Last week, Education Secretary John King called for more civic education. He said promoting “democracy was one of the original goals of public education,” and K-12 schools and colleges and universities have an essential role to play in educating students to fully and meaningfully participate in the democratic process.
He went on to say
The strength of our democracy depends on all of us, as Americans, understanding our history and the Constitution and how the government works, at every level; becoming informed and thoughtful about local, state, and national issues; getting involved in solving problems in our schools, communities, states, and nationally; recognizing that the solutions to the complex issues our nation faces today all require compromise; being willing to think beyond our own needs and wants and to embrace our obligations to the greater good. Finally, I would argue that our democracy, our communities, and our nation would be stronger if all of us volunteered on behalf of others.
He went on to describe how little our nation’s young people know about our Constitution and system of government:
The Nation’s Report Card shows that only one in five eighth graders and 12th graders has a working knowledge of the Constitution, the presidency, Congress, the courts, and how laws are made. Not surprisingly, we’re failing even more of our children of color and children from low-income families. Only about one in 10, one in 10, African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students have a working knowledge of how government functions.
He called on our “nation’s schools and colleges to be bold and creative in educating for citizenship. Make preparing your students for their civic duties just as much a priority as preparing them to succeed in college and in their careers.”
In then went on to describe what he views as the foundational elements of an effective civics education:
(1) Students need to know the Constitution and legislative process.
(2) Students need to understand history and be familiar with the primary sources that have shaped our nation’s history.
(3) Students “need to be able to put themselves into others’ shoes, and to appreciate the different perspectives that have shaped our nation’s history.”
(4) “Civics shouldn’t be an add-on. It can be made a part of every class, not just social studies and history, but reading and writing, science and math.”
(5) Beyond knowledge, students also need to develop civic skills.
And on higher education, Secretary King said “Back in 1947, the Truman Commission on Higher Education for Democracy concluded that educating for democracy ‘should come first … among the principal goals for higher education.’ It should come first among the principal goals for higher education.”