Robert Putnam and a colleague (they neither bowl nor write alone) write that from 9/11 "has come a renewed commitment to civic engagement among a crucial segment of the population: young people who were near college age on Sept. 11, 2001." The evidence to which they point is not unimpressive, though Im extremely disappointed in the suggestions they make as to how to perpetuate this involvement, which reveals all too much about their own not very well hidden agenda.
For them, civic education is less about learning the principles of our government (the Declaration and the Constitution) than about action, and action is about getting the government to do more. This is a telling recommendation:
[To] beef up and revive civics education[,] make it less about memorizing the number of U.S. senators and more about experiential learning (petitioning government to build a local park or playground).
A genuinely Tocquevillian method of civic education would be for the young people to get together with community members and do something for themselves. To paraphrase the namesake of the Harvard program in which Putnam teaches, ask not what your government can do for you, but rather what you can do for your community.
If Putnams vision of civic education is simply intended to cultivate engaged clients of government programs, if its purpose is to make us more effective in demanding more stuff from the public purse, as if were only responsible for our neighbors and ourselves through the medium of a government program, then it is dead on arrival. At least I hope so.