His Perspective: Civics Education Is Vital To Preserving Democracy In America | Notice
Jennifer Ostyn and thousands of others like her in this great country are vitally important to preserving and enhancing our system of self-government. Jennifer teaches civics at Valley High School (between the Idaho towns of Eden and Hazelton), where I graduated with the class of 1960. Jennifer states categorically: ‘civic education as the foundation of our society. ” She is absolutely right.
The United States came onto the world stage proclaiming itself a country that would be ruled by its people. The first three words of our Constitution are “We the people”. At Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln described our government as “of the people, by the people, for the people”. The Idaho Constitution, like most other state constitutions in the United States, recognizes that all political power comes from the people.
Self-government places a heavy burden on the public to understand how government works, to keep abreast of public policy issues, to learn about those who seek to represent them in government offices, and to vote in elections. . Unfortunately, large segments of the population are not fulfilling their important role in the proper functioning of our democracy.
According to a 2016 survey, “nearly a third of Americans cannot name any of the three branches of government.” Last December, a newly elected US Senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, guessed the three as “the House, the Senate and the Executive.”
Although voter turnout was significantly higher than usual last year, nearly 100 million people of voting age in America did not vote. A Pew survey found that in March 2019, only 17% of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing.
The failure of trust in government coincides with “a steady erosion of civics and history teaching over the past 50 years,” according to a March 5 editorial in the Washington Post. “While the country spends about 50 federal dollars per student per year on science and math education, only 5 cents per year per student is allocated to civics education.”
A Brookings Institute report last year highlighted the urgent need for schools across the country to dramatically increase their efforts to educate children about civics, history and public engagement: “In As one of the few social institutions present in virtually every community across America, schools can and should play an important role in catalyzing increased civic engagement. “
In this sense, a diverse group of educators, historians and civic leaders announced in March an initiative to dramatically increase the country’s investment in teaching civics, history and government. . The Educating For American Democracy initiative aims “to reach 60 million students, 100,000 schools and 1 million teachers by the end of the decade.” The initiative aims to put history and civics education on an equal footing with STEM and English classes. Understanding how government works and how we can help shape it is critical to improving our communities and our country to lead productive and meaningful lives.
We need more Jennifer Ostyn in schools across the country. Dedicated and enthusiastic teachers, educating our children about our unique system of self-government and how to keep it fresh and responsive. This will require the investment of significant public resources, but this is what the founders of this country expect of us.
Jones is a former Idaho Attorney General and a former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court. His previous columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.