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Book Chapter

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Boston University School of Law




In the U.S. and around the globe, concerns over a decline in civility and tolerance and a surge in lethal extremist violence motivated by hatred of religious and racial groups make condemning—and preventing—hatred and bigotry seem urgent. What meaning can the ideal of e pluribus unum (“out of many one”) have in this fraught and polarized environment? Within the U.S., a long line of jurists, politicians, and educators have invoked civic education in public schools as vital to preserving constitutional democracy and a healthy pluralism. How can schools carry out such a civic role in times of democratic discord and increasing polarization and political partisanship (even political “bigotry”)? This chapter argues for civic education as a tool that government should employ to foster civility and decrease contempt and prejudice. If, as educators insist, civic education must be different in the 21st century to be effective, then what form should that reboot take? This book examines the “why,” “what,” and “how” of a reinvigorated civic education – its aims and content, as well as the best (or “proven”) practices for engaging in it given class- and race-based civic inequalities. I also argue that religious literacy (nonsectarian education about religion) should be a component of civic education because of the harmful effects of widespread religious illiteracy. Teaching students to think critically and to deliberate respectfully across difference is no easy task; LGBTQ rights is one example of the challenges educators face in engaging students in encountering and understanding different perspectives on controversial issues, while also creating the conditions so that students may do so in a safe and respectful environment.


Forthcoming publication in John Witte, Jr. et al., eds, The Role of Law in Character Formation, Moral Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies (Leipzig: EVA Publishers, 2020)

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