The need for civic education

Alyssa Zavislak–Staff Writer

United States education has been an increasing concern for many people, politicians, parents, students, teachers, etc. We are all familiar with standardized tests and how these tests have historically measured our aptitude in subjects such as math, science, reading and language.

While the United States education system places emphasis on students reaching a certain level of proficiency in many subject areas, civic education or government is not one of them. In addition to students having knowledge about geometry and prepositional phrases, it is equally important for individuals to know about the government and how it operates, otherwise referred to as civic education or civic engagement.

According to the World Bank, civic education is defined as, “The participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions and business establishments to influence decision making or pursue common goals.”

In addition, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), “Only eight states currently test students on American government or civics, and only about a quarter of students nationwide earn a “proficient” score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam.”

If that isn’t sufficient evidence for an increase in civic education, then perhaps we should all attempt a citizenship exam and see if we pass. In 2012, Newsweek looked at how knowledgeable U.S. citizens were of their government. 1,000 adults were given a 20-question survey; one that is similar to those immigrants must pass in order to become American citizens. The results of the survey were disappointing. Furthermore, in 2008, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute administered surveys to 2,500 adults; the surveys asked basic questions about government, economics and history. Every person failed. If Americans cannot pass a United States citizenship exam, then something is wrong.

It is evident that U.S. students need more civic education and lack the necessary knowledge in regard to their government. Massachusetts Senator Richard T. Moore said, “…if our government, ‘of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,’ as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, we, the people, need to learn about how our government works.” Moore went on to say that a citizen’s responsibility goes beyond just voting; people need to be knowledgeable about their government and the processes involved.

Released in print March 27, 2013.