To the Editor:
While the merits of the Every Student Succeeds Act can be debated, it is important to celebrate a new priority: The law authorizes the creation of four different programs that fund civics education.
In recent years, civics education has been seen as a luxury—a subject that students can take if there happens to be extra time. This de-emphasis of civics has had real ramifications.
Young people want to make a difference in these increasingly tumultuous times, but despite this idealistic spirit they do not see institutional politics as the way to create change. A recent poll found that millennials overwhelmingly felt that volunteering and charity was a better way of making positive change in society than by engaging with government. This behavior leads to a vicious circle: Because young people are not actively involved in politics, elected officials do not pay attention to issues that specifically affect young people.
One of the reasons that young people are not politically engaged, I would argue, is that schools are not teaching them civics. A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics demonstrated that only 23 percent of 8th graders were proficient in the subject.
The inclusion of civics-focused education programs in ESSA provides an opening for a serious conversation about the role of civics education in the United States. As we rethink our educational priorities, we have an opportunity to promote civics as a subject that every single young person in this country should receive.
Educating young people to participate in politics cannot be seen as a luxury. It should be seen as vital for the very future of our democracy.
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Civics Courses, Political Role Should Go Hand in Hand