Editorial: There can be no trust without understanding 

Less than 30 percent of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-grade students are proficient in civics. In addition, a survey of 1,416 adults by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) revealed that only one-third of those surveyed could name the three branches of government. And, while only one in three people can name all three branches, nearly a third of Americans cannot name even one. Not. Even. One. 

U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced last week that he is cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to improve access to civic education across K-12 and higher education. The Civics Secures Democracy Act, which includes a $1 billion investment, would expand educational programming in history and civics by providing funding for state education agencies, nonprofits and institutions of higher education. 

The measure seeks to counter decades of cuts to instruction on America’s founding principles, said Sen. King, who highlighted research from the National Conference of State Legislatures that found that shifts in educational mandates have reduced civics education in the overall curriculum landscape. The research found that a shifted focus to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and a need for teachers to teach specifically for annual assessment testing has left other areas of study deemphasized in the curriculum.  

The level of civic education in this country is woefully inadequate if people can reach adulthood without having basic knowledge of how the government functions. Those same folks will be ill equipped to engage in a participatory democracy and be more susceptible to misinformation. Without a clear understanding of how government works, conspiracy theories and untruths run rampant. 

We urge the backing of Sen. King’s legislation and also urge area school administrators to look at the current civics curriculum and ask themselves if it is adequate to prepare students to be active and engaged participants in the democratic process. We urge area groups and organizations to brainstorm ways to increase civic knowledge and understanding. And we urge everyone to brush up on their own high school lessons on government. 

And, back to those three branches of government – they are legislative (Congress), executive (president, vice president, Cabinet and many federal agencies) and judicial (all courts including the Supreme Court). 

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