Are Americans Informed About Civics?

summary/response - 4 paragraph essay

In this unit, students will read, summarize, and respond to a recent court case in which a Rhode Island student is contending that her constitutional rights have been violated because her public school education has been insufficient to prepare her to be a good citizen.  Steps include assessing their own knowledge of American government by taking a citizenship test and studying the definition and purpose of civic education.

INSTRUCTIONAL NOTE:  The following are suggested steps to make use of relevant resources.  These should be organized into multiple class activities, discussions, and/or homework according to the instructor’s style and the needs of the class.  This lesson is also available as a Google Doc

ASSIGNMENT:  According to a National Survey, only 1 in 3 Americans would pass a citizenship test.  Many Americans are not knowledgeable about their government. Who should be responsible for educating them?  In this unit, you will test your own knowledge of civics and read an article about a court case in which a young woman claims her constitutional rights have been violated because her school has not prepared her to be a citizen.  Then, you will practice writing a summary and response of that article.


GUIDING QUESTIONS:  What is an informed American?  Are you an informed American? Who is responsible for educating Americans?

PURPOSE AND AUDIENCE: To summarize and respond to an article for an academic audience


LENGTH:  4 paragraphs plus Works Cited


PART 1:  What do you know already about the U.S. government?  

Here are some resources and questions to begin a conversation.  These discussions should serve as a good start to thinking about your rights and responsibilities as citizens and community members.  


PART 2:  What is civic education?

In order to understand the role of civic education in public schools, it is necessary to understand the definition of “civic education.”  

  • WATCH THIS VIDEO:  This video features Supreme Court justices explaining the meaning of civics and the importance of civics education.

  • STUDY THE DEFINITION:  Civic education prepares citizens (and community members) for informed, critical, and civil participation in our democracy.  Consider the three elements of civic education according to the Annenberg Classroom:

    • Knowledge​

      • Core concepts of democracy, the constitution and institutions of democracy in their own country, and public issues in the past and present pertaining to the practice of democracy.

    • Intellectual and practical skills

      • Intellectual and practical skills that enable citizens to use knowledge effectively as they act individually and collectively in the public life of their democracy.

      • Reading, writing, critical thinking

    • Virtues

      • Encouraging the virtues that dispose citizens positively to the ideals and principles of their democracy, such as civility, honesty, charity, compassion, courage, loyalty, patriotism, and self-restraint.


  • Consider these three elements of civic education.  Has your education prepared you to be a strong contributor to American democracy?

  • Do our public leaders model these virtues?  How?


PART 3:  Do public schools have an obligation to teach civic education?

  • READINGS:  In a 2018 court case, a Rhode Island student contended that her civics education has been insufficient to prepare her to be a good citizen.  This article provides a general overview of the case: Goldstein, Dana. “Are Civics Lessons a Constitutional Right? This Student Is Suing for Them.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Nov. 2018,


    • Introduction with thesis

    • Summary of article

    • Response to article answering the question:  Has your school prepared you to be an informed citizen?

    • Conclusion



  • How should schools teach civics?  There is significant debate about the right way to teach civics.  Some argue that students need to know more facts while others argue that students need to engage with what they are learning.

    • Some say that the naturalization test is a good way to integrate civics education into the classroom.  The Civics Education Initiative requires high school students, as a condition for graduation, to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics, from the United States Citizenship Civics Test – the test all new US citizens must pass.

    • Others argue that this test is not a sufficient way to prepare students to be good citizens, that we must encourage critical thinking and experiential education.

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