Editorial: The need for civics education

Can you name the three branches of the United States government? If so, you are doing better than 75 percent of the population.

A 2016 study published by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that Americans’ knowledge of the branches of government continues to decline. While only one in four people can name all three branches, nearly a third of Americans cannot name even one. Not. Even. One.

The level of civic education in this country is woefully inadequate if people can reach adulthood without this basic knowledge. Furthermore, those same folks will be ill equipped to adequately engage in a participatory democracy and will be more susceptible to misinformation. This has become increasingly clear since the November presidential election as the systems of voting and the democratic process have come under a magnifying glass. Without a clear understanding of how government and elections work, conspiracy theories and untruths are able to run rampant.

According to the National Education Association, only 25 percent of students reach the “proficient” standard for the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civic education, a number that is significantly reduced for schools serving low-income and minority communities. This means that 75 percent of students do not even measure up to the most basic levels of understanding in this area of study.

The United States is organized under a series of laws and while the Founding Fathers made a number of provisions to safeguard democracy, it is unclear if they could have imagined an all-out assault on the process by a sitting president and a handful of elected leaders. Even still, the checks and balances within the Constitution make it nearly impossible for any one person or persons to either rig or overthrow an election when they do not like the results. But, without an understanding of how the process works, the seeds of doubt can be sown.

We urge area school administrators to look at their current civics curriculum and ask themselves if it is adequate enough to prepare students to be active and engaged participants in the democratic process. Are we giving our students what they need to not only understand the fundamentals of government, but the critical thinking skills to accurately understand how the world around them really works? If you can’t answer that question with an emphatic “yes” then it is time to rethink the approach.

And, back to those three branches of government – they are Legislative (Congress), Executive (president, vice president, Cabinet and many federal agencies) and Judicial (Supreme Court and other federal courts).

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