Thursday, August 1st, 2013
With reduced funding and plummeting exam scores, civic education is in a state of great turmoil. In an interview with Michael Shaughnessy of Education News, Robert Pondiscio outlines the problems facing a disengaged nation and suggests some solutions.
Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst, an organization based at Democracy Prep Public Schools, argues that the root of America’s civic education problem can be traced to our evolving educational priorities. Drawing from E.D. Hirsch’s book The Making of Americans, Pondiscio argues that preparation for citizenship was once seen as the foremost goal of public education. Yet, in recent years, the goal of education has shifted to college- and career-readiness.
In order to combat civic apathy, CitizenshipFirst is engaged in an initiative to ensure all students can pass the civics section of the U.S. citizenship test by 2026, which coincides with the 250th birthday of America. While this will not cure our civic engagement problem by itself, Pondiscio argues that true engagement requires “common knowledge of and support for the ideals enshrined in our Constitution.” Asked what the tangible benefits of improved civic education were, Pondiscio said:
A better informed citizenry. People who are able to advocate thoughtfully and passionately for their ideas without demonizing those they disagree with. Adults who know how to make things happen in the world to better their lives and their communities. Students who no longer conceive of government as a force that acts upon them. We can’t allow them to see themselves as powerless to effect change in their communities, or worse, that approaching public officials is like begging the great and powerful Oz for favors. That view of government ought to be repellant to a free people. Students need to know how to pull the levers of power. More importantly, they must be inclined to do so.
To learn more about the problems facing civic education and some innovative solutions developed by schools like Democracy Prep, review our “Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools” project.