Conference Urges Civics Education

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Byline: CHALK TALK By Pat Farr For The Register-Guard

Civics education - simply described as teaching the process and function of local, state and national government, as well as community service organizations - has been significantly de-emphasized at American middle and high schools during the past three decades.

The result is an ever-widening group of young people entering the work force or higher education whose apathy about what happens in government leads to less involvement in decision-making. This is characterized by much lower voter turnout in Americans age 18 to 26.

While many schools offer excellent advanced placement government classes, most do not require students to study civics. The 1960s and 1970s ushered in a growing distrust of government. The Vietnam War's national unpopularity gave rise to a generation that did not believe the government was effectively representing them. As interest in learning civics waned, so did curriculum teaching civics.

Consequently many people have little understanding of how to get involved with decision-making at the local, state and national levels. This leaves much decision-making in the hands of elected officials and a few active citizens. Few people disagree that broader involvement creates more judicious decisions.

I recently attended the Congressional Conference on Civic Education in Washington, D.C. Organized by the Alliance for Representative Democracy, the event drew delegates from all 50 states. The conference was a result of the efforts of a broad cross-section of executive, legislative and judicial interests, and was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The purpose of the conference was to define the need for civic education and identify means to return civics to the classroom. That's no easy task, given that federally mandated programs - namely President Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act - place strong emphasis on English, math and science. Keeping civic education on par with those core subjects is indeed a daunting task, but it's one we must address if we are going to engage the next generation in essential decision-making.

The conference involved two full days of intense discussions, with a range of guest speakers that included educators and elected officials. Panel discussions focused on civic engagement; ensuring a proper civic education; the role of professional development in civic education; and existing programs in civic education. …