Whether widely known or not, an inescapable fact of daily life for every American is the vital importance of a high-quality civics education. This is true mainly due to two separate yet equally influential factors: integrity and personal responsibility.
Why is civic education supposedly so important?
For longer than the last two and a half centuries, Americans have shared a common vision of active civic participation wherein all citizens comprehend, appreciate, and actively engage in political as well as civic life. During recent decades, however, there’s been an alarming rise in the number of U.S. citizens who have deliberately decided to disengage from civic and political institutions like community and social service groups, faith-based associations and voluntary politically oriented activities such as voting and staying abreast of latest civic and political developments.
Younger community members take vital tacit cues from such apathetic adult behavior and become less likely to vote or exhibit genuine interest in American politics than more mature role models and youth of bygone eras. Consequently, a fast growing number of youth are becoming far less prepared to assume critical civic duties than their forebears or future progeny.
The harsh reality is that individuals never automatically metamorphose into responsible free citizens. Thus, more effective means of citizenship training for the nation’s up-and-coming educators, civic leaders and public policymakers of tomorrow is desperately needed today. A critically vital component of such preparations is to capitalize on contemporary youths’ widespread idealism and public service enthusiasm. Per well-informed advice, school-based civic education is among very few methods with proven effectiveness.
What does civic education entail?
While specific curricular elements may vary slightly from one school-based program to the next, expert consensus seems to reflect an end goal of helping young people cultivate and properly employ various specialized social skills and knowledge bases to develop the right attitude that prepares them for competent, responsible citizenship.
As a result, schools must establish and maintain ongoing oversight of on-site civic training programs that meet the following minimal requirements:
- Assistance designed to help youngsters remain informed and keenly appreciative of their democratic society via a historical perspective of U.S. politics and fundamental dynamics.
- Foster ongoing active participatory involvement in community-based organizations and making regular donations of money and/or time to such local activities.
- Instill a keen sense of utmost personal integrity along with respect for others’ rights and genuine concern for fellow human beings’ well-being.
- Develop a “sociopolitical conscience” that greatly facilitates burning desire for public speaking engagements, group problem solving and appreciation of the vast latent power of picketing, protesting, petitioning and voting to set the stage for imminent future quality-of-life improvements.
Why schools are widely viewed as the single most valuable civic education venue
Ensuring our country’s future health and resilient democracy requires today’s youth who will become tomorrow’s leaders to be knowledgeable and politically engaged. That well-known truism also describes precisely why U.S. public school systems were initially established. Promoting civic skills and attitudinal changes among youth have long been important goals of civic education at the secondary level.
In fact, a glut of non-educational institutions once existed that provided young pupils with a forum for participation in political and civic matters, but have since lost all capacity or willingness to engage American youth. That left schools as the sole institutions capable of reaching nearly all youngsters across the entire nation. This exceptional capacity stems from schools being the single most systematic institutions with pre-delegated direct responsibility to impart citizenship norms on youthful pupils.
Even more importantly, academic institutions are singularly equipped to address cognitive elements of good citizenship by imparting youth with political knowledge and related skill sets like deliberation and analytical thinking. Besides all that, schools are functionally equivalent to mini-communities wherein youthful residents learn to respectfully disagree with peers and personally interact and work with those same peers.
All the above factors have been so well demonstrated by a large body of relevant empirical research to prompt 40 states to revise their respective constitutions to make explicit reference the vital importance of civic literacy among governed citizenry. About 13 of the same states refer to a central purpose of their educational systems as promoting good citizenship, democracy and free government.
Wake up and smell the coffee before it cools down beyond the point of no return!
School-based civic ed programs have slowly but steadily declined since they were initially introduced to Academia during the 1960s. Until then, a vast majority of formal civics education curricula included upwards of three classes that covered democracy and governmental functions as well as civic subject matter. Nowadays, the prevailing norm of just one semester-long civics course pales by comparison to the minimal standards of yesteryear. That same comparative analysis evokes justifiable fear of civic educational curricular defunctness on very near bleak horizons.
This is an unfortunate and very disturbing prospect, as schools provide the ideal fora by which young people may address emergent negative trends in youthful civic engagement that leads to widespread drastic decreases in young people’s interest in political and public administration issues. Such negative attitudinal changes tend to make youth more skeptical and dissociate from inner workings of the U.S. “just us” system. As a direct consequence thereof, the nation’s youth become less trusting and more materialistic, thereby leading to even worse declines in voter participation rates and public service volunteerism.
Finally, numerous factors are cited in the literature as the blame for obstructing even the best intentions and well-laid plans of educators trying to promote civic engagement among young people. Such obstacles include fear of criticism and even litigation if educational administrators attempt to address topics controversial subjects; high-pressure tactics employed by supervisors who are themselves under extreme pressure to meet today’s more stringent standardized testing criteria that includes blatant student records falsification. The last scenario seemingly stems mainly from relatively recent addition of reading and math skill assessments to standardized tests that rarely or never include civic education. Budgetary cutbacks in extracurricular programs designed to impart civic skills and attitudes to children that’s still another big source of constant worry.
Concluding suggestions and advice
Besides allowing and encouraging educators to stimulate meaningful discussion about controversial and complex current events in the classroom, school officials should work in tandem with their state departments of education to integrate more civic education classes into student curricula. Such curricula should be incorporated into every pupil’s academic requirements that increase at each grade level.
Moreover, the feds should increase budgetary allocations to state school systems for the sole purpose of civic education program expansions. Indeed, an expert commentator went so far as to explicitly recommend establishment of a new federal agency with sole delegated oversight responsibility for state civic education programs. The suggested moniker for such an entity would be something like the “National Civic Education Foundation” that would help design and implement curricula, provide a centralized database for civic education teachers and schools throughout the U.S.A., and spearhead empirical scholarly research efforts to devise effective solutions for long entrenched problems.
Regardless of one’s personal view toward civic educational programs, there can be no doubt that prompt action is urgently needed to avoid irreversible damage for America’s youth.