Education Opinion

Civics Education Faces Reality

By Walt Gardner — November 07, 2016 1 min read
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It will be interesting to note the rate of youth voting in the presidential election tomorrow. That’s because civics, which exists to inculcate in students their responsibility as citizens, has in the last decade or so failed to engage them (“Why America urgently needs to improve K-12 civic education,” the conversation.com, Oct. 31).

I can’t blame them one bit. Whether civics includes history, as well as other social studies courses, is beside the point. Young people are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for. They’ve seen for themselves outside of school how government really works at all levels. Or to put it another way, they know that the U.S. is a democracy in name only; it is an oligarchy in reality. Their cynicism is well founded (“The Plot Against Public Education,” Politico, Oct. 6, 2014).

Although the present election is the latest example, corporations and unions have long spent vast amounts of money to influence outcomes. Students today are not as naive as they once were as a result of technology. They know how things work. Teachers can try to make their civics classes relevant, but what they teach is always subject to a reality check.

For example, civics education is supposed to teach that people in this country are innocent until proven guilty. But students know from the headlines that people in this country are innocent until proven indigent. Money largely determines how much justice is meted out. It’s one reason that students doubt voting will make much of a difference in the larger scheme of things.

Yes, civics is an important subject. But unless we go beyond the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of government and the facts of history to tell students the unvarnished truth, I don’t think voting habits or attitudes of the young will change.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.