Many social-studies educators think the study of basic governmental principles is “dry.” They shrink from civics that is openly patriotic, calling it propaganda. But while they worry about “mindless” nationalism, they eagerly advocate a reformed vision of citizenship by the textbooks they choose.
These curriculum planners say that the time to “demystify” government courses is overdue. Civics education should be “practical” and “empowering.” Lessons should emphasize individual and group rights. Content should highlight the here-and-now and the close-to-home. These ideas are often mixed with the rhetoric of “minority needs.”
Political principles are out. “Street law” is in.
Claiming to be a step forward, Street Law replaces conventional civics with a bleak world of torts, liability, rights, entitlements, discrimination, and self-expressive lifestyles. Such content, publishers say, applies directly to teenagers’ lives. But the operative culture that wafts up from the text is dreary and atomized, litigious and drained of civic appeal.
Students aren’t taught to be citizens of a republic, writes Sewall. They’re taught to be members of a faction — and legal clients.