Return to Teaching Civics

Two recent articles believe the hostile attitudes toward the press are related to the fact that education in civics in no longer taught in grades K-12 and in college. One article appeared in my local paper, The Pioneer Press and the second in The Washington Post.

Author of the first piece, David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, laments that in “the rush to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math, and the clamor to teach to standardized tests or prepare student for employment, we have forgotten that education is also to prepare individuals to become citizens and the next generation of political leaders and agents of democracy.”[1]

Writing in the Washington Post, James Hohmann quoted some sobering statistics from the September 2017, the annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, which found that:

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • About half of those surveyed named Freedom of Speech, but couldn’t name any of the others;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government, decreasing from 30% in 2011.

“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”

As David Schultz noted on a return to teaching civics, “What American society is missing is the respect for democracy that civics education provides.” A solid foundation of the principles of democracy is the best way for its survival.

[1] Schultz, David. “Respect democracy – teach civics.” Pioneer Press, November 16, 2017.

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