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  • After reading this introductory page, please go to Government, then U.S. Government and then World Government
  • After competing the Government sections, please go to Citizenship, then Civitas and Character Education.

What is Civics?

Civics is the study of citizenship and government with particular attention given to the role of citizens in the operation and oversight of government.

As of 2008, in Hillsborough County, middle school civics is “built into” the American History and Geography courses offered at the middle school level as opposed to a separate course. As a consequence, teachers infuse civics into topics that by their nature lend them selves to tangential development. As examples, when studying the founding of the nation, teachers might develop concepts of patriotism and sacrifice. During the period of the constitutional convention, an analysis of the Bill of Rights from a freedoms and responsibility perspective would be pursued in depth. When studying geography, current events and government structures of other countries would be analyzed and compared to the United States’ approach.  

Listed at the bottom of this page are the current Sunshine State Standards for Civics. They are currently under revision

Civics is typically thought of as having two components:

  • Government (United States and World Governments education) and
  • Citizenship (Civitas and Character education)

Americans & Civics

Is civics unique to America?

No, it isn't.

But when one looks at other nations, there are two concepts worth considering that, arguably, makes civics more important to sustaining America.

1. Unlike other nations, the land in which the United States is sitting was repopulate with its "discovery" in 1492. People came here from all over the world with a shared interest in life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Only the countries of Australia and New Zealand share a similar demographic change, but they were largely settled by the British. Whereas, America has seen waves of immigrants from all the European, Asian, African, and Latin American Regions. America is the most diverse country in the world and in the history of the world.

2. Unlike the European countries whose "bond" is forged out of a common ancestry such as the Irish, French, or Italians, "Americans" are so diverse that what holds them together is not ethnic, cultural, or religious bonds, but something very different from that found in other countries. One can be a member of the British Empire, but you would not be "English." For Americans, it is argued that it is a system of beliefs that holds us together, the ideas of liberty, rule of law, and rights, etc. as embodied in the Constitution. To be an American, has nothing to do with ethnicity, "race," color of skin, national origin, etc. American are American because of what they believe.

Teaching Civics: A Process Emphasis

 There are at least two characteristics civics that make teaching civics unique. These pedagogical bedrocks are as necessary to civics education as the concepts of varying exceptionalities and differentiated instruction are to special education.   

1. Freedom of Thought and Conscience. Unlike the subject field of mathematics, where everyone agrees that 3 + 3 = 6, the social studies concepts in civics education allow two people to disagree about the conclusions they reach and for both individuals to believe their positions are appropriate if not correct. As examples, we still debate the merits of capital punishment and abortion, the assessment of the bombing of Hiroshima, and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. This kind of disagreement can result from individuals having incorrect facts, having correct but different sets of facts, or having the same agreed-upon facts but interpreting them differently or assigning different levels of importance to the facts. 

For this reason, teachers of social studies must NOT emphasize THEIR opinions or conclusions. Their goal is to create an environment and process where students are expected to be full participants in a dialogue that is in search of the student’s personal truth by expecting students to share their ideas in a thoughtful way, justify their positions with logic and facts, and demonstrate a willingness to consider others' ideas. The teacher’s role is to:

  1. Structure lessons focus on the critical attributes of an issue, and
  2. Serve as an interlocutor, devils advocate, introducer of facts, and clarifier of opinions while engaging all the students

2. Logic vs. Emotions. Since Socrates, the call for reason over emotion has been the beacon for the advancement of civilization. As an example, someone who lost a family member to a drunken driver may have great difficulty being objective about a discussion of DUI laws, as would someone whose parent who on one occasion consumed alcohol was convicted and jailed for a DUI offense.

The second bedrock approach to teaching social studies in the emphasis on detached, objective analysis of history, cultures, current events, etc. The appropriate role of passion is to stimulate us to inquiry and to act after the objective inquiry and analysis is complete. This disposition is believed to be acquired in school setting through the academic learning process itself, interaction in "thoughtful" classrooms that social studies teachers cultivate, and the demeanor of the teacher who exhibits these qualities that comes to be perceived by students as the appropriate disposition one should have in the search for the truth.   

The following two quotes speak to the unique qualities of Civics education: Civic education is not just about knowing, but about doing; and Civics education is about both public virtues and personal virtues (character). 

Paul Hanna, in 1937,  

With all our reciting of the facts that Columbus, an Italian, discovered America in 1492 and that the Pilgrims, from England, landed at Plymouth in 1620 we go on hating foreigners as much as if we hadn’t learned the historic fact that most of us are originally from foreign shores. With all of our “book learning” of the structure of city and state government, we still have corruption in high places and indifference among our citizens. With all our geographic fact teaching, we face increasing national insecurity because geography has not taught us to conserve our soil, forests, and other natural resources. Nor have we much evidence that through social studies we have aided in promoting happier family relations, bettering juvenile social behavior, obtaining higher standards of living, or generally in solving the vast number of problems that plague our culture. 

Reverend Martin Niemoller, 1939 commenting on Nazi Germany

They came first for the Communists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Unionists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me. 

Sunshine State Standards

Government and the Citizen

6th Grade

• understands ways current issues affect political, social, and economic systems in selected regions.
Production, Distribution, and Consumption [Economics]
• understands elements of basic economic systems commonly found in selected regions (for example, tradition-based and command economies in the Eastern hemisphere).

7th Grade

• extends and refines knowledge of ways current issues affect political, social, and economic systems in selected regions.

8th Grade

•knows the essential ideas of American constitutional government that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and other writings.
• understands major ideas about why government is necessary and the purposes government should serve.
• understands ways the legislative, executive, and judicial branches share power and responsibilities (for example, each branch has varying degrees of legislative, executive, and judicial powers and responsibilities).
• knows the major parts of the federal system including the national government, state governments, and other governmental units (for example, District of Columbia, American tribal governments, the Virgin Islands).
• knows the major responsibilities and understands the organization of Florida’s state and local governments.
• understands the importance of the rule of law in establishing limits on both those who govern and the governed, protecting individual rights, and promoting the common good (for example, Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law, limits on campaign contributions).
• understands the history of the rights, liberties, and obligations of citizenship in the United States (for example, rights and liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights, serving on jury duty).
• understands that citizenship is legally recognized full membership in a self-governing community that confers equal rights under the law; is not dependent on inherited, involuntary groupings; and confers certain rights and privileges (for example, the right to vote, to hold public office, to serve on juries)
• understands the argument that all rights have limits and knows the criteria commonly used in determining when and why limits should be placed on rights (for example, whether a clear and present danger exists and whether national security is at risk).
• understands ways to contact government representatives and why it is important to do so (for example, knows which level of government to contact to express opinions or to get help on a specific problem).
• understands the importance of participation in community service, civic improvement, and political activities (for example, becoming informed about qualifications of candidates).
• understands ways current issues affect political, social, and economic systems in the United States.

NCSS Civics Related Themes

INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND INSTITUTIONS—Social Studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions, so that the learner can:

A.        identify roles as learned behavior patterns in group situations such as student, family member, peer playgroup member, or club member;

B.        give examples of and explain group and institutional influences such as religious beliefs, laws, and peer pressure, on people, events, and elements of culture;

C.        identify examples of institutions and describe the interactions of people with institutions;

D.        identify and describe examples of tensions between and among individuals, groups, or institutions, and how belonging to more than one group can cause internal conflicts;

E.         identify and describe examples of tension between an individual's beliefs and government policies and laws;

F.         give examples of the role of institutions in furthering both continuity and change;

G.        show how groups and institutions work to meet individual needs and promote the common good and identify examples where they fail to do so.

POWER, AUTHORITY, AND GOVERNANCE—Social Studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance, so that the learner can:

A.        examine the rights and responsibilities of the individual in relation to his/her social group such as family, peer group, and school class;

B.        explain the purpose of government;

C.        give examples of how government does or does not provide for needs and wants of people, establish order and security, and manage conflict;

D.        recognize how groups and organizations encourage unity and deal with diversity to maintain order and security;

E.         distinguish among local, state, and national governments and identify representative leaders at these levels such as mayor, governor, and president;

F.         identify and describe factors that contribute to cooperation and cause disputes within and among groups and nations;

G.        explore the role of technology in communications, transportation, information processing, weapons development, or other areas as it contributes to or helps resolve conflicts;

H.        recognize and give examples of the tensions between the wants and needs of individuals and groups, and concepts such as fairness, equity, and justice.

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS—Social Studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of global connections and interdependence, so that the learner can:

A.        explore ways that language, art, music, belief systems, and other cultural elements may facilitate global understanding or lead to misunderstanding;

B.        give examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and nations;

C.        examine the effects of changing technologies on the global community;

D.        explore causes, consequences, and possible solutions to persistent, contemporary, and emerging global issues such as pollution and endangered species;

E.         examine the relationships and tensions between personal wants and needs and various global concerns such as use of imported oil, land use, and environmental protection;

F.         investigate concerns, issues, standards, and conflicts related to universal human rights, such as the treatment of children and religious groups and the effects of war.

CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES—Social Studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic, so that the learner can:

A.        identify key ideals of the United States' democratic republican form of government such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law, and discuss their application in specific situations;

B.        identify examples of rights and responsibilities of citizens;

C.        locate, access, organize, and apply information about an issue of public concern from multiple points of view;

D.        identify and practice selected forms of civic discussion and participation consistent with the ideals of citizens in a democratic republic;

E.         explain actions citizens can take to influence public policy decisions;

F.         recognize that a variety of formal and informal actors influence and shape public policy;

G.        examine the influence of public opinion on personal decision-making and government policy on public issues;

H.        explain how public policies and citizen behaviors may or may not reflect the stated ideals of a democratic republican form of government;

I.          describe how public policies are used to address issues of public concern; recognize and interpret how the "common good" can be strengthened through various forms of citizen action.

Go to Government

Resources Acknowledgement

Wikipedia served as a major source for content at this website and is recommended as an encyclopeida

Duplass, J. Teaching Elementary Social Studies: Strategies, Standards, and Internet Resources. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Duplass, J. Social Studies on the Internet (3rd Ed.), coauthored with M. Berson, B. Cruz, and H. Johnston). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Publishers, 2007.

Duplass, J. Teaching Elementary Social Studies: What Every Elementary School Teacher Should Know. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.



History Home Page

Geography Home Page

Civics Home Page


  • U.S. Government
  • World Governments


  • Civitas
  • Character Education

Civics Videos

Civics Webquests


The NCSS Themes of Social Studies

The NCSS Democratic Beliefs and Values

The NCSS Essentials of Social Studies Education

Sunshine State Standards