Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.
Curriculum

Civics Alliance Forms To Combat Youths’ Political Apathy, Cynicism

By David J. Hoff — May 17, 2000 3 min read

A coalition of education groups convened by a former presidential aide is setting out to improve civics education in the schools.

Thirty-six organizations representing educators, politicians, and public-policy experts announced last week that they were forming the National Alliance for Civics Education in an attempt to reverse what they see as teenagers’ growing apathy and cynicism toward government.

“Numerous recent surveys point to a common conclusion: Americans believe that we are economically prosperous but civically impoverished,” said William A. Galston, a professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland College Park and a former domestic-policy adviser to President Clinton.

“Here’s what is less well-known: Americans overwhelmingly believe that an intensified focus on the civic education of young people is an essential part of the response to this situation,” Mr. Galston added at a press conference announcing the new partnership here last week.

Mr. Galston, who also is advising Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign, assembled the coalition, which includes the American Federation of Teachers, the National 4-H Council, and the Council for Basic Education, as well as almost 50 individuals.

William A. Galston

They include university presidents, professors, and philanthropic leaders.

“There is gathering momentum around the country for civic education,” Karl T. Kurtz, the director of state services for the National Council of State Legislatures, said in an interview. Leaders are beginning to recognize the “negative consequences of cynicism and distrust” and are searching for ways to overcome them, said Mr. Kurtz, whose organization is a member of the alliance.

Political Ignorance

The problem is especially acute among young people, organizers say. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 are voting less frequently, are more suspicious of government officials, and less interested in politics than were previous generations at that age, said Michael Delli Carpini, the director of the public-policy program for the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Philadelphia-based foundation that is underwriting the civics education alliance.

What’s more, many students don’t understand basic details of government and politics. Last fall, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that only about 20 percent of U.S. students scored at the “proficient” level on its civics test. Roughly one-third of the sample fell below the “basic” level. (“Beyond Basics, Civics Eludes U.S. Students,” Nov. 24, 1999.) The way to reverse the trend, Mr. Galston says, is through the public schools.

Though the alliance is still setting its agenda, organizers say it will be committed to raising the time devoted to civics study in schools, increasing the amount of training in the subject for new and current teachers, and evaluating civics education to advise teachers on the materials they’ll need for high-quality classes.

“One of our first orders of business will be to reach out to states, with particular emphasis on states that say little or nothing about civic education,” Mr. Galston said.

The alliance also will be encouraging its members to participate in school programs.

Back-to-School Day

In addition to joining the new alliance, the Denver-based NCSL plans to launch its own effort to connect legislators with classrooms on Sept. 15.

The goal of “America’s Legislators Back-to-School Day” is for most of the nation’s 7,400 state lawmakers to visit classrooms to explain how the political process works and how students can participate in it, Mr. Kurtz said.

“One of the things we’re trying to project is that civic engagement is more than going out to vote,” he said. “We need to provide some orientation and perspective.”

The legislators will bring a message that a representative democracy requires that people with a variety of opinions need to compromise, and that people shouldn’t take an all-or-nothing approach to public policy.

Mr. Kurtz said he hopes the program may eventually lead to sustained contact between specific legislators and students, leading to real-life experiences in which students learn how the political process works.

Mr. Galston said one of the primary goals of the new alliance would be to evaluate programs such as the NCSL’s and publicize those that are most successful.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as Civics Alliance Forms To Combat Youths’ Political Apathy, Cynicism

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know
The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.
5 min read
A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair on March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author's children's titles because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Steven Senne/AP
Curriculum Opinion The Overlooked Support Teachers Are Missing: A Coherent Curriculum
Here’s the research on how districts can improve instructional systems—which was already a challenge in the best of times.
Morgan Polikoff, Elaine Wang & Julia Kaufman
5 min read
A team of people work together to build a block structure.
Imam Fathoni/iStock<br/>