To the Editor:
Commentary author Arnold Packer is well meaning, and some of his recent suggestions on citizenship and education are worthwhile (“Should Citizenship Be a Goal of Education?”). However, in my opinion, he still overlooks the most obvious missing element.
In the United States, we compel our young to attend authoritarian institutions in which they have limited rights and few choices about what they are supposed to do and learn for 13 years in order to earn a diploma. We give them no real opportunities to experience democracy—don’t tell me about student councils—and then we malign them for not participating in elections when they are legally of age. It’s no surprise, then, that these same young adults are uninterested in voting.
The enactment of citizenship requires both values and skills. If we really wanted an active citizenry, we would give children and teens the opportunity to act as citizens in their schools, with regular engagement in democratic structures and processes in which the decisions reached by students actually mattered in their lives.
The way you to learn to be a citizen is to be a citizen. It requires practice.
A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Schools Lack Opportunities for the Learning of the True Importance of Citizenship