The Daily Beast: How To Reboot Civics Education

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by: Sandra Day O'Connor & Arne Duncan

As families gather to celebrate Independence Day, it is time to rethink the notion that civics instruction is less than vital in the global economy of the 21st century. If you want to succeed, the message seems to be: Take advanced science and math classes, but don’t worry about those civics classes. In a time of texts and tweets, and the instant democracy of the Web, civics instruction seems as antiquated to some students as studying the Dewey Decimal system.

The education historian Lawrence Cremin once observed that educators often follow the principle of “when in doubt, leave it out.” But we believe it is a great mistake to push civics to the sideline in schools. From the dramatic uprisings for democracy in the Mideast to the tragic shootings in Tucson at a Congress on Your Corner event, Americans have been reminded once again that freedom matters—and that informed citizens are the lifeblood of democracy. Civics education is not only about knowing your rights but also knowing your responsibilities. We the People must continue to safeguard the principles of democracy to perfect the union.

Unfortunately, a staggering number of Americans today know dismayingly little about the basic history and traditions of our democracy. Earlier this spring, the government released the results of the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment in civics. It shows that while fourth graders have modestly improved their civics knowledge and skills, 12th graders—the students now poised to become voters—have even less civics knowledge and skills than their peers did in 2006. Read more.


Come see Sandra Day O'Connor speak on civics education at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service on Sept. 12!