Friday, July 2, 2010

A word for Civics Education on the 4th of July

Fourth of July weekend is a good time to begin a discussion on the importance of Civics Education. Its the birthday of our nation, in one sense, although the birthday of the United States might rather be traced to other dates. Its certainly the anniversary of the adoption of some rather exciting democratic ideas that have become the central founding ideas of our representative democracy.

We desperately now need a deeper understanding of civics. Time and time again, surveys of Americans starkly demonstrate an amazing level of ignorance about our founding principles. The National Constitution Center Reports:
  • Only 6 percent of Americans can name all four rights guaranteed by the First Amendment (can you?);
  • 62 percent cannot name all three branches of the Federal government;
  • 35 percent believe the Constitution mandates English as the official language;
  • More than half of Americans don't know the number of senators
  • 40 percent High School seniors answered incorrectly, believing that each state has two or three representatives or that the number varies according to the area of the state
  • 1 in 5 do not know that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • 84% believe that the U.S. Constitution is the document that states that "all men are created equal", thus confusing it with the Declaration of Independence.
Next year, a new national assessment of educational progress will report on whether we are doing better now, than a decade ago in civics education. There is some evidence, at least, in recent voting results, that young people are indeed becoming more engaged in government. A previous National Assessment on civics wrote:

Despite a national consensus on the need for civic education in elementary and secondary schools, this vital part of students’ education is seldom given sustained and systematic attention in the K–12 curriculum. Inattention to civic education stems principally from the assumption that the knowledge and skills citizens need emerge as byproducts of the study of other subjects or as an outcome of the process of schooling itself rather than as a consequence of a focused study of civics. As most studies of civic knowledge and dispositions show, this is not so. .......1998 National Educational Assessment

Although civics and government are often included as elements of social studies instruction in grades K–8, substantial treatment of those subjects is unusual. American history courses tend to emphasize social history and devote insufficient time to political history, such as the nation’s founding period and subsequent constitutional development. Civitas International

Here are some links to resources on civics education. Click on the links to view these resources. I strongly recommend the interactive constitution.

Interactive Constitution Fantastic resource.. On line version of The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk (Hyperion/A Stonesong Press Book). Copyright © 2003 Linda R. Monk and The Stonesong Press, Inc.

American Bar Association: "Our Mission is to promote public understanding law and its role in society."

Bill of Rights Institute "The Bill of Rights Institute’s mission is to educate high school students and teachers about our country’s Founding principles through programs that teach the words and ideas of the Founders; the liberties and freedoms guaranteed in our Founding documents; and how America’s Founding principles affect and shape a free society."

Center for Civics Education Campaign to Promote Civics Education

Center on Congress Lee Hamilton's center at Indiana University seeks to explain Congress to laypersons.

an online resource and service for civic education practitioners (teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum designers), as well as scholars, policymakers, civic-minded journalists, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting civic education all over the world.

Civics Online Resources for teachers and schools: online project providing a rich array of primary sources, professional development tools, and interactive activities to help in the teaching of civics.

Constitutional Rights Foundation
a non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organization dedicated to educating America's young people about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society.

Federal Resources on Civics Education
Free federal resources on education.

Minnesota Council for Social Studies
" a professional advocacy group that encourages teachers to be proactive leaders who challenge and educate empowered students to promote human dignity in an increasingly global society through the study of all social studies."

National Alliance for Civic Education NACE was launched in 2000 and now has more than 200 group and individual members committed to advancing civic knowledge and engagement. NACE believes the time has come to band together to ensure that the next generation of citizens understands and values democracy and participates in the ongoing work of building democracy in America.

National Center for Educational Statistics NAEP National Assessment of Civics

National Constitution Center The National Constitution Center is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution, its history, and its contemporary relevance, through an interactive, interpretive facility within Independence National Historical Park and a program of national outreach, so that We the People may better secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Youth Leadership Initiative University of Virgina's effort to supply free classroom resources to teachers to promote young people's civic education.

Answers to quiz question:
Congress shall make no law respecting an (1-a) establishment of religion, or prohibiting the (1-b) free exercise thereof; or (2-a) abridging the freedom of speech, (2-b) or of the press; or the (3) right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to (4) petition the government for a redress of grievances.

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