Political Science Now

The History of Civic Education in Political Science: The Story of a Discipline’s Failure to Lead

Chapter 7: The History of Civic Education in Political Science: The Story of a Discipline’s Failure to Lead

Michael T. RogersArkansas Tech University

Today, there is growing concern in the United States over the decline in civic engagement, particularly among youth.  This alarm is complimented by disquiet over America’s formal civic education, particularly at the high school and collegiate levels.  Combined, these developments raise doubt about the health of American democracy.  One academic discipline that has the potential to have a significant impact on both civic education and engagement of Americans is political science.  Thus, it is worth asking:  Have the actions by political scientists generally and the American Political Science Association (APSA) in particular significantly promoted civic education and in America?

To answer this question, Part I provides the history of civic education and engagement for the discipline of political science and its national organization, the American Political Science Association (APSA), since its founding in 1903.  Although many in the discipline espoused a civic mission at its origins, the history of political science and APSA shows it has had minimal influence on and has not been an outspoken advocate for civic education and engagement for much of the twentieth century.  Other disciplines (education, history, psychology and sociology) were more important in shaping America’s formal civic education through social studies programs.  That said, some recent initiatives by the APSA and political scientists show renewed interest in and leave the discipline well-poised to make a positive impact on civic education and engagement in this twenty-first century.

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About the Author

Michael T. Rogers is an associate professor of political science in the History and Political Science Department at Arkansas Tech University.  He received his PhD from the University at Albany–SUNY in 2005. His major subfield is political theory and his minor is American politics. He regularly offers courses in both subfields. His research interests include civic education (literacy and engagement), as well as the history of political thought and democratic theory. He has published manuscripts on civic education and engagement in disciplinary journals and as book chapters in collective volumes.  Most recently, he coedited and contributed multiple chapters to Civic Education in the 21st Century:  A Multidimensional Inquiry, published by Lexington books (2015). Other publications include a piece on criticisms of the Electoral College during the founding ratification debates and a coauthored chapter with Sally Friedman on congressional representation.

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association / pp: 65-72