Civics is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society.[1] The term derives from the Latin word civicus, meaning "relating to a citizen". The term relates to behavior affecting other citizens, particularly in the context of urban development.

Civic education is the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties.[2] It includes the study of civil law and civil codes, and the study of government with attention to the role of citizens―as opposed to external factors―in the operation and oversight of government.[3]

The term can also refer to a corona civica, a garland of oak leaves worn about the head like a crown, a practice in ancient Rome wherein someone who saved another Roman citizen from death in war was rewarded with a corona civica and the right to wear it.[4]

Philosophical views

Ancient Sparta


In his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides ascribes a speech to Archidamus II in which he stresses the importance for Sparta of civic education for the Spartan virtues of toughness, obedience, cunning, simplicity, and preparedness:

And we are wise, because we are educated with too little learning to despise the laws, and with too severe a self-control to disobey them, and are brought up not to be too knowing in useless matters—such as the knowledge which can give a specious criticism of an enemy's plans in theory, but fails to assail them with equal success in practice—but are taught to consider that the schemes of our enemies are not dissimilar to our own, and that the freaks of chance are not determinable by calculation. In practice we always base our preparations against an enemy on the assumption that his plans are good; indeed, it is right to rest our hopes not on a belief in his blunders, but on the soundness of our provisions. Nor ought we to believe that there is much difference between man and man, but to think that the superiority lies with him who is reared in the severest school.[5]

French essayist Michel de Montaigne commended how Agesilaus II, the son of Archidamus, followed his father's approach closely:

One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most proper for boys to learn? "What they ought to do when they come to be men," said he.[6]


Plutarch relates a comparison made by Simonides between Spartan education of citizens and horse husbandry:

Simonides called Sparta "the tamer of men," because by early strictness of education, they, more than any nation, trained the citizens to obedience to the laws, and made them tractable and patient of subjection, as horses that are broken in while colts.[7]


According to the Roman historian Plutarch, the semi-legendary Lycurgus of Sparta considered education of the citizenry to be his main priority as framer of the Spartan constitution.[8] Plutarch observes that 'the whole course of [Spartan] education was one of continued exercise of a ready and perfect obedience'[9] in which 'there scarcely was any time or place without someone present to put them in mind of their duty, and punish them if they had neglected it.'[10]

He also describes how the Spartans limited civic education so as to maintain social control over the young:

Reading and writing they gave them, just enough to serve their turn; their chief care was to make them good subjects, and to teach them to endure pain and conquer in battle.[11]

However, the youth were also required to express themselves forcefully and succinctly,[12] as well to think and reflect on matters of civic virtue, including such questions as who is or is not a good citizen of Sparta.[13] Montaigne would later praise this particular technique of education, admiring the way Spartan citizens spent their time learning to acquire virtues such as courage and temperance, to the exclusion of studying any other subject.[14] Spartan boys were also taught music and songs in praise of courage and in condemnation of cowardice.[15]

Essentially, the Spartan ideal of civic education was a process whereby the interest of the citizen becomes totally united with the interest of the polity, in a spirit of perfect patriotism: 'To conclude, Lycurgus bred up his citizens in such a way that they neither would nor could live by themselves; they were to make themselves one with the public good, and, clustering like bees around their commander, be by their zeal and public spirit carried all but out of themselves, and devoted wholly to their country.[16]

Civic education for toughness and martial prowess was not only within the purview of Spartan men: Plutarch recounts how Lycurgus 'ordered the maidens to exercises themselves with wrestling, running, throwing the quoit, and chasing the dart' with a view to creating healthy children for the state.[17]

Ancient Athens


Pericles' Funeral Oration provides insight into Athens' sharply contrasting form of civic education from Sparta, for personal freedom, rather than blind obedience, where he boasts that Athens is 'the school of Hellas', since:

in education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger.[18]

However, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that the Athenians were only taught to think they had personal freedom in order to discourage them from seeking reform.[19]


In the Socratic dialogue Crito, Crito of Alopece learns from Socrates the importance in civic education of following expert opinion, rather than majority opinion. Socrates uses the analogy of the training gymnast, who he implies ought to follow his gymnastics trainer, not whatever the majority of people think about gymnastics. Crito also hears Socrates' argument that a citizen ought to obey his city's laws partly because it was his city which educated him for citizenship.[20]


In the Aristophanes comedy The Frogs, the character of the playwright Aeschylus scolds fellow tragedian Euripides for writing scenes pernicious to proper ideals of citizenship:

What crimes is he not guilty of?
Did he not put up on display
pimps and women giving birth
in holy shrines and having sex
with their own brothers, and then claim
that living is no life? So now,
because of him our city here
is crammed with bureaucratic types
and stupid democratic apes
who always cheat our people.
Nobody carries on the torch—
no one's trained in that these days.

During his diatribe, he emphasises the importance of poetry to civic education:

Small children have a teacher helping them,
for young men there's the poets—we've got
a solemn duty to say useful things.[21]

Similarly, Plutarch would later speak of the power of the poet Thales to, in the words of the English poet John Milton, 'prepare and mollify the Spartan surliness with his smooth songs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility'.[22][23] Plutarch also spoke of the deep influence of Homer's 'lessons of state' on Lycurgus, framer of the Spartan constitution.[24]


In the Euripides tragedy The Suppliants, King Adrastus of Argos describes how Hippomedon received his civic education for endurance, martial skill, and service to the state:

Such another was Hippomedon, third of all this band; from his very boyhood he refrained from turning towards the allurements of the Muses, to lead life of ease; his home was in the fields, and gladly would he school his nature to hardships with a view to manliness, aye hasting to the chase, rejoicing in his steeds or straining of his bow, because he would make himself of use unto his state.

Adrastus also describes how Parthenopeus received his education for citizenship in his adopted city:

Next behold the huntress Atalanta's son, Parthenopaeus, a youth of peerless beauty; from Arcady he came even to the streams of Inachus, and in Argos spent his boyhood. There, when he grew to man's estate, first, as is the duty of strangers settled in another land, he showed no pique or jealousy against the state, became no quibbler, chiefest source of annoyance citizen or stranger can give, but took his stand amid the host, and fought for Argos as he were her own son, glad at heart whenso the city prospered, deeply grieved if e'er reverses came; many a lover though he had midst men and maids, yet was he careful to avoid offence.[25]

Ancient Rome


In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius tells of how he was educated as a citizen to value free speech,[26] to refrain from rhetoric and giving hortatory lectures,[27] and to perceive the defects of tyranny.[28] From his brother he imbibed a specific ideal for the Roman state:

He it was also that did put me in the first conceit and desire of an equal commonwealth, administered by justice and equality; and of a kingdom wherein should be regarded nothing more than the good and welfare of the subjects.[29]

He also followed the example of his adopted father Antoninus Pius, who he said kept careful watch of government administration and finances, was open to hearing ideas about how to serve the common good, and cared neither for ambition nor pandering to the popular will:

Again, that secrets he neither had many, nor often, and such only as concerned public matters: his discretion and moderation, in exhibiting of the public sights and shows for the pleasure and pastime of the people: in public buildings. [sic] congiaries, and the like. In all these things, having a respect unto men only as men, and to the equity of the things themselves, and not unto the glory that might follow.[30]

Aurelius was also taught by his father how to live as a public figure restrained by modesty:

That I lived under the government of my lord and father, who would take away from me all pride and vainglory, and reduce me to that conceit and opinion that it was not impossible for a prince to live in the court without a troop of guards and followers, extraordinary apparel, such and such torches and statues, and other like particulars of state and magnificence; but that a man may reduce and contract himself almost to the state of a private man, and yet for all that not to become the more base and remiss in those public matters and affairs, wherein power and authority is requisite.[31]

Early Modern England


In his treatise Leviathan, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes heavily criticised the emphasis in contemporary civic education on studying Athenian democracy and Roman republicanism, saying that it wrongly encouraged monarchical subjects to restrain the actions of their monarchs.[32] He thought that those citizens who imbibed the value of democracy from classic works were likely to oppose monarchy in the manner rabid dogs avoid water.[33] Hobbes was deeply uncomfortable with Aristotelian civic education, which he said advised popular governance instead of monarchical rule.[34]


English philosopher Francis Bacon was aware of the relevance of civic education to what he termed 'civil merit'.[35] However, in his essay The Advancement of Learning, Bacon also argues that civic education should be preceded by religious and moral education, so that those who judge policy will not be under the influence of moral relativism.[36]

Additional thoughts on civic education

Sudbury schools contend that values, social justice and democracy must be learned through experience[37][38][39][40] as Aristotle said: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."[41] They adduce that for this purpose schools must encourage ethical behavior and personal responsibility. In order to achieve these goals schools must allow students the three great freedoms—freedom of choice, freedom of action and freedom to bear the results of action—that constitute personal responsibility.[42] The "strongest, political rationale" for democratic schools is that they teach "the virtues of democratic deliberation for the sake of future citizenship."[43] This type of education is often alluded to in the deliberative democracy literature as fulfilling the necessary and fundamental social and institutional changes necessary to develop a democracy that involves intensive participation in group decision making, negotiation, and social life of consequence.

See also


  1. ^ Civics[dead link] at Oxford Dictionaries.
  2. ^ Kennedy, Kerry (1997). Citizenship Education And The Modern State. Washington, D.C: Taylor & Francis. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-136-36864-6. OCLC 820719540. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  3. ^ Frederick Converse Beach, George Edwin Rines, The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts and sciences, literature, history, biography, geography, commerce, etc., of the world, Volume 5, Scientific American compiling department, 1912, p.1
  4. ^ Civic at Oxford Dictionaries.
  5. ^ Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, Chapter III. Translated by Richard Crawley. Project Gutenberg.
  6. ^ Michel de Montaigne. Book I, Chapter 24. One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most proper for boys to learn? "What they ought to do when they come to be men," said he.—[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedamonians. Rousseau adopts the expression in his Diswuys sur tes Lettres.]—It is no wonder, if such an institution produced so admirable effects. Translated by Charles Cotton. Project Gutenberg.
  7. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives. Now the succession belonging to Agis by law, Agesilaus, who in all probability was to be but a private man, was educated according to the usual discipline of the country, hard and severe, and meant to teach young men to obey their superiors. Whence it was that, men say, Simonides called Sparta "the tamer of men," because by early strictness of education, they, more than any nation, trained the citizens to obedience to the laws, and made them tractable and patient of subjection, as horses that are broken in while colts. The law did not impose this harsh rule on the heirs apparent of the kingdom. But Agesilaus, whose good fortune it was to be born a younger brother, was consequently bred to all the arts of obedience, and so the better fitted for the government, when it fell to his share; hence it was that he proved the most popular-tempered of the Spartan kings, his early life having added to his natural kingly and commanding qualities the gentle and humane feelings of a citizen.Translated by John Dryden . Edited by Arthur Hugh Clough. Project Gutenberg
  8. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. In order to the good education of their youth (which, as I said before, he thought the most important and noblest work of a lawgiver), he went so far back as to take into consideration their very conception and birth, by regulating their marriages.
  9. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. Lycurgus was of another mind; he would not have masters bought out of the market for his young Spartans, nor such as should sell their pains; nor was it lawful, indeed, for the father himself to breed up the children after his own fancy; but as soon as they were seven years old they were to be enrolled in certain companies and classes, where they all lived under the same order and discipline, doing their exercises and taking their play together. Of these, he who showed the most conduct and courage was made captain; they had their eyes always upon him, obeyed his orders, and underwent patiently whatsoever punishment he inflicted; so that the whole course of their education was one continued exercise of a ready and perfect obedience.
  10. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. The old men, too, had an eye upon them, coming often to the grounds to hear and see them contend either in wit or strength with one another, and this as seriously and with as much concern as if they were their fathers, their tutors, or their magistrates; so that there scarcely was any time or place without someone present to put them in mind of their duty, and punish them if they had neglected it.
  11. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus.
  12. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "They taught them, also, to speak with a natural and graceful raillery, and to comprehend much matter of thought in few words. For Lycurgus, who ordered, as we saw, that a great piece of money should be but of an inconsiderable value, on the contrary would allow no discourse to be current which did not contain in few words a great deal of useful and curious sense; children in Sparta, by a habit of long silence, came to give just and sententious answers; for, indeed, as loose and incontinent livers are seldom fathers of many children, so loose and incontinent talkers seldom originate many sensible words."
  13. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus.The Iren, or under-master, used to stay a little with them after supper, and one of them he bade to sing a song, to another he put a question which required an advised and deliberate answer; for example, Who was the best man in the city? What he thought of such an action of such a man? They used them thus early to pass a right judgment upon persons and things, and to inform themselves of the abilities or defects of their countrymen. If they had not an answer ready to the question Who was a good or who an ill-reputed citizen, they were looked upon as of a dull and careless disposition, and to have little or no sense of virtue and honor; besides this, they were to give a good reason for what they said, and in as few words and as comprehensive as might be; he that failed of this, or answered not to the purpose, had his thumb bit by his master.
  14. ^ Michel de Montaigne. Book I, Chapter 24. It is a thing worthy of very great consideration, that in that excellent, and, in truth, for its perfection, prodigious form of civil regimen set down by Lycurgus, though so solicitous of the education of children, as a thing of the greatest concern, and even in the very seat of the Muses, he should make so little mention of learning; as if that generous youth, disdaining all other subjection but that of virtue, ought to be supplied, instead of tutors to read to them arts and sciences, with such masters as should only instruct them in valour, prudence, and justice; an example that Plato has followed in his laws. The manner of their discipline was to propound to them questions in judgment upon men and their actions; and if they commended or condemned this or that person or fact, they were to give a reason for so doing; by which means they at once sharpened their understanding, and learned what was right. Translated by Charles Cotton. Project Gutenberg.
  15. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "Nor was their instruction in music and verse less carefully attended to than their habits of grace and good breeding in conversation. And their very songs had a life and spirit in them that inflamed and possessed men's minds with an enthusiasm and ardor for action; the style of them was plain and without affectation; the subject always serious and moral; most usually, it was in praise of such men as had died in defense of their country, or in derision of those that had been cowards; the former they declared happy and glorified; the life of the latter they described as most miserable and abject."
  16. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "To conclude, Lycurgus bred up his citizens in such a way that they neither would nor could live by themselves; they were to make themselves one with the public good, and, clustering like bees around their commander, be by their zeal and public spirit carried all but out of themselves, and devoted wholly to their country. What their sentiments were will better appear by a few of their sayings. Paedaretus, not being admitted into the list of the three hundred, returned home with a joyful face, well pleased to find that there were in Sparta three hundred better men than himself. And Polycratidas, being sent with some others ambassador to the lieutenants of the king of Persia, being asked by them whether they came in a private or in a public character, answered, "In a public, if we succeed; if not, in a private character."'
  17. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "The truth is, he took in their case, also, all the care that was possible; he ordered the maidens to exercise themselves with wrestling, running, throwing the quoit, and casting the dart, to the end that the fruit they conceived might, in strong and healthy bodies, take firmer root and find better growth, and withal that they, with this greater vigor, might be the more able to undergo the pains of child bearing."
  18. ^ Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War, Book II, Chapter VI.
  19. ^ Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, Part II, Chapter 21. And because the Athenians were taught, (to keep them from desire of changing their Government,) that they were Freemen, and all that lived under Monarchy were slaves; therefore Aristotle puts it down in his Politiques,(lib.6.cap.2) "In democracy, Liberty is to be supposed: for 'tis commonly held, that no man is Free in any other Government." Project Gutenberg.
  20. ^ Plato. Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Socrates. Crito. Translated by Henry Cary. Project Gutenberg.
  21. ^ Aristophanes. The Frogs, Lines 1260–1300. Translated by Ian C. Johnston. johnstoniatexts.
  22. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "Amongst the persons there the most renowned for their learning all their wisdom in state matters was one Thales, whom Lycurgus, by importunities and assurances of friendship, persuaded to go over to Lacedaemon; where, though by his outward appearance and his own profession he seemed to be no other than a lyric poet, in reality he performed the part of one of the ablest lawgivers in the world. The very songs which he composed were exhortations to obedience and concord, and the very measure and cadence of the verse, conveying impressions of order and tranquility, had so great an influence on the minds of the listeners, that they were insensibly softened and civilized, insomuch that they renounced their private feuds and animosities, and were reunited in a common admiration of virtue. So that it may truly be said that Thales prepared the way for the discipline introduced by Lycurgus."
  23. ^ John Milton. Areopagitica. That other leading city of Greece, Lacedaemon, considering that Lycurgus their lawgiver was so addicted to elegant learning, as to have been the first that brought out of Ionia the scattered works of Homer, and sent the poet Thales from Crete to prepare and mollify the Spartan surliness with his smooth songs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility, it is to be wondered how museless and unbookish they were, minding nought but the feats of war.Project Gutenberg.
  24. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Lycurgus. "Here he had the first sight of Homer's works, in the hands, we may suppose, of the posterity of Creophylus; and, having observed that the few loose expressions and actions of ill example which are to be found in his poems were much outweighed by serious lessons of state and rules of morality, he set himself eagerly to transcribe and digest them into order, as thinking they would be of good use in his own country."
  25. ^ Euripides. The Suppliants. Translated by E. P. Coleridge. The Internet Classics Archive.
  26. ^ Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section III. "Not to be offended with other men's liberty of speech, and to apply myself unto philosophy." Project Gutenberg.
  27. ^ Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section IV. "And then, that I did not fall into the ambition of ordinary sophists, either to write tracts concerning the common theorems, or to exhort men unto virtue and the study of philosophy by public orations; as also that I never by way of ostentation did affect to show myself an active able man, for any kind of bodily exercises. And that I gave over the study of rhetoric and poetry, and of elegant neat language."
  28. ^ Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section VIII. "Of Fronto, to how much envy and fraud and hypocrisy the state of a tyrannous king is subject unto, and how they who are commonly called [Eupatridas Gk.], i.e. nobly born, are in some sort incapable, or void of natural affection."
  29. ^ Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section XI.
  30. ^ Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section XIII.
  31. ^ Aurelius. Meditations. Book I, Section XIV.
  32. ^ Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, Part II, Chapter 21. And as Aristotle; so Cicero, and other Writers have grounded their Civill doctrine, on the opinions of the Romans, who were taught to hate Monarchy, at first, by them that having deposed their Soveraign, shared amongst them the Soveraignty of Rome; and afterwards by their Successors. And by reading of these Greek, and Latine Authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit (under a false shew of Liberty,) of favouring tumults, and of licentious controlling the actions of their Soveraigns; and again of controlling those controllers, with the effusion of so much blood; as I think I may truly say, there was never any thing so deerly bought, as these Western parts have bought the learning of the Greek and Latine tongues.
  33. ^ Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, Part II, Chapter 29. In summe, I cannot imagine, how anything can be more prejudiciall to a Monarchy, than the allowing of such books to be publikely read, without present applying such correctives of discreet Masters, as are fit to take away their Venime; Which Venime I will not doubt to compare to the biting of a mad Dogge, which is a disease the Physicians call Hydrophobia, or Fear Of Water. For as he that is so bitten, has a continuall torment of thirst, and yet abhorreth water; and is in such an estate, as if the poyson endeavoured to convert him into a Dogge: So when a Monarchy is once bitten to the quick, by those Democraticall writers, that continually snarle at that estate; it wanteth nothing more than a strong Monarch, which neverthelesse out of a certain Tyrannophobia, or feare of being strongly governed, when they have him, they abhorre.
  34. ^ Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, Part IV, Chapter 47. From Aristotles Civill Philosophy, they have learned, to call all manner of Common-wealths but the Popular, (such as was at that time the state of Athens,) Tyranny. All Kings they called Tyrants; and the Aristocracy of the thirty Governours set up there by the Lacedemonians that subdued them, the thirty Tyrants: As also to call the condition of the people under the Democracy, Liberty.
  35. ^ Francis Bacon. The Advancement of Learning, Book I, Section VII, Paragraph 10. Neither hath learning an influence and operation only upon civil merit and moral virtue, and the arts or temperature of peace and peaceable government; but likewise it hath no less power and efficacy in enablement towards martial and military virtue and prowess, as may be notably represented in the examples of Alexander the Great and Cæsar the Dictator (mentioned before, but now in fit place to be resumed), of whose virtues and acts in war there needs no note or recital, having been the wonders of time in that kind; but of their affections towards learning and perfections in learning it is pertinent to say somewhat. Project Gutenberg.
  36. ^ Francis Bacon. The Advancement of Learning, Book II, Section XXII, Paragraph 13. But is it not true also, that much less young men are fit auditors of matters of policy, till they have been thoroughly seasoned in religion and morality; lest their judgments be corrupted, and made apt to think that there are no true differences of things[?] Project Gutenberg.
  37. ^ Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America – A View from Sudbury Valley, "'Ethics' is a Course Taught By Life Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  38. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987), The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Teaching Justice Through Experience." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  39. ^ Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America – A View from Sudbury Valley, "Democracy Must be Experienced to be Learned." Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  40. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) Chapter 35, "With Liberty and Justice for All," Archived 2011-05-11 at the Wayback Machine Free at Last – The Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  41. ^ Bynum, W.F. and Porter, R. (eds) (2005) Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. Oxford University Press. 21:9.
  42. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics – Moral basics." Archived 2011-05-11 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  43. ^ Curren, R. (2007) Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing. p. 163.