Back in 2011, something insidious happened to our schools. Federal funding for civics education was quietly removed from the national budget for education. One year later, only nine states required any basic understanding in civics as a prerequisite for graduation.
Civics education may not prepare you for a job. But it prepares you to be a citizen, informed about the government that affects almost every aspect of your daily life. Informed about the votes you have a chance to cast.
2011 wasn’t the death knell for civics education. As early as 2006, a study by George Washington University found that only about one in four high school seniors were proficient in civics in government. Imagine that. Only 27 percent of new and soon-to-be voters with any idea what they were doing. Is it any wonder we have a voter turnout that struggles to stay above 50 percent? (And that’s in presidential elections. All other elections have much, much smaller turnout percentages.)
This year, a study by the University of Pennsylvania found that only one in four Americans can name all three branches of the government. A larger fraction, one in three, couldn’t name any, nor could they name any of the rights protected by the First Amendment. Watching a president declare publicly that he thinks news critical of him should be banned, this is terrifying. People who do not know their rights can’t defend them. People who do not know what democracy is cannot defend it.
This is an illiteracy that will cost our country for generations. A population who doesn’t know how a government should work for them cannot make informed decisions about who to elect to that government, and then cannot hold accountable those who fail in their duty. Public schools, which we trust to turn our youth into informed citizens, are failing in civics education across the nation.