Civic education does not occur merely within the life of the school; it also occurs in homes, neighborhoods, the marketplace, religious institutions, and any other voluntary association in which individuals gather with others to unite around a common purpose. It is within the context of these communities that people learn to seek the interest of others instead of their own and to work together for their mutual flourishing. It is where they practice virtues like showing kindness, hospitality, and charity to others. It is also where they practice having the courage to defend their convictions or compromising to build coalitions with those whose views may not fully align with their own. These and other “habits of the heart,” as the late sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues articulated nearly 40 years ago, are cultivated in all spheres of civil society. Schools are but one of the many institutions where this kind of formation happens.
Civic education, then, requires a kind of knowledge. But not merely civic knowledge, narrowly understood as knowledge of history and government institutions; it also requires knowledge of ultimate things — of truth, goodness, and beauty — so that a flourishing polis can be discerned.
Civic education likewise requires training in a kind of skill. But not merely civic skill, narrowly understood as possessing competencies in democratic procedures like voting, petitioning, assembling, or staying informed; it also requires cultivation of habits that give rise to the practices of good citizens. In sum, civic education requires the cultivation of civic virtue for making sense of civic knowledge and guiding the application of civic skills.