- Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch discussed with CBS News the importance of schools returning to an educational emphasis on civics education, a focus lost amid the rise of STEM education that is needed as America’s future increasingly lies in the hands of voters who no longer have a clear understanding of how the government functions.
- Schools also need to educate students on another valuable aspect of civic education in civility, the ability to show good manners and to disagree with others while recognizing and respecting their rights and the value of their opinions.
- Students must also be taught the value of placing the needs of one’s country over selfish interests and party affiliations, and of recognizing the importance of democracy before Americans lose the form of government that provides them with choice, opportunity and the luxury of opposing government decisions.
Election days remind Americans that we have opportunities that are denied to many others around the world. However, the awesome rights of participatory government also mean that students must be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. And as former justice Sandra Day O'Connor steps back from public life, Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch are stepping up to fill her shoes on advocating for civics education.
As this article and justices note, civics education has taken a backseat to STEM education in recent years. Part of this comes from the growing focus on college and career readiness, a place where STEM learning plays a huge role. Because of this focus, many states don’t require tests of civics knowledge, though there are notable exceptions. As schools struggle to meet the expectations of the state and federal government in mandated testing areas, civics tends to get lost in the shuffle. Yet it is necessary to improving equity and civil discourse.
The desire to educate the voting public was the original reason for the establishment of public education. The need for civics education is becoming a growing concern for many school superintendents, especially as the county is becoming more divided and civility is becoming a lost art. Some school boards are also developing civility policies because they see this as having an impact on a student’s present conduct and future ability to function in society.
School and district leaders can advocate for more focus on civics education at the state level. However, there is nothing to prevent a greater focus at their own schools, either through course offerings or embedding those lessons in other courses. Schools can also teach this through extracurricular activities such as debate clubs and student leadership councils. There are more resources available now to teach civics concepts, including the Citizenship University and iCivics resources mentioned in the article and a video series from Khan Academy. The teaching of civility can also be embedded throughout all course offerings. Of course, the best way for adults to teach students about civility is to model it themselves.