Decrying Nation's Poor 'Civic Health,' Group Urges Schools To Take Action

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Requiring students to read the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and a daily newspaper would help connect them with their communities and perpetuate a more civil society, a recent report says.

The report, "A Nation of Spectators," was released last month by the National Commission on Civic Renewal, a private, bipartisan group created two years ago to investigate the condition of civic life.

For More Information

Read the report from the National Commission on Civic Renewal. Or, to order a hard copy, write the Commission at 3111 Van Munching Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; (301) 405-2790.

The College Park, Md.-based commission determined that Americans are pulling away from their communities and often feel powerless to improve their quality of life. As evidence, the group cites its "index of national civic health," a compilation of statistics such as voter turnout, charitable contributions, teenage crime, and the divorce rate between 1974 and 1996.

The report recommends that people become involved in local government, join religious and community organizations, and strengthen bonds within their own families and neighborhoods.

One way to promote that idea among students is to teach character education and service learning in school, said former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, a Republican who co-chairs the commission with former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, at a June 24 news conference here.

"We need to weave [character education and service learning] into every aspect of a school's program," Larry Dieringer, the executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit group, said in a phone interview. "The research tells us if [students] have a nurturing environment like a classroom and have an adult they can relate to ... we can reduce violence."

Better Teachers

Other recommendations for schools in the report include improving local academic standards, demanding more qualified teachers, and increasing school choice opportunities for parents.

"Shockingly high percentages of teachers have neither majors nor minors in the subjects they teach," the report states. "We call upon every state to close this teacher preparation gap and ensure that teachers can at least pass the subject-matter tests required of their students."

In addition, foster care must be revamped to ensure that no child spends more than one birthday without a permanent home, the report argues. Ideally, all children would be raised in an intact two-parent family and have access to mentors.

The Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts financed the report and the ongoing work of the commission.

Vol. 17, Issue 42, Page 15

Published in Print: July 8, 1998, as Decrying Nation's Poor 'Civic Health,' Group Urges Schools To Take Action
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