Dating back to the era of Thomas Jefferson, one of most durable themes in American education is the deep connection between democratic self-government and education. From Jefferson to Diana Hess, from Horace Mann to Amy Gutmann, from John Dewey to the most recent report from the Civic Mission of Schools, American scholars, educators, and statesmen have dreamed that we might design a system and style of education that would serve as the very crucible for enacting democracy, extending its ambit, and enriching our understanding of how it may be accomplished. For Close Up methodology, this influence reminds us that our aim is not to teach students about democracy, politics, and citizenship, but to prepare them to do democracy, politics, and citizenship. Thus, all programs, lessons, and materials that we develop are designed and evaluated with the following question in mind: Does this inspire and empower our students for active engagement in democratic society?
“The objects of this … education determine its character and limits. These objects are, To give to every citizen the information he needs; To enable him to … express and preserve his ideas … ; To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; To know his rights [and] to exercise [them] with order and justice … To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary school.”
—Thomas Jefferson, Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia