Friday, August 6, 2021

Why Civics Education Matters

By Dean Graziano

For so many years, American schools (districts) have always placed their focus on the four core classes, that is, Science, Math, Social Studies, and English. According to an article by Grace Fleming, "What Are Core Academic Classes?," the term "core courses" refers to the list of courses that provide a broad foundation for your education. So, the core classes are a foundation for your education or what you will supposedly need to be successful in whichever career pathway you choose.

What worries me is the lack of emphasis in civics education. When I read a report by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation that found nearly 2 in 3 Americans cannot pass the naturalization test for U.S. citizenship, I was shocked. While it is usually understood that social studies classes teach civics, it begs the question, how much time is devoted to civics instruction and achieving competency? If truly the four core classes are about the necessary skill needed for a post-secondary career pathway, and civics is part of social studies, what is taking place? For me and so many others, the necessary skills include a strong working knowledge of civics: the power of the individual and concepts of self-government, an awareness of your rights, basics of government -information to know when you can say enough, as well as rights and privileges you have innately, not granted to you by government so they cannot be taken away by government. (In theory, anyway!)

So, what is Civics and Government? To most, it is a complex understanding of what, who, when, how, and why bureaucrats, agencies, and regulations do the things they do. To others, it is an administrative organization set up to identify, define, and resolve problems. Yet others see it as a major source of public goods and services, while some complain that it is a barrier to individual rights and liberties. Whatever view you hold, it is imperative to know what government is, how it works, the principles upon which it was founded, how it affects your life, and how one can influence or change it. This is the very core of citizenship and civic duty.

I am extremely pleased to share®’s next project, CIVICS FUNDAMENTALS WITH JUDGE GINSBURG.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports no gain in proficiency for civics education in America since 1998 – with less than 25% of the nation's students testing as "proficient." Even with 39 states now requiring some form of civics education – and dozens of options for curriculum – we have yet to encounter lessons that explain the most important question of all: WHY?

Civics Fundamentals with Judge Ginsburg takes the 100 questions asked by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the naturalization test for U.S. citizenship and explores the "WHY?" to discover their meaning and importance.

We have created a two-minute video for each of the 100 questions that can be turnkey lessons in civics education classes nationwide. Our goal is to move beyond the rote memorization of facts that dominates the current civics curriculum toward “inquiry-based instruction” that engages learners and is becoming more prevalent in education today. For example, one question on the test asks, “What is the supreme law of the land?” but does not explain the concept of a supreme law – or why having a supreme law is essential. We do just that. Other questions ask, "How are changes made to the U.S. Constitution?" and "How many amendments does the Constitution have?" These questions beg rote answers and never engage the student to learn about the amendment process. Why is it so difficult to amend the U.S. Constitution? Have amendments expanded freedom or expanded government powers? This project seeks to inform students of the true American experiment: our system of limited government and its checks and balances was designed to promote self-government. It all starts with the individual.

These video-based products will be available, like all educational materials, at no cost to any educator or student, via online streaming.

Stay tuned – we'll be announcing when the program is released. (Soon!)

I sincerely hope this program finds its way to every classroom! Let’s close the gap on civic awareness and give our students the best skills necessary for a post-secondary pathway – knowledge of their rights and responsibilities!