Former congressman: Lack of civics education a detriment

Dive Brief:

  • The decline of civics education in America’s public schools has been to the detriment of public discourse, and its revival could help the nation solve contentious debates and dial down the increased polarization facing its citizens, former U.S. Rep. George R. Nethercutt, Jr. writes for The Hill.
  • Nethercutt writes that civics education can be an "important equalizer for all affected by the American system," noting that it is a problem when students cannot identify their senators but can identify songs from movie soundtracks, and he says civics also has an advocate in former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
  • Additionally, he writes that civics education may help students in the search for employment, as many CEOs are cognizant of its importance — but he also points to a broader issue around the need for citizens to be more knowledgeable about U.S. history and government to better hold elected officials to account.

Dive Insight:

The gradual loss of civics education in the nation's schools may be all the more irreversible when considering the increased emphasis on accountability, testing and STEM. For good reasons, educators and employers see a coming crisis and gap of qualified employees in STEM fields and have increasingly directed some focus there. But it is hard to prove the value of a civics education in the immediate, in comparison to the benefits for schools when students are successful at high-stakes math and literacy exams.

It’s also worrying when you consider that the practice of teaching civics may be politically fraught in the current climate. As college freshmen report very high numbers of polarization and school curricula and standards increasingly become partisan backgrounds, it is difficult to see how educators could endeavor to teach government to classes without it becoming controversial. Still, educators could seek to integrate more civics facts into already-established classes and lessons. If increased time and attention afforded for a civics class seems unlikely in the near future, it may be possible to instill some civics lessons nonetheless.

Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Policy & Regulation