Group of American activists is protesting
Group of American activists is protesting
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The Bottom Line Civic Engagement has Led to Civic Miseducation

Students are being encouraged to oppose the government rather than to engage the established political process. The preference for protests and civil disobedience, driven by bitterness and resentment,  reflects their lack of sound knowledge about how our democratic republic operates. Bruce Chapman, Chairman of the Board to Discovery Institute, shares a shocking statistic in his book Politicians: The Worst Kind of People to Run the Government Except for All the Others: “In 2014, the US Department of Education reported (again) that all but 23 percent of eighth-graders are deficient in civics.” This is an impediment to maintaining our democratic society. As Americans we should be embarrassed.

Chapman continues by summarizing how the deterioration in the study of history and civics in public schools came about: “First came the development of the ‘new social studies,’ which took the modern social science approach to society and de-emphasized history and government. Next came the social unrest of the 1960s, which caused education to concentrate on current ‘social problems.’”

This explains why, according to an Annenberg study, “only 26 percent of respondents can name the three branches of government.” As Chapman states, “school time that might have been used in the past to instruct children in the ideals and structure of a free society – the foundation for resolution of public issues – is dedicated instead to studying the latest issues themselves; say, economic inequality or climate change.” It is not to say that some of these issues are not valuable studies. However, the abandonment of civics is destructive because it leads to ignorance about a subject citizens will need to know their entire lives, and upon which the successful functioning of society depends.

As the old saying goes, “you reap what you sow.” It’s no surprise why we have abysmal proficiency of civics in our students. By the time students have reached high school, in most states, they are only offered a civics class as an elective, not a core subject. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) our “Nation’s Report Card” does not even test civics in the 4th or 12th grade anymore. See for yourself on their data explorer.

So, what is to be done about reincorporating civic education? A great place to start would be for the states to take control over the curriculum and do what Senior Fellow Don Nielsen suggests in his book, Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education, “all children should take a course in economics so they understand how our economy works. They should be taught financial literacy so they not only know how to balance a checkbook, but understand how to manage money and the impact of compound interest. Health and nutrition should also be taught so children know how to take care of their bodies through diet and exercise. They should take a course on civics to grasp the structure and function of government.”

Of course, this is but one small part to our educational crisis. But I can think of no higher importance, nor one so critical to the effective operation of our republic, than to greatly reinforce civic education. To see what the American Center for Transforming Education recommends, check out Nielsen’s article: What We Do: Transforming Our Schools.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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