Civics Education

Lecture 1 briefly addressed the recent ‘State of Civics Education‘ report prepared by the Center for American Progress. The report includes a ranking of the 50 states in terms of what they do or do not require of high school students in terms of civics education. Please briefly examine the summary of the report above, and see where New Jersey ranks when compared to other states.

Once you’ve done so, I’d like you to respond below to one of the following prompts:

  1. Describe your own experience with civics education. What was, or was not, required of you in high school?
  2. Go online and do a little research on civics education initiatives across the country. What do you find interesting? You could look at the work being done by organizations like iCivics, for example.
  3. If you were to design a civics curriculum for a school, what do you think should be emphasized more or less heavily?

14 Replies to “Civics Education”

  1. 1. I have not had much experience with civic education. What I am learning from this course is that politics has a lot to do with history. When determining bils, and laws, politicians should always take history in perspective. I took American history in high school where we learned a lot about slavery and but not much about the politics behind it.
    2. After some research I found that The Civics Education Initiative is a project
    at the Joe Foss Institute, which is a nonprofit
    dedicated to “shaping young Americans
    for civic engagement as voters and
    informed members of their community.” I found interesting that they make sure kids are educated about politics before graduating high school, and i think that is very necessary to have a politically informed public.
    3. If I were to have a curriculum, id suggest that kids be taught early on about the past political issues and there solutions, while also informing them on what they should take into account before formulating opinions.

  2. As I was reading through the ‘State of Civics Education’ report I learned that most states in the United States barely teach any information about our government. Throughout my time in high school, I did not have any class were I learned about civic education. While reading the report I realized how important this information really is. If I had to create a civics curriculum for students I would focus the class on areas such as our history of where we started as a country, and work our way up to our present government. I would start out with subjects that we are currently learning, for example how the colonies separated from Great Britain, and the government they started. The main focus on the class would be how the current government operates. I feel that to keep people educated on the government, it will help bring more interest into voting and participating in different events that will help impact our country. Using myself as an example, I am not nearly educated on the government as I should be and that affects the way I contribute to the government. If students know how officials are elected, and how laws are passed I feel they will be more intrigued when it come times to vote. Finally the last part of the class would have a minor part for community service because that is a huge part to contributing to the nation. It was not until I started this class did I realize how big community service is to the country. I feel each of those areas would help contribute to a great civics education for students.

  3. I did not have any type of civic curriculum in high school. We learned a little bit about government in our history classes but never went into much detail about it. Looking back, I am surprised by this and disappointed. I believe that this should be required in all states. Once you turn 18 you are expected to vote. Some 18 year olds are still in high school and are still very immature mentally. How can we expect these young adults to vote when they have had no education about civics? Are they just going to be voting off of what they media is telling them to? If they had some education about this topic maybe they would be better able to understand what is going on, being debated, and what each candidate stands for and how that will affect our current government. Myself, as a grown adult, I feel very lost when it comes to government. I have had minimal education on it in high school and no college education on it, until now. It seems to be up to the individual to educate themselves in order to be in the loop and make proper decisions and choices when voting. Every student should be leaving high school with at least some understanding of how the government works and be taught some un biased political issues.

  4. What is civics and why are these initiatives important? The National Council for the Social Studies NCSS defines civics as, in part, the study of how people participate in governing society. (https://www.ecs.org/just-exactly-what-is-civic-education) As for why its important, It is my belief that in order for a democracy or even anything close to it to run correctly. The more people that have an understanding of government and how it works the more efficiently the country will elect leaders that will progress society into a brighter tomorrow.

    There are some really great initiatives out there right now that are seeking to push civics courses into being mandatory for kids to graduate into society. http://civicseducationinitiative.org/ is a organization looking to make it mandatory for kids to graduate high school they must first pass the United States Citizenship Civics Test – the test all new US citizens must pass. I feel like this is a more than fair. If we are going to make sure that the people coming into our country understand civics, why would we not make sure our own students leading the next generation also understand them as well. The website I found to be very helpful in understanding the vast amount of states that still don\’t focus on civics. You can click on the color coded country map and it will either inform you of when they implemented the civics program or if they don\’t how you can help make it happen.

    Another initiative that I have found is the Education Commission that houses the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement (NCLCE). This website not only allows for educators across the country to take place in forums that will help strengthen the education system in America as a whole. It also works with policy makers and education leaders to promote the idea of making sure civics has a place in today\’s curriculum. On top of this they also work to award awards to those who go above and beyond in terms of education. Like if someone were to make huge steps in promoting civics in certain areas of the country they will reach out and bring acknowledgement to that individual which is something I feel any educator would appreciate.

  5. 1. From the article, we see that New Jersey does not require a civics course or a civics test to graduate high school. At my high school, there was an AP Government course offered. However, only the top 5% of my class took the class, and only the financially stable kids out of that group could take the exam at the end of the year. For these reasons, majority of my class (myself included), as well as most New Jersey high schoolers, were not exposed to civics courses. At most, we touched upon some political issues in history classes. But, as the article stated, civics and history are entirely different subject areas; history gives us the background knowledge needed to understand civics, but civics gives us the opportunity to implement those skill sets into actions. All in all, every student should be offered a civics course in addition to their required history course.
    2. I found iCivics to be interesting for several reasons. My first reason would be that it was founded by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; being one of the most important judges in the US, she still found time to create a program for teachers to better educate students on civics. I also found iCivics to be interesting because it takes a modern approach by teaching students civics through online games. Kids these days are always online playing games, so incorporating that activity in school would boost their interest in the activity and without their knowing, they would begin to learn civics.

  6. 1. I remember my first and only encounter and civics education class being in 4th grade. I was born and raised in Romania and therefore went to school there and graduated high school there. It was a long time ago, but I remember learning about duties of citizens and what they are expected to help society with – things such as volunteering, voting, partaking in actions that improve society overall. As I mentioned above, this was the only class I ever took on the subject, and I do think that it was too early and that it had been more useful in high school.

    2. After doing some research online, I found that there are a multitude of groups and programs that focus on promoting civics education across America; among these I found iCivics (one founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor), the Annenberg Center, the American Bar Association, the Library of Congress, the We the People Program from the Center for Civic Education, and the NCSL Legislators Back to School Program to focus on promoting civics education using a variance of tools such as web-based games, no-cost learning materials for teachers, internship programs, citizen education forums and support for teachers. All these tools are designed to educate students and the public about the role of the government and how it works, and the three branches of government – their importance and distinction between them. The fact that there are so many organizations focusing on civic education and yes so few people who are educated in regards to their rights, what the amendments made to the constitution are and that some don’t even know the three branches of the government is what I find mind boggling. There is so much information and initiative out there and yet a lot of people seem disinterested and live in a “bubble”.

    3. If I were to create a curriculum, I would suggest that the emphasis be put on the importance of one’s vote and the importance of being informed and knowing one’s rights and especially how the government works. People generally don’t trust the government because they don’t understand how it works, so it is really important to educate citizens on the matter.
    History is also a crucial factor in civic education, it is important to look back at it and make sure the mistakes from the past are not repeated in the future.

  7. Through a closer look at civic education and engagement provided by the Center for American Progress, it has become clear that the nation is significantly lacking in these particular areas. It seems as though it is a problem because schools around the country do not place any type of emphasis on civics curriculum or engagement. This is something that needs to be addressed, especially considering the fact that a lowered understanding of civics often leads to a lower voting rate in each state. If only a small amount of individuals are voting then that usually means that the candidates chosen for different positions are not a true reflection of the entire country’s various opinions. Civics curriculums in schools that are lacking must be revamped in order to try and aid this serious issue.
    To begin, if I were to design a new civics curriculum for a school, I would feel as though emphasis should be placed upon experiential learning such as the YES Preparatory Schools located in Houston. Experiencing actual projects and learning new types of ideas and governmental thought processes with a hands-on approach is something that can stick with a student their entire lives. Community service projects would be set up for each grade (increasing in responsibility as the grades progressed) to carry out throughout each entire academic year. With this kind of curriculum, students would be exposed to scenarios and situations they may not have seen before. It would keep them interested and engaged throughout their mandatory years of schooling, which would then hopefully lead them to be interested and engaged with the nation itself.
    Following this up, although the students’ understanding and engagement of the curriculum would be important, I would not impose a mandatory civics test for a graduation requirement, as long as the students had completed AT LEAST three years of experiential learning. If their community service projects were run properly, there would be absolutely no need for students to perform the extra task of preparing for an exam that could bar them from graduating high school. Not all individuals are proficient test takers, but most individuals are capable of participating in some type of service. It would simply not be fair to force a test upon the students.
    Overall, civics education is definitely very important to not only individual students, but also to the future of country. Specific improvements must be made in the states that are severely lacking in their young voter participation rates, which by the looks of it, appears to be all states, with the exceptions of Nebraska and Virginia (if one could consider 50% and over, not lacking). Curriculums must be refined, and taken seriously in order for any true improvement to be seen.

  8. The “State of Civics Education” article discussed the various important reasons as to why civics exposure is critical at a young age. The article uses various charts to illustrate which states have incorporated a mandatory civics course and its benefits. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government. That is significantly less from previous years with this era being millennials. In addition the voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. All of which contributes to the lack of civics education in school curriculums. As far as New Jersey their is no mandatory Civics course although our average mean score in the US Government AP exam is a 3.09, significantly higher than the national average.

    I believe every high school curriculum should incorporate a civics class. I know firsthand my first civics class was in the 8th grade as it was an all year class. The abundance of information is important to a maturing adult. I believe this age in their academic career can be the most affective as the early exposure allows the individual to formulate their own political viewpoints which will result in a better voter turnout. As far as my civics course, we went over mostly introduction to american politics as it pertains to the constitution, bill of rights, branches of government etc. In addition we needed to do current events where we would pull an article in current news that directly affects a person’s civil liberties. We would address the issue and decide which amendment that particular issue might engage in. In high school there were never any mandatory Civics class although an elective that was available was “American Law” that I also took and found the most similar.

  9. 1. Civics education was not required when I was in high school, nor is it a requirement now (I reached out to a teacher I had). My own personal experience with civics education is I do not have any formal education. In history classes, we would briefly discuss a select few amendments, mostly 1-10, otherwise it was just history (slavery, holocaust, trails of tears, etc.)
    2. http://civicseducationinitiative.org is a website I came across and what attracted me to this particular program is one of the main slogans. 100 facts every high school student should know. After reviewing the 100 questions exam, I do not think I would have gotten more than half of them correct. I plan on going back and doing the 100 questions exam to see what I would actually score. The purpose of this foundation, which is founded by Joe Foss, would require high school students to pass the test as a requirement for graduation. Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship have to pass a civics test asking basic questions about American history and government and approximately 93% of these immigrants succeed, but only 65% Americans could answer correctly when asked the same questions. Personally I do not find the difference to be surprising, but I do think it is something we need to work on.
    3. If I were to design a civics curriculum for a school I would want to emphasize more on interpretations of the constitution and the roles of the government branches, and focus less on being able to name all the presidents, which is what I felt a lot of history teachers wanted us students to know. I think emphasizing on the interpretations of the constitution is important because there are so many supreme court cases that are up on the docket because during the time that the constitutions was written, the framers had no idea of all the technological advances that were to come. I think a lot of people interprets it to what best fits them instead of that it is supposed to be. I also think the roles of the branches of government are important because up until a year ago I did not know the functions of the government. As a voting citizen, I should be informed on the different branches and how my vote will affect those branches and how laws are passed and enforced.

  10. 1. My civics education experience while in high school was severely lacking. The only class that my high school Cherry Hill West offered was an AP course by the name of US Government & Politics. Since it was an AP class it obviously was not required to take and because of this it was rarely offered due to low enrollment. While we were required to take both US History 1 and 2 these were bare bone courses when it came to learning about civics. We learned the basic structure of the federal government and how it operates, but that was the extent of my civics education. Since we were required only to take the three courses I listed above and US History 2 for the most part ended at 1945 I was left with a lack of education when it comes to modern US history. Therefore I missed the opportunity to learn about multiple civil movements that occurred between then and now. I wish now that I would have taken that AP class on US Government and Politics. I do believe that the high school curriculum should change and require that students take a civics course, but I do not believe that a civics test should be made mandatory in order to graduate. I left high school with little knowledge when it came to civics. I remember not knowing how important it was to go out and vote, but luckily my parents taught me the importance of it. I think a required civics class would be a sufficient way to increase the civic knowledge of students coming out of high school and it would also not add another standardized test for high school students to complete.

  11. 1) Thinking back on my childhood education, I distinctly remember the curriculum from elementary and middle school being heavily focused on history courses. During high school, I found that Philadelphia public and charter schools were moving towards the experimental history courses similar to those mentioned in “The State of Civics Education” article. In the early 2000s, African-American History was something that was new and being pushed more than any other history course. Civics education was something that would typically be touched on for standardized testing purposes. From talking to my wife, who attend an all girls private school, civics education was throughout the curriculum. Both of us attended school in the city of Philadelphia, PA. The little civics education that I received was taught for test memorization purpose, not for comprehension. I am not surprised that with the influx of charter schools throughout the country, that civics education is being lost, with history courses becoming more popular. Charter schools aren’t regulated as much, therefore there’s great opportunity to overlook the need for civics education courses.

  12. From the best of my knowledge, my high school did not offer any civic engagement classes however, my history teacher did make my class do a project on the 2008 Presidential elections and how we felt about the future of this country. We were also required to watch the news and every week we talked about current events and our opinions on particular events that occurred during that time period. Despite these efforts, most of my classmates were very uninterested about most current events and especially anything dealing with history. I feel that civic engagement and community service should both be requirements for students to graduate high school because it is very important for young adults who are now eligible to participate in elections should make an educated and informed decision before casting their vote. If a particular individual doesn’t understand the basic fundaments of governmental functions then it is impossible for them to make a sound decision that effects others. Also, with the current political/racial climate, I feel that community service would help unite young adults that are from different backgrounds/households and would help ease some racial tensions while improving their communities.

  13. 1.Describe your own experience with civics education. What was, or was not, required of you in high school?
    Believe it or not in high school I did not par-take in any civic educational courses, primarily because I had no idea what it was nor did my high school require the civics as a curriculum. If history counts as a mere substance of civics, than I knew only a little. After reading the article, I learned that my peers and I were blinded by the truth of the “real world.” How were we supposed to prepare ourselves for the outside world, when we lack the knowledge of what was going on around us? Yes, the media was very popular, but when all you see is the Celebrity Gossip or Fox News, our brain cells were rapidly dying off. However, agree to disagree, if we (students) were encouraged to be educated more in government (US and foreign policies, laws, etc.) our scored and understanding of our States and Countries (even recognizing the UN) would have been greatly appreciated to prepare us for; voting, identifying the corruption in our news, media and government (especially with Trump), etc. As teenagers, growing into young adults, recognizing government is critical, as compared to identifying the mitochondria. Perhaps, schools throughout the country (even the states who require the Civic Exam) should reconstruct their teaching methods and offer more of a variety of life skills, such as sex ed (plan parenting courses), tax prep classes, or finances, auto shop, etc,

  14. Describe your own experience with civics education. What was, or was not, required of you in high school?
    I went to a very small private Christian School and I am fortunate enough to say that my school played a huge role in my civic education and service in the community. For example, each year we were required to do a certain number of hours of community service approved by the schools principal and verified by our parents. This required community service was a part of my schools curriculum titled “Christian Service Project”, which was just as important as any other subject which did include Government and History. I loved and appreciate the fact that my school saw it important to lay the foundation of civic service in us from the beginning, and taught us compassion for others and being good stewards of the community and our neighbor. I remember being a little girl and my older brother Tyrone (who is now a pastor), who was 7 years older than me and went to the same school came home excited about the school trip they took to go feed as many people as possible. I wanted to be just like that! I wanted to be like my teachers who didnt have much of anything, but found so much joy in being humble missionaries and educators of children who would later influence the next generation, foregoing the paycheck they deserved.

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