Promote the highest-quality education about law in schools (kindergarten through adult classes) and in community settings.
"A constitutional democracy, such as the United States of America, requires informed, effective, and responsible citizens for its maintenance and improvement. If the polity is to survive and thrive, citizens must have adequate knowledge of its principles and institutions, skills in applying this knowledge to civic life, and dispositions that incline them to protect individual rights and promote the common good" (Civics Framework for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, p. viii). Accordingly, each generation must reinvent the Republic for itself, internalizing and taking as its own the fundamental principles, values, and dispositions that undergird the American constitutional system. Because the American system is a constitutional (i.e., law-based) democracy, understanding the nature of law and its role in society -- past and present -- is an essential part of that process.Civic education has traditionally been part of the mission of the nation’s publicly supported elementary and secondary schools. While the public schools remain a locus of and foundation for civic education, the delivery system for civic education has become increasingly more complex due to key changes in demography, schooling, and technology that affect American society. For instance, during the past two decades, immigration to the United States reached levels not seen since the early part of the 20th century. As a result, 10 percent of the total U.S. population is now foreign born. More than half of the immigrants have arrived since 1980, and almost two-thirds of them have not yet become naturalized citizens. Moreover, the trend toward development of alternatives to mainstream public schools (home schooling; parochial, private, and charter schools; etc.) means that the public schools can no longer be seen as having a monopoly on K-12 education. Finally, Americans are increasingly recognizing that ongoing education (lifelong learning) is needed to keep pace with rapid social and technological changes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 40 percent of adult Americans now participate in some form of continuing education.Trends such as these underscore the ongoing importance of and need for civic education if we hope to maintain the vitality of the American constitutional democracy. The scope of the task, however, has increased considerably, encompassing youths, college students, and adults. As we seek to fulfill our mission to promote public understanding of law and its role in society, the ABA Division for Public Education will look both within and beyond K-12 schools to reach young people. We will also look to both formal (post-secondary) educational institutions and informal educational delivery services, such as community-based forums, to reach adults.Many programs and materials about law and civic education have been developed. Evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs are far less common. As a result of this lack, those new to law-related education have little to guide their choices. The ABA can further the identification of excellent materials and programs by encouraging well-structured evaluations tailored to the objectives of law-related and civic education.In looking to the future, the ABA Division for Public Education must find ways to meet current and new challenges. We need to reaffirm our commitment to excellence and our preeminent leadership role in promoting the highest-quality education about law and legal topics in educational institutions at all levels and in diverse community settings. We can accomplish this by employing effective and diverse delivery systems so as to provide information, technical assistance, and opportunities for professional development to educators in classroom and community-based settings.
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