The involvement of private citizens in their community and government is an essential facet of a democratic state, a privilege we as Americans are lucky to enjoy. It is crucial to have an active and engaged citizenry in order to insure the vitality and future health of our democracy. The voice of the people serves to guide the programs implemented by decision makers, and civic engagement is the way to make that voice heard.
Civic involvement is defined as “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” As such it can take on many forms, such as volunteering, attending public meetings, or voting. All citizens should be empowered to participate. The report “Fault Lines in Our Democracy Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States” shows a significant decline in the number of people who voted from 1964 to present day. This is a warning sign for us as voting is a strong indicator of other forms of civic engagement. The report continues and sheds light on the importance of civic knowledge and how it fosters civic involvement:
“Civic knowledge is a cornerstone of a strong democracy. It promotes support for democratic institutions and values, builds trust in government and elected officials, and contributes to greater civic involvement in important areas including voting and volunteering.”
Education, particularly education on civics and good citizenship is essential and, it appears, something that has become less of a priority than it should be. If we are to have a strong, democratic nation going forward we need to include civic education in curriculums from grade school through grad school.
In a recent open letter on the Huffington post blog, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and Senator John Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth, wrote of the importance of civics education in promoting a bright future for America.
“There is much talk these days about the need to prepare our students for college and careers, about giving them the necessary skills and backgrounds in reading, math and science so that they might compete in an increasingly global economy… So too must we prepare our young people to function as fully informed and actively engaged citizens – whether they are physicists, entrepreneurs or teachers. We know from research, observation and experience that providing students with real life experiences in self-governance and civic participation can have measurable and lasting impacts — regardless of career choice.”
Many of us from past generations remember citizenship classes. Those long hours spent in the classroom learning exactly how a bill becomes a law, the three branches of government and many other essential facts about how our government is structured and run. To a nine year old these lessons can be rather boring but, just like math and English, knowledge of civics and how to be a good citizen are essential to the makeup of a well-rounded adult. Without civics education we as nation will lose sight of the unique principle that our country was founded on, the idea that people are capable of self-governance, and the responsibilities associated with that idea.
We as citizens of this republic, have a responsibility to ensure that future generations understand where we have come from and how we can maintain our democratic form or government. We can do this by supporting civics education in our schools and teaching our children about civics at home. Justice O’Conner has seen this need and created a website, icivics.org dedicated to doing just this. But, instead of being the boring citizenship classes many of us remember, this website makes learning about our heritage, rights and responsibilities fun and interactive.
Most of us don’t have the influence of Justice O’Conner, but there are things we can do in our own communities to teach the next generation of Americans about the importance of being active citizens. Most public and private schools welcome volunteers, especially those with specialized knowledge and a passion to share it. We as citizens also have the right to attend the meetings of our local school boards and speak for what we believe in, and what we want to see happened in our school districts. And, those us who have children in our lives have a special privilege to pass civic knowledge and participation on to them.
We have power and we have a voice, civic involvement and an active citizenry need not be given up on and pass into the pages of history.
- American Civics 101 (evergreeninstitute.wordpress.com)