Secretary of Education John King Calls for More Civic Education

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.”

 

 

Knowledge is the Soul of a Republic: The Founders on Education

The Founding generation understood the fundamental importance of education. In 1785, John Jay wrote,  “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic[.]” Below is a selection of quotes from the Founding generation on the importance of education. I hope these quotes help inspire the current generation to invest in the education of our nation’s young people.

(1) “It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.” – John Adams

(2) “[T]he preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.” – John Adams

(3) “The infant mind is pregnant with a variety of passions; But I apprehend it is in the power of those who are entrusted with the education of youth in a considerable degree to determine the bent of the noble passions and to fix them on salutary objects, or let them loose to such as are pernicious or destructive. Here then lies the foundation of civil liberty; in forming the habits of youthful mind, in forwarding every passion that may trend to the promotion of the happiness of the community, in fixing in ourselves right ideas of benevolence, humanity, integrity and truth.” – Nathanael Greene

(4) “The slavery of a people is generally founded in ignorance of some kind or another; and there are not wanting such facts as abundantly prove the human mind may be so sunk and debased, through ignorance and its natural effects, as even to adore its enslaver, and kiss its chains. Hence knowledge and learning may well be considered as most essentially requisite to a free, righteous government.” – Samuel Phillips Payson

(5) “[I]lluminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes[.]” – Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge

(6) “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.” – John Jay

(7) “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.” – Benjamin Rush

(8) Every child in American should be acquainted with this own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” – Noah Webster

(9) “In a government founded on the sovereignty of the people the education of youth is an object of the first importance. In such a government knowledge should be diffused throughout the whole society, and for that purpose the means of acquiring it made not only practicable but easy to every citizen.” – James Monroe

(10) “It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” – James Madison

(11) “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirit at the dawn of the day.” – Thomas Jefferson.

(12) “Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” – James Madison

(13) “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” – Thomas Jefferson

(14) “It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. Thepeople themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” – James Monroe