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They Called Lackluster Civic Education a 'Crisis' in 2011. Is This the Result?

Current estimates say that 46.9 percent of eligible voters did not vote in the past general election—nearly half of all eligible American voters.

According to The Washington Post, when compared to similarly wealthy and influential nations, America has one of the lowest voter turnouts.

Referencing a report from Pew Research Center using turnout data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IIDEA), the U.S. ranks 31st among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Whereas the U.S. sees about half of its eligible voters turnout for general elections, countries like Turkey, Sweden and Belgium see over 80 percent of their eligible voters turnout for theirs. 

Many experts blame a disillusionment with government and a general misunderstanding of how the process works for lackluster turnout year after year.

A reboot to current civics education in K-12 schools, they say, could very well be where turnaround can start to occur.

One of the latest advocates to argue for improved civic education is current Education Secretary John B. King, Jr.

Just weeks before the election, King addressed the matter during a speech at the National Press Club. Citing democracy as "one of the original goals of public education,” King argued that current problems that plague the American people like police brutality, homelessness and water pollution to name just a few are best addressed by an informed and mobilized population.

In 2011, the results from a civics-focused National Assessment of Educational Progress exam revealed that less than half of American eighth graders "knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches,” said The New York Times.

The New York Times titled its article reporting on the results Failing Grades on Civic Exams Called a 'Crisis'.

Experts argue the decline in civic knowledge is largely to blame on an overemphasis on standardized testing that has prioritized reading, math and science but has shouldered social studies and consequentially civic education out of the picture.

”...since the passage of No Child Left Behind, many states have shifted focus away from social studies and have dramatically reduced the number of social studies assessments,” said a 2012 report from CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

The report found that year after year, fewer states are assessing students on their social studies skills.

Advocates for civic education, particularly those who work on the legal side of government, have been working over-time to reverse the effects of a voter population underwhelmed by their civic duties.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for example, has turned her attention to elevating the importance of civic education in schools and founded

"The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens,” said Justice O’Connor on her commitment to the cause.

iCivics provides students with a variety of game options that use immersion tactics to help students best understand what it means to be president, how executive commands work and what kinds of rights the Bill of Rights affords citizens, to name just a few topics.

"Teachers use iCivics in many classroom settings. Their students become more knowledgeable – and capable – for civic discourse. Our resources are developed by an experienced and driven team of former educators, and vetted by our teacher volunteer circle – the Educator Network. We also partner with education game developers, technology companies, and civic organizations to deliver our impactful and high-quality products,” according to iCivics’ website.

For schools interested in emphasizing the importance of civic education, The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has defined six proven practices they can adopt to get started:

1. Integrating formal civic education into classroom instruction.

2. Incorporating discussion of local, national and international current events into classroom discussions.

3. Showing the importance of civic engagement through community engagement best demonstrated with service-learning projects.

4. Providing extracurricular activities that encourage community engagement.

5. Allowing opportunities for school governance to provide students with necessary skills learned through managing classrooms and schools.

6. Simulating voting, trials and legislative deliberation to ensure that students get the necessary real-world experience to understand the process later on.

”We urge all schools K-16 to adopt these practices, which have been shown by research to provide the most effective and comprehensive approach to ensuring all students receive the civic knowledge and skills necessary for informed and engaged citizenship,” says the Campaign.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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