failed to cope with a changing working
class in America. What had been traditionally a white male enterprise was being
overrun by women and people of color by 1960. Labor unions did a poor job of
incorporating these new members. Their failure to enlist the ranks of a recomposing
working class was not much noticed, however, because commentators directed their
attention to the rising tide of defections of the old working class.33 The flight of
33


white workers from the party created further weakness. This spiral continued as
Democratic leaders attempted to appease their new members with programs of the
Great Society, only further provoking ill will among white workers. Eventually, its
inability to recruit new party members combined with the loss of white voters
weakened the Democratic Party severely. At the same time, big business was
mobilizing itself to take back many of the concessions that had been given to
Democrats in the previous half century. This corporate mobilization has been
described as one of the most remarkable campaigns in the pursuit of political power
in recent history.34 Businesses began to dominate the legislative process, lobbying
for such things as reduced government regulation of environmental controls,
increased military spending, favorable tax and labor laws, and reductions in spending
for social programs. Piven and Cloward point out that it was at this time that not only
were Republican sympathies on the rise, but people in the lower echelons of society
were becoming Democrats more and more. The real problem was that the Democrats
failed to take advantage of this growth in potential members and enlist these new
voters.
Piven and Cloward are not the only ones who feel this way. Michael J. Avey
wrote The Demobilization of American Voters. It was published prior to the work by
Piven and Cloward and makes many of the same points. He states that much of the
current low turnout may result from.. .the lack of current mobilization efforts.35 He
further elaborates on the split in the Democratic party by saying the focus on social
34


rather than economic issues caused the party to falter. The inability of the Democrats
to deal practically with the flood of new members made them feel like there was no
one to serve their needs. Avey points out that when one feels as though there is not
going to be governmental responsiveness to their concerns, the individual tends to
become alienated. Unfortunately for the Democrats, this meant that a large
percentage of the population which would sympathize with the agenda of the party
was never brought into the fold, and it is precisely these people who are now not
voting.
Fracturing of Social Ties
Robert D. Putnam has advanced another idea for the decline in voter turnout,
and he ties it to a decline in civic participation on many levels. While Putnam does
not concentrate specifically on voting, he points out that Americans have in effect
removed themselves from many facets of community life, and this would include
political participation. In his book Bowling Alone, and in his other works, Putnam
presents a great deal of evidence that people are simply not participating in group
activity at the same level as they did forty years ago. This has led to the decline of
what Putnam calls social capital. By this he means features of social life that
enable participants to effectively pursue shared objectives.35 While this would
include everything from bowling leagues to PTA, it would also most certainly include
political parties and electoral activities. He states that this is evidence of people
35


becoming less trusting of their neighbors and thus less likely to commune with them
in a group setting. Putnam cites membership records of numerous voluntary
organizations throughout the country which show that participation in these groups
has dropped anywhere from 25 to 50% in the last three decades.36
Texeira also believes that Americans social bonds are fragmenting. He
writes that interpersonal, community, and general social ties provide a substantial
portion of a persons motivation to vote.37 While Teixeira does not examine all of
the different social groups that Putnam does, he links the decline in successful
marriages and church attendance, and the fact that the electorate is constantly
becoming younger. These factors, to Teixeira, have helped contribute to the
withdrawal from public life that Putnam sees.
Media Impact
While both of the aforementioned authors feel that a withdrawal from social
life is the problem with voting participation, Putnam sees the reason for this in the
proliferation of television sets and watching in America. To him, television is an
antisocial activity, and as people watch more television they are less likely to engage
in outside events. Furthermore, voting rates (and on this point Teixeira agrees) are
positively related to newspaper reading. As people watch more television they read
fewer newspapers, which ultimately would affect the amount of time they spend
involved in organizational and group activity.
36


Television and the media take the blame for voter turnout for other reasons as
well. When the media reports early returns it can tend to make people believe that the
election is already decided, and therefore feel that there is really no point in voting.
Also, depending on how campaigns are covered, the individual might get the idea that
one candidate is the runaway winner, and on election day the counting of ballots
might not even be necessary. This type of coverage is particularly troublesome if
people only subscribe to one news service or channel, and do not get a wide variety of
information to enable a well-rounded view of the election. Pat Dunham also makes
the charge that television is a spectator sport, and it is far easier to simply watch the
news and have the results of the election explained to you after the fact than taking
the time to be an informed voter.
In turn, those that rely heavily on television for information are easily
manipulated. Other aspects of the influence of television include the fact that
television coverage of elections focus far too much on the election and not enough on
explaining to people how they can and should become politically active, regardless of
their partisanship or affiliation.
The purpose of this work is not to discredit any of the preceding theories. In
fact, I concur with many assessments that these authors have made. However, there
is also something that each of these theories share with the decline in turnout: a time
frame. Each of these theories is respected because it corresponds historically with the
37


decline in turnout. For example, the proliferation of television sets took place in time
to have possibly contributed to the decline in turnout. The inability to mobilize the
electorate that the Democratic Party experienced took place right when the decline
began to be noticed. In short, these theories make sense because they can be linked to
the decline historically. However there was one major event that took place prior to
the inception of the decline that arguably contributes to each individual theory, and it
has yet to be fully explored. What this paper will attempt to achieve is to show that
whichever theory one subscribes to for a cause for the decline in turnout, there was a
precipitating event that may have exacerbated the effects of whatever causal factors
one attributes the decline to.
Conclusion
A number of important points have been made in this preliminary chapter.
First and foremost is the fact that voter turnout has declined since the 1960s; this fact
is indisputable. Second, this decline has affected the lowest classes of society the
most, as they suffer the lowest levels of education and economic opportunity. And
third, while there are numerous factual reasons as to why the United States lags
behind other countries in terms of voter turnout, explanation for the recent decline are
yet to be conclusively proven. In the following chapters, an alternative explanation to
the ones explored here will be offered as a contributing factor as to why turnout is in
a downward spiral. It is an important idea because its origins coincide appropriately
with the start of the current decline in voter turnout, and it has yet to be elaborated
38


upon. This explanation may help to solve the riddles of cynicism, alienation,
withdrawal from civic life, and why people are so easily influenced by the media.
39


CHAPTER TWO
CIVIC EDUCATION IN AMERICA
Since the founding of our republic there have been advocates for civic
education for the purposes of making people ready to participate in the politics. The
argument has been made numerous times throughout our history that the very survival
of democracy is dependent on a citizenry that can thoughtfully engage its governors.
It was understood that without this intellect on the part of the people, it would be easy
to envision governmental authority running roughshod over the rights of those it is
created to serve. This chapter is an examination of the ideas behind educating for
civic engagement. The argument that it will set forth is that there is a definitive way
to properly educate the average person for successful participation as a citizen of a
democracy.
This chapter looks at primary and secondary education; institutes of higher
learning are not included in this work. It is intended to provide the reader with a
framework with which to measure current conditions within the public schools, and to
determine whether in fact those conditions compare favorably to the established
methods for educating for citizenship. Beginning with the reasoning behind
educating for citizenship, the chapter will provide a solid explanation of why it is
important that all children receive adequate instruction on their rights in a democracy,
40


how they might be able to interact with their government and make a difference on
issues of relevance to them, and most importantly why they must do so.
This viewpoint will be followed by the essential elements of a thorough
education that will create well-informed citizens. Finally, a short history of how
educating for citizenship has been practiced in the public schools of America, how it
was begun and how it has evolved over the development of the nation will be laid out.
This history will take the reader right up to the point that civic education changed
radically, which is what the third chapter is about.
Without exception, authors researched for this chapter agree on one essential
point: the school is but one agent in the socialization process of Americas youth.
The school furnishes opportunities to learn to read, write, compute, discover and use
facts principles and ideas that are accurate and comprehensive. The school also
supplements and complements learning furnished by other institutions and is usually
an environment that represents American social ideals more closely than the larger
society.1 However, extra-curricular activities, families, peer groups, church
affiliations, and the media all contribute in varying degrees to the way students leam
about government. Furthermore, there is simply no way that the schools can assume
the full mantle of responsibility for educating citizens. There are too many different
goals that schools must attempt to attain to bear the entire weight of making sure that
the people in this country evolve into participating members of the political scene.
Why then should we focus only on schooling as a means of preparing individuals for
41


political life? If there are going to be so many different influences in one persons
life, why not try and find something a little more inclusive, so as to incorporate more
than one aspect of each persons life?
Although the school is but one part of the political socialization process, it is
also a critical agent in this process. Other inputs that have an effect on the political
socialization of a child take a back seat to the education given by schools. Even if
one is to argue about how effective schools are at this endeavor, there can be little
comparison to the level of attention devoted to uniform political socialization in the
schools as compared with other aspects of society. Second, it is precisely because
there are so many different influences on political socialization that it is important
that schools play the central role. Primary and secondary education are the only
elements of society that we all have in common. Children may attend different
churches, have different party affiliations, have different access to the media and
social groups, participate at different levels with regard to extra-curricular activities,
or have more or less religious faith than the next person, but they are all required by
law to attend school. Schooling is one major factor that every person in America
shares, and that makes it the ideal place to begin the process of educating for
citizenship. While it is tme that even schools differ (and that is the main problem
with educating for citizenship today) they at least have the potential to provide
uniform learning, whereas it is unreasonable to expect a similar result across
different cultural or religious spectrums.
42


Third, preschool and daycare notwithstanding, schools are the first places
many children have exposure to large numbers of peers. This allows students to get a
glimpse of a related factor that makes schools ideal for political socialization: they
are a microcosm of society. Certainly it can be argued that the method of funding
schools in America allows for some districts to be disproportionately poor, and
therefore disproportionately minority. However, schools give students exposure to
other races and religious backgrounds that differ from their own, as well as economic
diversity that they might not experience otherwise. These are important ingredients
for educating for citizenship, because when properly harnessed these factors can help
students develop respect for opposing points of view and abilities to compromise that
they might not otherwise be taught.
Undoubtedly, a persons education to become a functioning member of a
democracy cannot be solely the province of schools. It requires more than rote
memorization of the branches of government and history of the constitution to
become participants in a democracy. In addition to the education provided by
schools, students need to be encouraged to create a well-rounded experience by doing
other things that expose them to the government and illuminates all they can
accomplish within that context. Volunteering in shelters or for government agencies,
participating in voter registration drives, and getting balanced access to media
accounts of politics are but a few examples of the different ways people can augment
their education to make the most of learning about their rights. However, schools
43


need to be the initial starting point and the framework that guides a students
socialization in the political world, due to the aspects of commonality, diversity, and
potential for uniform instruction that schools provide.
Demands of a Democratic Society
The goal of civic education, argues R. Freeman Butts, is to deal with all
students in such a way as to motivate them and enable them to play their parts as
informed, responsible, committed and effective members of a modem democratic
political system.2 This is the perfect summation of the logic behind civic education
programs. As we shall see later on, schools were originally founded in this country
for the very reason described by Butts. But why exactly is it important that people
have education of a civic nature? Why is it not left up to individuals to involve
themselves in the political realm as they see fit, and inform themselves only if they
are inclined to do so?
The purpose of education about democracy is to keep dialogue open. Its role
is to help children and youth acquire the knowledge and the intellectual skills needed
to keep the discussion open and to enable young citizens to participate in the process
of improving democracy.3 In their book Education for Democratic Citizenship,
Shirley H. Engle and Anna S. Ochoa present their arguments for why civic education
is of the utmost importance based on the values that are inherent to democracies.
First, the authors note that the most basic value of democracy is the respect for the
44


dignity of the individual. This value in their eyes is preeminent because it
encompasses not only the protection of the individual by the state relative to each
persons life and general well-being, but also the right of individuals to dissent from
the opinions of the larger group. Without the protection of this ability to disagree,
democracy would not even be able to exist. This protection further implies the
respect of ideas that are different enough to come from totally opposite perspectives,
and therefore the tolerance and acceptance of radically different viewpoints. In the
long run this general ability to comprehend and disagree while still respecting the
view of others contributes more forcefully to a wider dialogue regarding the
improvement of society.
The second most important value in a democratic society according to Engle
and Ochoa is the ability of these free-thinking individuals to participate in the
decisions made by society as a whole. This value is embodied most obviously in the
form of elections, but even less obviously in lobbying, campaigning, canvassing, and
discussing of the current events of the time.
Springing directly from this value is the third value of a democracy: the right
to be informed and have knowledge. The first two values would carry very little
weight if people were reliant on information that was incomplete or censored in some
manner. Schools must therefore teach their students in a way that will give them the
most complete insight available. Even more than that, however, schools have to
make sure that students leave the institution with the intellectual capacities that will
45


allow them to determine the veracity of the information they are receiving, and seek
out more complete and truthful information if what they have is insufficient.
Dependable and meaningful knowledge seldom comes full-blown out of books,
lectures, or television programs. It must be worked over in the mind and utilized in
life situations never before seen and in some measure unique to every individual.
Consequently, a large responsibility of education in a democracy is the development
of the intellectual skills whereby information is rendered meaningful.4
This information and ability to analyze will prepare students for the fourth
value of democracy. Engle and Ochoa point out that democracy assumes an open
society in the sense that change and improvement are taken for granted. Democracy
is never completed. They note that democracy is and must be characterized by
continually striving for improvement, unlike totalitarian systems that maintain the
same system of oppression.
The authors feel that if these are the overriding values of a democracy, then
we must educate our citizens in a manner that is consistent with these values. To rely
on educational models that are based on autocratic governments would undermine
and stunt the growth of a society that should be striving to be inclusive. The need for
responsive, intelligent, independent thinking citizens who will engage their
government and participate in society requires educational models that are consistent
with the freedom and rationality upon which democracy thrives.5
46


Such a model would provide four major components to each citizens training.
The first would be the basic knowledge that would give them perspective on their
nation, state, and locality relative to other physical and social relationships. This
would be followed by instruction on social and governmental institutions and their
operation. Included in this arena would be cultural issues and differences, struggles
for power, and competing viewpoints. Second, civic education must foster a
commitment to the democratic ideal. Third, any comprehensive civic education
program would provide the basic intellectual skills that are appropriate for a free
individual with the mindset that they are going to analyze information and determine
the best choice in a given situation. This obviously includes research, reasoning,
determination of cause-effect outcomes, value judgements, and the like. Finally, a
strong civic education program must provide the political skills that an individual will
require to be a functioning, participating member of their society.
It should be recognized that the preceding arguments for what an ideal civic
education provides to the student is just that, a model. It is not an example of what
was achieved in the past, because as will be discovered throughout this study, such a
perfect model has yet to exist. It is described here as an example of what we should
be attempting to construct if we are to properly educate our children as civic
participants. The next section provides an examination of many of the different
approaches to education that are being used today around the country to try and
accomplish the goal of creating an well-educated citizen.
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Approaches to Educating for Citizenship
Civic education, it will be agreed, is designed primarily to prepare youth for
effective participation in their future political opportunities and responsibilities.6 In
the past there has been debate as to what it takes to educate a citizen to be an active
participant in a democracy, and, as we will see when we trace the history of civic
education, this has changed numerous times over the course of our growth as a nation.
However, in the last quarter century there has been more study as to what it takes to
educate a person in order to prepare them to understand and interact with their
government. In 1977 the National Task Force on Citizenship Education was formed
to investigate precisely this problem; how we can most effectively be taught in order
to allow us to participate in our own governance. In 1979, another study by the
Education Commission of the States expounded on what was discovered by the task
force and produced a composite list of a dozen substantially different areas of content
and/or approach that are commonly associated with citizenship education. Diana
Reische has written a book entitled Citizenship, the Goal of Education, which puts
forth the list that the Task Force enumerated and explains the importance of each
approach.
What follows is an extensive list that shows that there are numerous different
methods presently in use for educating for citizenship.7 However, as was already
48


pointed out, schools are the one commonality that all American citizens are legally
compelled to participate in. It is therefore vital that these approaches be culled down
into something that each person shares with everyone else. Reische lists all of these
different types of educational approaches that are being employed in America today
separately. Instead of simply rehashing each individual approach as she has
identified them, I have separated them into groups according to what they focus on
and what they are trying to teach. This is due to the fact that they can be identified as
serving a specific goal in one particular area. The four major areas of emphasis that
civic education in America undertake today are morality, academics, diverse
perspectives, and education outside of the school.
Morality
It is well known that knowledge, attitudes, and appreciations can be greatly
influenced by instruction in school. But when we turn to actual behavior in the field
of character and citizenship the evidence has not been so clear.8 Nevertheless,
schools still lend some credence to attempting to shape the morality of students. The
point of civic educational programs that center on morality is to help students to
develop the sense of right and wrong that will be necessary to dissect the more
difficult issues that abound in our society. Some of these approaches that help to
advance morality in schools include:
49


Character Education and Moral Development. Possibly the most important
place to begin any civic education program is with what is expected of citizens. The
focus under the framework of character education would promote responsibility by
giving students moral dilemmas to resolve with reason and logic. While some feel
that this kind of education would open the door to wide varieties of conflict,
particularly with regard to religious morality, it can in fact be taught without
involving religion in the process. Students can be instructed in the socially accepted
mores of the time and be expected to use those ideas to make decisions about the
problems that they have been presented with. This approach would cut divisive
religious bickering out of the equation by focusing on justice, fairness, truth, and
common decency which are common to all religions. This is the preferred alternative
to teaching ideas which might promote hostility such as views on abortion or
sexuality, which are not universal and are interpreted differently from one religion to
the next.
Values Education. Closely related to morality education is that of values
education. Here the concept is the promotion of the common good over ideas of
individuality. No different in theory from what all of us learn about sharing at an
early age, this focus of civic education would be used to help cement in students the
belief that we are all part of a community and the actions taken by one person can
50


affect other peoples lives. A 1979 Office of Education study of citizenship describes
values education as both controversial and pervasive. A recent impetus for values
education has come primarily from two sources: (1) dismay over corrupt leadership
and increases in crime and vandalism; and (2) promising research and theory related
to cognitive moral development.9 The research and theory that the Office of
Education refer to show that students are capable of grasping these ideas, and
emphasizing them early on might be the solution to stemming the tide of delinquency
and other negative activities that arise in students in their teenage years.
Academics
The first task of schools is helping pupils acquire and understand essential
facts and information. Understanding politics is a vital part of this process.10 The
studies that are included in this area are typically the strict coursework involving
books and research regarding government and politics. They can be further divided
into two areas:
Academic Disciplines. Quite obviously, the first place at which any school
must start in educating their students to be citizens is with academic instruction about
the topics that relate directly to American government. These can be courses in
political science in general, American government in particular, history (both world
and American) and civics. To this core set of classes can be added economics,
sociology, ethics, philosophy, and even psychology if the number of instructors,
51


finances, and scheduling permit. The overriding theme of academic disciplines,
however, needs to be that students are instructed about how their government works,
what exactly their rights and responsibilities in a democracy are, and how they can
impact the system if they so chose. Additionally, their participation relative to the
health of their democracy needs to be stressed to them in order to impart a sense of
their own stake in the outcome of politics.
Law Related Education. Also referred to as LRE by Diana Reische, these
courses go beyond the scope of traditional social studies programs because they
would be designed to give the students a thorough understanding of our legal society,
how it impacts them, and what their rights are. More than simply the usual
instruction about the court system and how laws are passed that students receive in
relation to regular government classes, LRE would help the students to see the big
picture of law and legal issues in our complex and changing society.11 It would
concentrate much more deeply on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights than
any typical government class would, with particular emphasis on civil liberties.
Many states have already implemented programs such as this to a great deal of
success.
C. Hugh Friedman, a professor of law at the University of San Diego was
quoted by Reische as stating that these types of studies give students an
understanding of and willingness to use democratic processes in managing conflict
and making decisions.12 He went on to describe LRE as providing students with a
52


better grasp of the legal and political institutions of a constitutional democracy as
well as the intellectual skills and social attitudes needed to function as responsible
citizens in a free society under a rule of law.
Because these types of instruction can provide exactly this type of perspective,
and because they are not prevalent in all schools, .we might ask the question Why is
this not the first emphasis of civic education? Without question the academic
disciplines previously mentioned are important to providing the foundation for
instruction in a more complicated subject such as the Bill of Rights. However, it
would certainly seem that the entire purpose of civic education would necessitate this
very path of instruction so that all students would at some point come to a full
understanding of not only their political but legal rights as well. And because of the
other ancillary benefits of this type of curriculum that professor Friedman discusses,
namely intellectual skills and social attitudes, one cannot help but wonder why it is
that every student does not receive mandated instruction in Law Related Education.
Diverse Perspectives
Any civic education must include a thorough study of all of the competing
ideas that make up the political world. They can move along a continuum of
increasingly complex topics involving the following:
Critical Thinking. It is unlikely that schools will ever have the resources to
teach courses specifically in critical thinking, but this ability is vital to survival as an
53


active citizen of a democracy, and it can be fostered through other courses that
require this mentality. Character and values education would push students to
analyze data to determine if any one particular situation is just or moral. Law related
education would require students to examine the facts of legal issues and determine
the constitutionality of that particular issue and the effects of actions on the rights of
an individual. Academic disciplines present problems in government and economics
as well as events in history that students are required to debate and judge the
importance of. Therefore, while critical thinking is vital to the informed participation
of a citizen in a democracy, it can be fostered in so many other approaches that it
need not be considered enough of a goal of civic education that it requires a separate
course.
Social Problems. Another approach that helps to develop critical thinking
abilities is an in-depth examination of current social problems. Furthermore, it too
might not require a course of its own in order to be successful in contributing to the
education of students to be good citizens. Because so many issues such as global
warming, the environment, crime, current legislation, taxes, violence, and so forth can
receive attention in other courses, there is not a great need for an individual course in
social problems; although that is a viable option as well. The important point with
regard to social issues is that students be able to take a careful look at the events that
are shaping their lives and see what sort of an impact is being made on the world
around them.
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Multi-ethnic Education/ Pluralism. Challenging students to see that there are
many different perspectives about the way things such as the justice system work will
play an integral role in the shaping of their abilities to participate as citizens in a
democracy. Different races and religions, not to mention all of the competing
interests groups in America all have viewpoints on politics and society. If students
are too enchanted with- their own views they will never be able to accept that there are
going to inevitably be differences of opinion. This approach asks students to look at
their opinion through the eyes of people with different backgrounds in order to
establish a well-rounded view of the issue. A comprehensive look at the multitude of
beliefs present on any one issue can help students appreciate and acknowledge
diversity even if they might not agree with the viewpoint presented.
Global Perspectives. This is simply an extension of educating about
American pluralism that has already been described. Under this approach, however,
the diversity of opinion would be extended to include those living outside of the
borders of the United States. Also especially helpful when educating about global
perspectives is being able to push the students to examine the actions of the United
States through the lens of a country that is being helped or hindered by U.S. action.
With this type of experience at their disposal students can decide for themselves if the
foreign policy of the United States is appropriate or unwarranted.
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Education Outside the School
Some approaches to education may or may not involve the school, and a great
deal of the time do not involve the school exclusively. However, in many cases the
school cooperates in some fashion with parents or organizations outside of the school.
One of these approaches is with regard to family education. In the same way that
teaching religion in public schools would be problematic due to the sheer diversity of
the student body (the First Amendment not withstanding, of course) educating about
family issues can cause strife. Therefore, it might be best left to the individual family
to discuss these topics. Personal development and social and behavioral skills can be
aided by the school, but since students spend more time outside the school than in it,
families also must take the lead in this area. Finally, community involvement can be
promoted by the school, but is also enhanced by family values, church activities, and
volunteer organizations outside the school.
Implications
All of the approaches to educating for citizenship that have been enumerated
here are being employed to a certain degree in schools around the country. Unlike
many advanced nations, the United States has no national citizenship goals,
curriculum, standards, examinations, or ways to evaluate citizen education. Instead,
American youngsters attend school in a public education system comprising
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approximately 15,200 districts.13 Each state decides what sort of civic training its
schools will promote; one state may view morality training to be something that is
best left to families, while another may decide that it is fundamental to the
understanding of politics as a whole. However, as will be evident throughout this
study, if we are to create citizens that actively participate in their government, it is
important that all receive the same level of and type of education on a national basis.
It will be shown in Chapter 4, there are no national standards for civic achievement,
and very few at the state level. The few states that have experimented with it have
seen remarkable results.
Obstacles to Uniform Education. There are different citizenship problems in
all schools, but those schools in the lower economic areas present baffling
educational problems. Children attending these schools, in terms of traditional
middle class standards, live rough, raw, tough lives. Schools in blighted areas need
special assistance in analyzing and designing their school programs.14 It is suggested
that all of these approaches can be utilized within the same school system, beginning
simply with basic subjects such as morality and values in the formative years of
elementary and middle school, and proceeding through the more difficult and
complex topics as student understanding develops.
If all public schools are going to able to offer the same quality of education,
some reconsideration of the current mechanisms for funding schools is certainly
going to have to take place. In their book Education for Democratic Citizenship, The
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Challenge of a Multi-ethnic Society, editors Roberta S. Sigel and Marilyn Hoskin take
particular exception to the way industrial societies neglect the schooling of minority
groups. They feel that it is surprising and tragic that despite the economic gains made
by these countries, the inequitable funding of schools remains.15 It should be
remembered that the primary reason that school inequities exist in America is that
local taxation makes up the bulk of funding that pays for public schools. The result is
that the quality of public education in America is largely dependent on where one
lives.16 While this is rooted in the belief that schools need to be locally controlled, it
has the effect of segregating people by class, and minority groups are
disproportionately represented in the lower class. This is especially unfortunate
given the fact that the idea of local control is in fact little more than tradition. This is
due to a number of reasons. First, in no legislation is local control mandated; school
districts are created and sanctioned by the state. The taxing power that a district
enjoys is a byproduct of its existence as created by the state. Therefore, all local taxes
are state taxes because of the school district would not exist without the complicity of
the state. In effect, the idea of local control over school districts is a myth.
Second, the jurisdiction at the local level is limited by the foundation program
that each state mandates. The foundation program is the basic level of education that
the state guarantees to each of its citizens. Since the state is infusing funds into the
district, it enjoys the ability to set standards on schools that receive money from it.
This makes it difficult for a district to impose any rules on its schools that are less
58


stringent than those that the state sees fit. Spending also is mandated by the state,
since the foundation program not only determines what the minimum expenditure per
child is, but also what the districts share of that expenditure is. It is therefore
impossible for the district to cut spending below the minimum set by the state.
Finally and most importantly, regional associations of schools and secondary
schools, college entrance exams, and college preparatory requirements have served to
standardize educational requirements across the country. What this means is that a
school district has little choice in what it is going to teach. A certain expectation of
what students will need to know in order to attend college has already been
established, and to deviate from that would handicap the students of that district when
it came time to attend college. Control at the local level is therefore limited to what
books will be taught in English class, what foreign languages will be taught, and so
forth. The district cannot cease the teaching of history because it interferes with local
preference. Nor can it restrict readings in English to biblical passages. The local
school board could, for instance decide that Ulysses is inappropriate for their students,
and would prefer that Hemingway be used instead. But the school board could not
decide to avoid teaching English all together.
The implication then is that despite the tradition of local control over school
districts that exists in the United States, it is not a legal foundation and is thus open to
change. It is possible, however daunting it may seem, to standardize a system of
citizenship training, and mandate that training in every school in the state. Federal


involvement might not be necessary as states take the lead from one another and
begin to adopt similar standards for promoting citizenship in the curriculum. The
most difficult hurdle standing in the way of the standardization of citizenship training
across the U.S. could be the current testing and entrance requirements to attend higher
education. Because these tests focus on science, math, and English, it is of greater
concern for schools to prepare their students to meet these standards than it is to
prepare them for citizenship training.
In the section that follows, the history of civic education will show from
where the ideas surrounding education for life in a democracy came, and how they
evolved to encompass far more than what was originally intended.
The History of Civic Education
There are numerous accounts of the evolution of American public school
education with regard to preparing citizens for political life. It is for the most part a
rather straightforward history, and much of what follows is taken and elaborated upon
from The Revival of Civic Learning, a book by R. Freeman Butts. Butts divides his
chronicle of the growth and change of civic education into four periods. While I
acknowledge these four periods in this chapter, I further divide these into two eras.
The reason for this is that the first three periods that Butts describes illustrate a
fundamental change in focus about what public schools were designed to educate for.
The fourth period is a more stable period in that respect; there was no change
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relatively speaking about the schools role in society. Therefore, it is constructive to
be able to separate these two eras for greater understanding.
Evolving Ideas
The history of civic education is, by large measure, the history of public
schools. R. Freeman Butts, in his book The Revival of Civic Learning, describes in
great detail the evolution of both public schools and the curriculum used to promote
citizenship in America. The framers of our country recognized early on that without
a means of educating the people of the new nation and inculcating democratic values,
longevity of the United States might become an unrealized dream. Over and over,
leaders of the time, both liberal and conservative, asserted their faith that the welfare
of the Republic rested upon an educated citizenry and that free, common, public
schools would be the best means for educating the citizenry in the cohesive civic
values, knowledge, and obligations required of everyone in a democratic republican
society. However, the Founders vision of universal free public education would
not be realized until after the Civil War. While there was some debate about what
courses should be included in this curriculum in order to most enhance the average
persons understanding of civic responsibility, most agreed that literacy should be the
preeminent goal of public education. This was supplemented with training in patriotic
and moral values, with the overriding emphasis of the time being the attainment of a
great degree of loyalty on the part of the students to their country. History and
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democratic governmental frameworks were taught to a lesser degree and not
considered to be as universally important as literacy and patriotism.
With regard to the types of texts that the students used, nearly all extolled the
values of national cohesion, as well as love of country and liberty.18 The books were
also morally centered around the Puritan viewpoint because they were primarily
produced in New England. Spellers, readers, and books on grammar written by Noah
Webster helped to instill in students the patriotic values that were believed to be so
important to helping the country grow and prosper. This was aided by providing
links between God and such figures as George Washington. Butts makes it clear that
Washington was portrayed as a deity in the first schoolbooks, and this kind of
glamorization of the most famous person of the time helped to make patriotism
synonymous with virtue. The major factor that distinguish this time period from
others with regard to civic education is that the most important focus of schools was
to achieve cohesion of the populace. No adjustments were made for students of
different backgrounds or experiences, because the concern was for creating a climate
where all students were trained to be loyal citizens. Interestingly enough, despite the
stress of civic values such as loyalty and patriotism, the relevant understanding of the
way government worked and even skills that would enhance individual participation
were not viewed as important in the school curriculum.
As previously noted, free public schools were believed to be the best way to
make sure that all citizens received adequate training to be patriotic members of
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society. As I alluded to earlier, universal free education for all was not achieved until
the abolishing of the rate bill following the civil war. The rate bill was a method by
which schools were paid for. It was either charged to the students whose families
could afford to pay, while the less fortunate attended school for free (similar to the
way lunch programs are done now), or the school operated on its planned budget,
then went to charging tuition when the funds ran out. States began to abolish rate
bills and raise funds for schools directly by charging a local tax on property. This
became the preferred and dominant method of funding schools. Once the Civil War
was over, rate bills were completely removed from any public school funding
mechanism. Even after rate bills were rescinded, the final state to pass a compulsory
education law did not do so until 1918.
After the first half century of the existence of the United States, the same
patriotic values were considered to be preeminent by educators, but now the work
ethic that would lead to success in a capitalistic society were added to the list of
important goals of public education. Between 1820 and 1870 honesty, integrity, and
the rewards of success as a result of individual hard work were championed, at least
for those who were to attend school. Furthermore, the books that students were using
at the time blatantly added this emphasis without trying to disguise it with neutrality.
Ruth Elson, in her book Guardians of Tradition, characterizes textbooks of the period
as making serious value judgments in their outlook. They pushed love of country,
love of God, duty to parents, the necessity to develop habits of thrift, honesty and
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hard work in order to accumulate property, the certainty of progress, and the
perfection of the United States.9
Liberty was held in the utmost respect; it was the backbone of why all
Americans should love their country. Elson goes on to describes it, however, as sort
of an empty virtue because children were taught to love and worship liberty but they
never received elaboration on what exactly liberty meant. In that respect, the
schooling was little more than indoctrination, no better than religious fire and
brimstone rhetoric about what it meant to be an American. Liberty was also a relative
term. As the texts that came out of the North began to decry the practice of slavery
and warn against the dissolution of the Union as the Civil War approached, the South
was still reliant on these books and was forced to take measures to prevent children in
these areas from reading about abolition and what secession might mean to the
country as a whole.
The main individual force with regard to both public and civic education of
the period was Horace Mann. A selfless individual, Mann was a promising lawyer
and politician when he accepted the job of Secretary of the State Board of Education
in Massachusetts in 1837. He undertook the job of convincing the public that they
needed to support the ideas that the state board was developing for the improvement
of public schools, and so he set about the state giving passionate speeches on the
subject. He also was very outspoken about the need for what he called political
education. He called for in depth study of the constitution and for each state to also
64


make their own constitution an important emphasis. Furthermore he pointed out that
it was important for students to study...
.. .the partition of powers of government into three co-ordinate
branches, -legislative, judicial, and executive- with the duties
appropriately devolving upon each; the mode of electing or appointing
officers, with the reason on which it was founded; and especially, the
duty of every citizen, in a government of laws, to appeal to the courts
for redress, in all cases alleged wrong, instead of undertaking to
vindicate his own rights by his own arm, and, in a government where
the people are the acknowledged source of power, the duty of
changing the laws and rulers by an appeal to the ballot, and not by
rebellion, should be taught to all children until they are fully
understood.20
Clearly Mann felt that the knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of living in a
republic were of the utmost importance and that public schools were the ideal forum
in which to impart these values. As Butts points out, however, he was very clear
about stressing that schools should stick to teaching impartial facts about the political
process and refrain from attempting to sway the ideology of their pupils. To do so
would raise difficult questions due to the different interpretations of the constitution
that were possible.
After the Civil War and up to the end of World War II, the focus of cohesion
and love of liberty changed to one where students were taught to believe that their
country, the United States, was a leading and powerful nation on the world scene.
Civic education shifted from focusing on liberty to emphasizing nationalism thanks to
such ideas as manifest destiny, winning of the West, overseas expansion, and making
the world safe for democracy.21 The Spanish American War and World War II came
65


in the latter half of this period and popular sentiment of the time are evidence of the
success of this sort of shift in educational practice. As Butts illustrates, however, that
this was but one of three major shifts in civic education during this time. The second
was the massive influx of immigrants, and the fear that these people would drag down
American society, led to calls for instant acculturation of the newcomers to make
them as close philosophically to the communities they were joining. Many
intellectuals of the time were concerned that these people posed a credible threat to
the maintenance of order due to their sheer ignorance of the operation of American
cities and government. Insuring that immigrants took courses in government and
civics, would help them to evolve into contributing members of their new
communities rather than allowing them to drain valuable resources that would have to
be marshaled to fight crime and other manifestations of ghetto life. Even more
importantly, rising tides of revolutionary ideals such as communism and socialism
contributed greatly to the fears about immigrants, and the sooner these notions could
be flushed from the minds of those who were arriving, the easier it would be to find
harmony among the citizens.
The third major shift that Butts describes is the change from simply
emphasizing hard work and honesty to directly promoting the image of the self-made
man. This was the idea that all it took was ones own initiative and devotion to
success in order to achieve all that person dreamed of. This was promoted in the
schools but met with stem opposition from liberals, and the Progressives took
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particular exception to these ideas given the unregulated nature of business and the
sheer dangers that were present in many occupations. Consequently, there was some
political strife over exactly what should be taught in schools.
New subjects began to emerge as important in the civic education curriculum
towards the latter half of this period. History, which had traditionally been viewed as
far less important than the study of government itself, was now viewed as an ideal
way to help students learn to think critically and examine evidence. Social studies
became a whole new facet of public education, and classes that were to promote
citizenship were lumped into this category. In addition to the traditional government
and civics courses and the newly added teaching in history, economics and sociology
were added.
Also, n 1916 a committee of the American Political Science Association,
reflecting the Progressive reform movements, argued that the standard courses in civil
government should be restructured.22 Horace Mann had argued that each state should
include their constitution in the teaching of government as a whole, but now the
APSA thought it would be more appropriate to begin civic education with state
constitutions and then proceed to the U.S. constitution. This would help to emphasize
the idea of community civics which promoted the notion that the affairs nearest to
23
home were the most important and should be considered before national interest.
The shifts in education of the time resulted in an outright change in the
system. Where the creating of good citizens was the original purpose behind public
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education in the first place, now it was incorporated into only one area of the
curriculum, the social studies. While it was still considered important, new goals
emerged and became vital to teaching the students of the time, such as preparing for
life in a capitalistic industrialized nation. This change can be seen as we look back
through the first three periods of educational history and note that simple cohesion
and literacy were viewed as the preeminent goals of education in the beginning of our
nation. This was altered throughout the nineteenth century to include honesty and
hard work, and capped off with promotion of the self made man. As the views of the
role of public education changed, what was taught in the schools evolved into more
and more a well-rounded survival kit for life in a capitalist democracy and less and
less outright civic education. This is not to imply that there was anything
unnecessary about this change, only to note that the inclusion of differing values led
to civic education taking less importance in the curriculum.
The reason behind this change is that as the nation grew and incorporated not
only immigrants but also women and African Americans, there was a need to take
into account those people who would not be going to college. While there were
people attending schools who were not college bound over the course of the first
century of education in America, the general assumption was that it was unnecessary
for someone who was likely to just work the family farm for the rest of their life or
apprentice early in a trade. If one was to proceed into higher education, then primary
and secondary schools took on greater importance. Also, it was pointed out earlier
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that compulsory education was not universal until the twentieth century. With the
growing body of students who would not be going to college, yet still seeking public
education, the curriculum needed to be amended in order to help prepare these people
for life not only as citizens but also as productive economic factors in society. Thus
the importance of shaping the curriculum to promote citizenship as well as work
ethic.
The Modem Era
After World War I there was a great deal of what Butts calls narrow minded
anti-foreign, anti-pacifist, anti-immigration, anti-reform outlooks that were promoted
by patriotic conservative groups due to the conflagration of war that had gripped the
world.24 This resulted in a short period of patriotic education matched only by that
which was taught in the early days of our republic, where once again loyalty to the
country and love of liberty was the focus. It was not until the 1930s that things toned
down to include a more well rounded education, the likes of which had begun to
emerge prior to our involvement in international conflict. New proposals to take into
account not only political but economic education rose to the forefront. The clear
implication was that youth should be inculcated with the values of economic
collectivity and interdependence in place of economic individualism, while
continuing to promote personal and cultural individualism and freedom.
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Public education would not return to the time when school existed for the
express purpose of creating citizens in the political sense of the word. Now they were
a method of making sure that all people received an equal base with which to build
their lives upon, at least in theory. Certainly disparities in levels of education would
never provide all Americans with an equally sound education, but school curriculums
were designed to try and make sure that people had multiple tools with which to live
their lives, not just those that would make them cognizant of their rights and
responsibilities as members of a democratic society. Once again a minor bump in
patriotic education took place during World War II, and by the 1950s education for
good citizenship became popular in school systems all over the country. This was
due in large part to the rising hatred of communism, and the need to make sure that
good citizens were being created to defeat communism in the Cold War. There were
numerous concerns that schools were being used far too much for economic purposes,
and in stressing this part of education relegated civic education to a mere shell of
what it was intended to be. In 1954, the American Association of School
Administrators produced a report by its Commission on Educating for Citizenship
elaborating on this very point. The report claimed that a shift in focus from
problems of democracy to problems of democratic living threatened to soften the
impact of civic education, making students less likely to oppose ideas such as
communism.
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Conclusion
This report certainly marks the most recent high point in terms of educating
students to be members of a democratic society. The focus of the next chapter will be
on what derailed this movement, why civic education programs in America stalled,
and why they have not ever been able to be supported with as much fervor as they
were during this time. Coincidentally, it is due in part to many of the same
sentiments regarding communism. Also, the seminal event in educating people for
citizenship occurred just three years after this report was published, in 1957.
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CHAPTER THREE
NATIONAL DEFENSE EDUCATION ACT
In the preceding chapter, the history of civic education in the United States
was explained in detail, from the founding of the Republic up through the short-lived
revival of civic education as a response to the growing threat of Communism. The
primary reason that this blossoming push for more patriotic emphasis in education
was to rid the populace of ideas that were antithetical to democracy and the freedom
that the United States stood for. Ironically enough, it was an event that arose directly
out of this struggle against communism that destroyed this revival in civic education.
In this chapter, many aspects of the Cold War and events that took place
during it are examined carefully. Ultimately, the primary reason why education in
America shifted so dramatically away from a civics based education is uncovered.
Before arriving at that point, however, a number of critical steps must be taken in
order to view the shift in the proper context. First, the ideology of the Cold War from
the American point of view is detailed and dissected. This review is helpful to see the
mindset of Americans by the late 1950s when this shift took place. Following the
definition of Cold War ideology, the prevalent criticisms of education of the time are
listed and examined. The political environment regarding federal involvement in
local education is described next, and when combined with the first two sections of
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this chapter, provides a complete framework through which the shift in education can
be properly understood.
The Russian space satellite, Sputnik, the first of its kind, is the subject of the
second half of the chapter. Not only the launching of the satellite, but also the
American reaction to it and fears surrounding Soviet innovation, were the impetus for
the National Defense Education Act. This act dramatically overhauled the American
education system as it was constructed at the time. The origins of the legislation that
became the Act, the struggle for different versions between the White House and
Congress, the actual makeup of the Act itself, and the implications of the Act all show
convincingly that civic education in America would never be the same following the
legislation that made science and mathematics equivalent to national defense, and
relegated civic education to second-rate status.
Cold War Ideology
In order to fully grasp the changes that took place in the form of the National
Defense Education Act of 1958, a comprehensive understanding of the mentality that
pervaded the cold war is vital. Very shortly after the end of the Second World War,
the Soviet Union took on the face of the enemy of the United States rather than the
ally that it had been during the war. In fact, even as the war drew to a close there
were indications of what was to become of the relations between the United States
and the Soviets. In the debates surrounding the use of the atomic bomb on Japan
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there is continuous conjecture about the motivations for using such a horrible
weapon. Though President Truman and those who supported his decision to use the
bomb on Japan claim that it saved untold American lives that may have been lost in
an invasion of the Japanese homeland, there are those who believe that it was
unnecessary because Japan was ready to surrender and was making preparations to do
so. These historians contend that U.S. leaders used the bomb not to force Japans
surrender but to impress the Soviets with Americas awesome new power and to
persuade Stalin to moderate his policies in Europe.1
The aftermath of the biggest war the world had ever seen led quickly into the
Cold War. By September of 1949 Soviet scientists had tested their own atomic
weapon, and the United States brief reign as the worlds only nuclear superpower
had ended. By now, tensions between the two most powerful nations on the planet
were heating up and citizens of the United States in particular began to experience the
growth of a new ideology to characterize this unfamiliar type of warfare. The risk of
nuclear war terrified many Americans in these years, and this fear was an attitude that
can be characterized by certain identifiable traits.3
The first element that made up the ideology of the cold war was the idea that
there were only two sides to the conflict, and a person was either sympathetic to the
United States or the Soviet Union, but had to align with one of them. This perception
of the world as bipolar and absolutist was influenced in America by portraying the
U.S. as spearheading the forces of light and justice against those of darkness and
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slavery.4 This viewpoint is exemplified in the attitude of Senator Joseph McCarthy,
who, in 1950, took shots at the Democratic party saying in part that Today we are
engaged in a final, all-out battle between Communistic atheism and Christianity...
and then noted that The great difference between our western Christian world and
the atheistic Communist world is not political, gentlemen, it is moral.5 There is little
wonder then why Americans had little choice but to view the Soviets as not only the
enemy, but as perversely evil as well.
Second, obsession with national survival, in two different areas, permeated the
attitudes toward the Soviets. On the one hand, concern for the physical survival of
our nation was very real because the risk of destruction at the hands of the Soviet
Union and its nuclear weapons contributed greatly to the anxiety felt by many U.S.
citizens. On the other hand, survival of the American way of life was also in
question. There was a persistent belief that Western civilization, led by America,
would face wave after wave of cultural assaults from Communism.6
Third, race imagery was a prevalent concept used by the U.S. to convince
its people that there was a threat even more dangerous than originally thought posed
by the Soviets. Whether it was a race to arm ourselves against the threat of the
Soviets, or a race for allies that would stand with us against the Communist world, the
United States was continually portrayed to be in a very real contest with the U.S.S.R.
for supremacy on numerous and varied fronts. Evangelist Billy Graham rocketed to
fame on the strength of a Los Angeles tent revival in September of 1949, just as the
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Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Graham thundered, An arms race
unprecedented in the history of the world is driving us madly toward destruction!7
As Barbara Barksdale Clowse points out in her book Brainpower for the Cold
War, all of these elements of the ideology of the Cold War had a single central
characteristic: an illusory quality that made every instance and event seem much more
serious than it really was. She is certain that the Soviet Union imparted its people
with many of the same feelings that citizens of the U.S. were faced with, and both
countries exacerbated the situation by unnecessarily intensifying the struggle. No
outcome clearly loomed in which one of these forces would obliterate or prevail over
the other. Nevertheless, each saw the other as bent on worldwide domination with,
apparently, very real chance of success.8
There are other authors who agree with the conclusion that Clowse comes to
in her work. Cold War Rhetoric; Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology, is a compilation
of essays written by numerous scholars that attempts to dissect the viewpoints of the
Cold War. In this book, Robert L. Scott backs up the conclusions made by Clowse
by noting that the rhetoric of the Cold War served to divide the world into two camps,
communist and free world. Other essays in the book delve deeper into the psyche of
Americans at the time, but the point to be made here is clear: citizens in this country
were certain that there was a real and definite evil lurking in the world, the U.S. was
the only bastion of hope that the free world had, and if we did not beat the Soviets to
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the punch the consequences for our way of life, if not our lives altogether, were too
horrible to imagine.
Concerns About American Education
Following the Second World War, criticisms of the way the U.S. educated its
citizens began to develop, and they did not do so in a vacuum. For a variety of
reasons, academics took issue with the state of education in the pre-collegiate levels.
These concerns were fueled in large measure by the ideology of the Cold War that
has just been described. With that mentality as a framework for understanding the
level of unease that was rampant in the U.S. at the time, we turn now to the state of
public education during the Cold War.
Legacy of Progressivism
A certain amount of insight into the Progressive ideals regarding education
will be helpful in understanding why, at this time, many were concerned about how
this approach to primary and secondary education might put the United States in peril.
The person who founded and originally led the Progressive Education movement was
John Dewey, a philosophy professor at Columbia University for most of his career.9
Dewey was concerned that children did not leam enough in their lives outside of
school to prepare them for the challenges of living in an industrial society, especially
since the education system was not overhauled to handle the shift from agrarian to
industrial economy. The type of education which could accomplish this preparation
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would be one that provided students with a knowledge of the evolution of Western
civilization, and understanding of the Industrial Revolution, and the ability to reason
scientifically.10 He published his ideas in his most influential piece of writing in
1916, in a book entitled Democracy and Education.
While Dewey was destined to take the blame from education critics following
World War II for what his ideas would do to American schools, the fact is that what
became of his movement was a perversion of his original ideas. In his book
Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era, Peter B. Dow explains that
Dewey sought only to make sure that each student had the opportunity for personal
fulfillment and that each individual must learn to support the interests of others while
learning to adapt to a changing, dynamic environment.11 The main thrust of Deweys
educational plan was the progressive organization of knowledge that allowed
students to seek out new information and ask new questions based upon what that
individual has experienced previously. New discoveries on the part of our children,
he said, generate new problems that captivate their interest. In this way, learning
unfolds in a continuous spiral.12 The key to this type of learning, in Deweys mind,
was scientific method; that is experimentation, formation and testing of a hypothesis,
observation of the testing of that hypothesis, and reflection upon those results.
Dewey believed that the scientific method was the only authentic means at our
command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in
which we live.13
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Dewey also felt that democracy was completely antithetical to privilege,
class, race, and special interests. Therefore, it was the responsibility of schools to
make sure that students were socialized into the democratic way of life. Certainly
well intentioned, this point of view was unfortunately not what was espoused by the
Progressive Education movement as a whole. Dewey would travel around the
country observing his ideas in action and become dismayed at what he saw practiced
in his name. Far too often he found two major misrepresentations of his ideas. First,
many blue collar industrial communities used their public schools as nothing more
than a training program to prepare their students to walk out of the school doors and
right into the factories that supported their towns. Second, some middle class
communities used his ideas as an excuse to make sure that education was tailored
directly to the individual interests of the students themselves. It upset Dewey to see
that his ideas contributed to a sort of free-for-all that was dictated simply by the
curiosity of the child. In a follow-up volume to his original work, Dewey published
Experience in Education in 1938. In it he decried what he saw as the use of
improvisation by teachers and spur-of-the-moment teaching in place of planned
curriculum. Unfortunately, by this time it, was too late and the Life Adjustment
Movement was ready to commence.
The Life Adjustment practitioners were originally Progressives but came to
believe that Deweys goals of active participation of students as citizens was
unattainable. Instead, focusing education to prepare students with the vocational
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skills they would need in the workplace was a much more relevant use of public
school resources. This also became a rather condescending approach to education
because many of those who promoted it believed it was necessary because students
were simply unfit to handle the rigors of learning in the style of the scientific method.
This type of education was not what Dewey had in mind, yet by the time the Second
World War was over this movement was in full swing and dominating the educational
landscape. Furthermore, Dewey received a hefty share of the blame for this
movement and what it did to American schools despite the fact that it did not even
resemble the type of education that he envisioned.
Critics of Progressive Style Education
The main concern with public school education at the time was the way
curriculums concentrated on Progressive goals or dramatic offshoots of them, and
failed to equip students with the skills essential to an educated person. The assertion
was that Progressive Education was too concerned with social development and
oriented around life adjustment to be useful in the new post-war world.14 This type
of education allowed students to shun tough subjects, causing shortages in fields of
employment vital to national security.15 So following World War II there began a
steady stream of writing that criticized this type of education and called for a change
in the system.
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The first work to condemn these practices was written by Mortimer Smith in
1949 entitled And Madly Teach. Smith served on a local school board in Connecticut
and was upset by what he saw practiced in schools. He accused Dewey and the
Progressives of allowing schools to pursue programs of practical training, while
failing to specify the intellectual and moral ends of education. Deweys pragmatism,
wrote Smith, which made no value judgements on what should be taught, had brought
American education to the brink of chaos.16 Never mind the fact that the problems
that Smith was complaining about were in fact problems that Dewey himself
observed, it was Dewey who took the blame for the misapplication of his own ideas.
Smith also attacked the idea that students were intellectually incapable of dealing
with more difficult subjects. He railed on the anti-intellectual spirit of Progressive
Education. Once again it was lost on Smith that the movement initiated by Dewey
was one that relied on this very intellectual capacity, and it was the Life Adjustment
change in Progressive Education (for which Dewey was not responsible) that
downplayed students individual capacities.
A second critic of the period was Bernard Iddings Bell. In the same year
Smith published And Madly Teach, Bell published Crisis in Education. Bell held
considerably more academic weight than Smith as he was a former University
president and a scholar with an impeccable reputation. His complaint was that
schools allowed too much vocationally centered education, which was bound to
disrupt the intellectual achievement of students in the long run. While criticizing as
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much as Smith, Bell proposed more solutions by advocating the total reorganization
of the teaching profession, the restructuring of the school calendar, the extension of
educational benefits to adults, and the provision of religious teaching in schools.18
Bells writing, combined with the work of Smith, began a full scale assault on the
education that resulted from the Progressive movement.
Arthur Bestor was another even more forceful voice than either Bell or Smith.
Bestor was an historian and nationally known critic of education, and he declared that
ignorance should be feared as much as disloyalty. He asserted that genuine
knowledge, critical understanding, and responsible thinking provide, in a democracy,
the most powerful weapon there is against subversive tendencies.19 Bestor began a
campaign in 1952 to try and re-institute the value of intellectual pursuit into schools,
and over the course of the next few years would collaborate with Mortimer Smith on
the newly formed Council for Basic Education. The purpose of this group was to
push for a more thorough teaching of science, mathematics, English, history, and
foreign languages.
At this point we have two major themes that will converge to cause serious
concern about the state of American safety. The first of these is the ideology of the
Cold War. Tensions were rising in the general public about how our country would
deal with the threat to our survival that the Soviets posed. Second is the growing
concern over the state of our education system. Part of it was due to the fears
associated with the Cold War, but it is useful to note that this concern operated
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independently, in large part, from the Cold War ideology. These two separate themes
were tenuously linked until the Sputnik crisis exploded onto the world scene, and then
they were tied neatly together.
Political Climate ReRarding Federal Involvement
If we take into consideration the mindset that most Americans held during the
Cold War that the U.S. was in real danger from the Soviet Union, and combine that
with the flood of concerns about public education that had risen during this time
period as well, and it certainly seems to be a foregone conclusion that federal
assistance to public schools was inevitable. In fact there was a great deal of support
for that very idea, and there had long been groups of people who felt that the federal
government had every right to become involved in local school districts. Every
component of the future National Defense Education Act had been considered
separately long before the Russians shocked America by their achievement in the fall
of 1957 20
Furthermore, the idea of a national education policy had existed since the
early national period. Those who sought to establish federal responsibility and bring
financial benefits for education found sanction in the general welfare clause of the
Constitution.21 And it is absolutely true that the federal government had been
involved in local school administration to some degree for most of the twentieth
century. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 provided for a federal categorical and
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vocational school aid program. Under this Act, the government undertook to assist
the several states in financing instruction in trade and industrial occupations,
agriculture, home economics, and distributive occupations.22 However, the scope of
this Act was limited to strictly vocational endeavors, and the promotion of curricular
choices was not a major consideration.
Moreover, there were ancillary conditions related to education that made the
push for assistance outside of the local school district attractive. One of these was the
state of the school buildings that were being used. Most were at least thirty years old,
since the financial restrictions of depression and war had limited the amount of
money that could be spent on construction. Another problem was the sheer rise in
population. The baby boom was under way and the resulting number of students-
probably 44 million in elementary and high school by 1965- was set to strain already
inadequate facilities. Third, teachers were widely believed to be under-qualified
and poorly equipped to teach Americas youth. And finally, the financial backbone
of public education was questionable at best. The tradition of local control meant that
the financing of public education came largely from property taxes, and there was
dramatic contrast between rich and poor communities.24
Despite the anxiety engendered by the Cold War, the rising tide of concern
about the state of the American education system, and the historical precedent of the
Smith-Hughes Act that allowed for federal involvement in schools, there was still a
great degree of opposition to the idea for at least three major reasons. The first of
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these was the natural resistance to federal involvement in schools. Even though there
is no legal basis for local control over schools, it is a tradition that is defended with
near-religious fanaticism. Historically, Americans have distrusted centralized
educational planning as a characteristic of totalitarian systems and looked to the
autonomy of the local school board as the bastion of democracy and the protector of
community values. People become concerned that acceptance of any federal
assistance would inevitably lead to having to submit to federal control, and their
reaction is that it is better to suffer insufficient facilities than to allow the federal
government to dictate how they will spend their own money on their schools. This
position is one that is held very seriously by defenders of local school autonomy, and
is one that prevented federal assistance from being realized.
Second, there is an obvious problem with federal assistance to schools in that
it could very quickly violate the First Amendment to the Constitution if funds went to
private parochial schools. It is not difficult to imagine how defenders of the
separation of church and state would be incensed at the prospect of the federal
government aiding religious institutions in their activities. At this stage of the Cold
War, with many people calling for the U.S. government to get involved and aid local
school districts, Senator Robert A. Taft stated that private schools could share
assistance from Washington if unrestricted funds went directly to the states. If a state
usually assisted such schools in some way, Taft reasoned, Congress could not make a
blanket prohibition against federal aid to private schools without violating the
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principle of local control.26 Naturally this position did not impress defenders of the
First Amendment.
Third, opponents of federal aid to education received some support, whether
they wanted it or not, from racial opposition to the Brown decision of 1954. Bigots
who opposed integration opposed federal assistance as well because they knew that
with the federal aid that would be allotted to their local school, insistence on
integration of the schools would follow. These opponents to federal aid were not
about to allow the government to demand that their schools be integrated, regardless
of how financially beneficial it might be for them to accept federal funds.
So at this point there was a serious stalemate in the push for federal funding of
schools. Opponents of the idea certainly had legal precedent in the First Amendment,
and historical precedent of local control of schools on their side in the battle.
However, all of the circumstances surrounding schools- overcrowding, personnel
shortages, and financial squeezes- seemed destined to bring favorable legislative
action. This pressure is especially true when combined with the mindset of the Cold
War that most Americans were burdened with.
The Catalyst for Change
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made space
satellite into orbit. The satellite weighed 184 pounds and was called Sputnik, Russian
for Little Traveler. The Soviets would succeed in launching a second Sputnik
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satellite a month later, this one carrying a dog, the first living creature to leave Earths
atmosphere. The Soviet space triumph convinced many Americans that the
U.S.S.R. had achieved scientific superiority over the United States. The U.S.S.R.s
demonstrated scientific and engineering prowess sent a chill through the spines of a
citizenry already frightened by the Cold War and the spy investigations of the
McCarthy Era.29
It became apparent that the Soviet Union was a bigger threat than ever. It was
obvious to everyone at the time that the Soviets were far more diabolical and
dangerous than previously thought because space flight was hardly necessary to wage
war of untold proportions on the United States. If the Russians were capable of
launching vehicles into space, it was reasonable to assume that they now had the
technology to deploy missiles that could whisk nuclear warheads to U.S. targets in a
matter of minutes. Late in 1957, spooked by Sputnik and the prospect of radioactive
fallout, 64 percent of Americans cited the nuclear threat as the nations top problem.30
In America, panic set in following the Russian achievement. Just one day
after the Russians orbited Sputnik, the New York Times and Washington Post both
gave three-line eight-column banners to the feat.31 People began to actually view this
event as the Cold War version of Pearl Harbor, and despair and urgency quickly
surfaced. The biggest question that now faced not only the government of the
United States, but also the people themselves, was How are we going to make up the
ground that the Russians have taken? The race imagery that was so prevalent in the
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Cold War ideology again came to the surface, as everyone knew that something had
to be done right away to keep from losing the war on Communism.
American Response
The U.S. government did not respond as quickly and as forcefully as some
people might have liked. President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not view the situation
as quite as cataclysmic as the rest of the country, and was actually surprised that there
was as much panic over the episode as there was. At the time, the United States had a
policy of separating and concealing military advances in rocket technology from the
other more scientific pursuits, and since the Soviets did not adhere to this sort of
agenda it was obvious that they were bound to orbit a satellite before the U.S. Since
Eisenhower knew this, he was convinced that there was nothing to be unduly
concerned about, but unfortunately the rest of the country was not as comfortable
with the Russian breakthrough. His immediate reaction was to call a news conference
for October the 9th and defend his separation of science experiments from military
missile developments and deny that there was even a race with the Soviets in this
area. These statements were not well received and Eisenhower was subsequently
accused of underestimating the seriousness of the situation by the media. Eisenhower
began to feel like he was being painted into a comer and thus had to come up with
some plan other than simply defending the current pace of U.S. innovation.
By October 15th things seemed to be getting out of hand, and Eisenhower
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called a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee of Defense Mobilization. Two
important realizations came from that meeting; first that there needed to be a full-time
scientific advisor on the staff of the oval office, and second that there was a critical
manpower shortage that would eventually cripple the defense of our country if it was
not averted as quickly as possible. It therefore became obvious to Eisenhower and his
staff that education was the only real solution to this issue, even though it was a more
long-term solution than might have been desirable at the time. The idea that
education would solve the problem in our achievement gap with the Russians was
also being promoted within Congress and the media. By the time that six weeks had
elapsed from the first Sputnik launch, Sputnik II had roared into orbit and the
launchings were perceived as not only a defeat in the Cold War, but as a judgement
upon the goals and values of Americas institutions. Eisenhower and other
government leaders, encouraged by educators anticipating federal largess, considered
that it was time for Washington to take action.34
National Defense Education Act
The legislation that became known as the National Defense Education Act
was bom out of the national panic that set in following the successful launch of the
Russian space vehicle Sputnik. While consensus developed rather quickly that
something needed to be done to make up the ground that had been perceived as lost to
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the Soviets, there was no real agreement on the level and type of aid that would be
utilized.
Different Challenges. The Administration of President Eisenhower was much
quicker to visualize the solution to the problem of how to deal with this Cold War
setback than Congress was, and churned out a completed proposal in the same
amount of time that it took legislators on Capitol Hill to merely outline their ideas.35
Despite his initial reluctance to get charged up about the issue and his incredulity at
the seriousness with which the American people viewed the situation, Eisenhower
quickly recovered and began rallying his troops to the cause. He wanted to make sure
that the moment was not wasted and ordered his assistants to get something new and
in the public mood.36 Yet he still remained utterly opposed to an extensive crash
program for education, preferring instead a narrow plan oriented toward science.
Furthermore, Eisenhower understood the seriousness of the rundown school buildings
but also recognized the cost of replacing them, and cut any construction aid right out
of early proposals.37
Eisenhower ultimately was very reluctant to enlarge the federal responsibility
for education, believing that it was the local school district that should shoulder the
load for educating its children. However his political instincts told him that
something must be done to eliminate the strain on the morale of the public. In order
to reconcile his own misgivings with the urgency of the time, Eisenhower made it
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