Civics education makes better citizens.
SOCIAL media is a showcase of civic illiteracy. It also could be a catalyst for promoting civic education in Washington’s classrooms.
As The New York Times reported, nearly half of all Americans didn’t know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Hurricane Maria devastated the United States, mind you, not a foreign power.
The civics deficit translates into “low-information” voting or, worse, no voting at all. Only a quarter of Americans can name the three branches of government.
• TVW, Washington’s public-affairs network, promotes civic learning through its ‘Teach with TVW’ project, focusing on hands-on civic education: teachwithtvw.org
• Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s ‘Legacy Washington’ provides school-lesson plans and book-length profiles of Washington icons: sos.wa.gov/legacy
Fifty-three percent of Americans assume that undocumented immigrants don’t have any rights under the U.S. Constitution, according to the Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey. Among self-identified conservatives, that number jumps to nearly 70 percent. Undocumented immigrants are, in fact, given due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause, a right which dates to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1886 Yick Wo v. Hopkins decision.
Civic ignorance is a bipartisan concern, uniting teachers, the private sector and government. TVW, Washington’s public-affairs network, promotes civic learning through its “Teach with TVW” project, focusing on hands-on civic education. As TVW President Renee Radcliff Sinclair notes, rote memorization in school is slowly being replaced by real-world experience, including tracking a bill and attending legislative-committee meetings in Olympia.
Advocates fear that Washington state education policymakers’ renewed emphasis on science and technology in schools is edging civics from the classroom. (A half-credit in high school civics is all that’s required.) Teachers and school districts are already freighted with unfunded mandates.
The Council on Public Legal Education has launched a Civic Learning Initiative, attracting the interest of Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman. The mission is to ensure statewide access for students to civic learning, supplemented by out-of-school programs. There’s also a concerted emphasis on outreach and teaching civics to underserved youth.
National and state history needs to be hitched to any civics’ curriculum. Attend a “We the People” civics competition of Washington high schoolers, and you’ll hear students not only reference President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to imprison Japanese-American citizens during World War II, but also acknowledge the Northwest’s role with Puyallup’s Camp Harmony or Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center.
Secretary Wyman continues to boost voter registration and educational outreach, partnering with state educators on curriculum development and sharing Washington history. “Legacy Washington,” in particular, is a gem, providing school-lesson plans and compelling, book-length profiles of Washington icons such as Billy Frank Jr. and former Gov. Dan Evans.
Reversing civic ignorance requires a collective, cross-sector effort. We need to begin today.