Attempts to map the political development of individuals inevitably become involved with the relative contribution of different socialization agencies throughout the life cycle. Research has focused to a large extent on the family and to a much lesser degree on other agents such as the educational system. At the secondary school level very little has been done to examine systematically the selected aspects of the total school environment. To gain some insight into the role of the formal school environment, this paper will explore the relationship between the civics curriculum and political attitudes and behavior in American high schools.
A number of studies, recently fortified by data from Gabriel Almond and Sidney's Verba's five-nation study, stress the crucial role played by formal education in the political socialization process.
[None of the other variables] compares with the educational variable in the extent to which it seems to determine political attitudes. The uneducated man or the man with limited education is a different political actor from the man who has achieved a high level of education.1
Such conclusions would not have greatly surprised the founders of the American republic, for they stressed the importance of education to the success of democratic and republican government. Starting from its early days the educational system incorporated civic training. Textbooks exposing threats to the new republic were being used in American schools by the 1790's. By 1915, the term "civics" became associated with high school courses which emphasized the study of political institutions and citizenship training.2