When over 90 percent of people with incomes over $100,000 vote while less than 40 percent of people making less than $15,000 vote, we have a huge threat to the foundation of democracy in our country. This is not the only civic gap. Seniors vote more than young people. Natural citizens vote better than naturalized citizens. Women vote better than men. Black and White people vote substantially better than Hispanic and Asian citizens. Meira Levinson of Harvard University refers to this as the “Civic Empowerment Gap.” This gap needs as much attention in our schools as other academic gaps.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) includes civic literacy in its framework for 21st century learning. The P21 definition of civic literacy includes participation in civic life, exercising rights and obligations of citizenship, and understanding the local and global implications of civic decisions. We demonstrate our citizenship at the local and state levels, the national level, globally, and digitally. Citizenship can be taught, learned, and must be practiced to preserve our democracy.
The current version of education reform has been disastrous for civic literacy. We have relegated our curriculum to teaching only those things that are tested. We have minimized the power and importance of social studies teachers and curriculum. It is not surprising that the students who receive inadequate instruction in civics, government or American History are the students in high poverty schools. Did you make the connection? Poor people get the least education in civic literacy, and poor people participate the least in exercising their basic rights of citizenship. Even worse, the income gap between poor people and rich people is at an all time high. Our democracy is most assuredly threatened by these dynamics.
We need teachers to put on their capes and rescue our democracy. Teachers must do the following: integrate their curriculum and lessons with good teaching techniques to enhance civic literacy; utilize project-based learning that promotes understanding of government and citizenship; learn about other cultures, languages, and nations; incorporate service learning into all subjects to enhance the student’s achievement as well as to help others; use digital technology to engage students in civics locally and globally; and recognize that public schools exist to preserve our democracy. We must never lose sight of this mission, and we must trust the creativity of teachers to close the civic gap.
While teachers are doing their good work, we must reject those ideas that would suppress civic empowerment. Voter ID bills are a smokescreen for suppression. Voter fraud is statistically not a problem, but voter participation is. Political offices that can only be held by the rich and powerful undermine our democracy. Don’t let elections be bought. Talk, write, and argue for civic literacy as a major component of our schools. Our democracy may depend on you.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed 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.