Today our nation faces many crises- economic, environmental, cultural, educational, political, and health. But the civic education crisis is one that poses the greatest threat to the stability of America's attempt at functioning as a stable and free republic. According to the Nation’s Report Card (2014), more than 75% of 8th grade students were not proficient in civics. More than seventy-five percent! That's a lot of civic ignorance we've let slide. These are future doctors, lawyers, politicians, garbage collectors, pharmacists, CEOs, teachers, parents, family members, neighbors, and friends who have no clue how our system of government works. That's a frightening statistic. But why does it even matter?
Civic education teaches civil discourse; provides an understanding of one's opinions and responsibilities in the context of the wider world; and creates a tangible recognition of how our government works. Much of which is actually lacking in our current “adult society” today. Many of our issues and lack of understanding of government and society are rooted in the failings of our K12 system. But rather than focus on how we got there, we need to begin to act on how we can improve upon our current state of civic education and civic understanding.
At a macro level, civic education and civic knowledge need proper funding and policy support in schools in order to fully make change. Yet this problem won't be eliminated at this level alone. A top-bottom approach must be made to improve civic education. All stakeholders must be activated, and fortunately every individual in this nation is a stakeholder.
What can parents do to raise active, informed, enthusiastic, and engaged citizens? Here are a few tips:
1. Vote: Take your kids with you to vote. It's literally that simple. Kids need to see and understand the act of voting.
2. Advocacy, Activism, and Protest: Let your kids in on the causes you care about. Exemplify peaceful protest and create a dialogue around human rights, political, environmental, and health issues that hit close to home.
3. Fight for Civics: We must fund organizations providing quality civic resources, and encourage these organizations to follow technological and educational trends to match the needs our 21st century learners. Join the discussion online: #CivXNow.
4. Get to Know the K12 Curriculum: Talk to the teacher, the principal, and Board of Education about the civics curriculum. Are there activism, civic action, and civic knowledge components? If it isn't sufficient, begin a petition around school and in your community. Write letters to Board of Education members and state legislators.
5. Teach Civility through Open Discussion: Talk with your kids about the news. Encourage them to talk to their peers and people different than them. We all won't agree but it's important that we hear each other out.
6. Play iCivics Games: What's the best way to learn how our system is supposed to work? Play games! iCivics games put players in the driverseat and makes the learning a tangible memorable experience. Play the games with your child. I suggest starting with Do I Have A Right?.
7. Level the Playing Field: A government of, by, and for the people is just that. All citizens should have a say in how they are governed. This means that those of us with privilege must stand up for the rights of those disenfranchised people.
Funding, advocacy, and modeling good citizenship are all excellent ways to support the expansion of innovative civic opportunities for all citizens of the United States. But there's a lot of work to be done. Informed citizenry isn't inherited, it must be taught and cultivated. Now is the time to act! We need to teach kids how to grow up to become resourceful, active, and engaged citizens because resourceful citizens get things done for their local, state, and national communities. They are committed to making their community a better place to live because they understand that our form of government is designed to work for and by the people.
Read more on this topic:
Teach Them: On Parents And Civic Duty
Democracy at a Crossroads, CivXNow site
Civic Action and Youth Voting Research by CIRCLE
Parents and All Citizens by Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools
Share your thoughts on Civic Education using #CivXNow
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.