<< The Body Politic

Lou Frey talks citizenship

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

In an interview last  week with Florida Today, Lou Frey, a former US Congressman and founder of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida, discussed the importance of civic education efforts in his state. Florida is currently field-testing a new high school civics exam, which it plans to implement statewide next year, and has been leader in promoting civic education for all K-12 students.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Question: How should schools continue to keep students interested in government and politics?

Frey: The campaign and the election may be over, but the profoundly important issues that were debated in the campaign — the economy, health care, Social Security, taxes and all the rest — are not going away. One of the best things that schools can do is to help students learn the realities that underlie those issues and how they will impact their future.

Along with that, students need the opportunity to learn the critically important lesson that when presented with the same set of facts, two people can reasonably come to entirely different conclusions about what needs to be done. Our schools are laboratories that can provide young people with the opportunity to learn to listen to each other, to discuss hard issues in a civil way, and to look for common ground. The excitement of American government is not really about campaigns, it is about forging solutions to the real issues that affect the lives of all of our citizens. […]

Q: What are the most effective ways to develop children into engaged and informed citizens?

Frey: An important report called “Guardians of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools” was issued several months ago. It was written by some of the nation’s best experts on civic education. It outlines a variety of approaches that have been studied and found to contribute to better-informed and engaged citizens. One of the most important is really pretty simple — providing students with many opportunities to discuss and debate local, state, national and international issues.

Schools can provide a safe environment to explore, to learn the meaning of diverse points of view and find the public issues that ignite their passion.

Q: Are you involved in the statewide push for the end-of-course civics exam?

Frey: We have been involved in the push for stronger civic education in Florida since 2006, when Bob Graham and I joined forces to create the Frey-Graham Civic Education Initiative. After four years of effort, we were successful — with the help of Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jax) and Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) — in passing the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act.

The act requires that all students take civics in middle school and that they pass a statewide exam at the end of the seventh grade. It also requires reading about our nation’s history, civic leaders and public issues to be integrated into classes in every grade from kindergarten to graduation. The exam will be field-tested this spring with more than 30,000 students. The first statewide administration will be in the spring of 2014.

Learn more about the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government.