Prepare Youth for Citizenship; A 'Show and Tell' of America's Founding Principles

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Prepare Youth for Citizenship; A 'Show and Tell' of America's Founding Principles


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Too few studies of what's wrong with our school systems focus on a crucial failure - enabling the young to learn the foundations of their liberties and responsibilities. How do local, state and federal governments interact? How does the Constitution work, and why and how has it survived as the oldest guarantor of its citizens' freedoms in the world?

A chilling 2003 report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland reveals that in our high schools, "most formal civic education today comprises only a single course on government compared to as many as three courses in civics, democracy and government that were common in the 1960s." This situation has not yet markedly improved.

The report adds that in this single civics course, these days, there is hardly any discussion of the role of a citizen in this society.

It's not surprising, then, that as columnist Robyn E. Blumner of the St. Petersburg Times reports: "A National Conference of State Legislatures survey recently found that 64 percent of 15- to 26-year-olds can identify Ruben Studdard as a winner on American Idol, while only 40 percent can name the party that controls Congress." This May, in New York City, 81 percent of eighth-graders flunked the state's basic social studies exam, which includes civics knowledge. Said Councilman Oliver Koppell, Bronx Democrat, to the New York Daily News: "I am dumbfounded that when I go into a class and I ask them who the mayor is, or what a congressman does, they don't know."

Yet there are organizations around the country trying to remedy this crucial omission in how we prepare the young for citizenship. One of the most impressive is the Center for Civic Education in Calabasas, Calif., and Washington, whose programs reach some 4.8 million students across the nation annually (3 million domestic and the 1.8 million youngsters involved in its foreign programs).

For years, I have recommended their "We the People: the Citizens and the Constitution" program in my visits to elementary, middle and high schools. Its compelling curriculum makes the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the essential principles of this democratic republic come alive.

The Center for Civic Education also runs "We the People: Project Citizen," which gets middle-school students and youth organizations to participate in local and state government.

However, President Bush's education budget for the next fiscal year annihilated funding for these programs. Therefore, both in the House and Senate, there is a strong bipartisan drive to ensure that the center's civic education program is included in the fiscal 2006 Labor-, Health and Human Services-, Education appropriations bill at $21.5 million, the same level as last year.

In the House, leading this vital support for the future of our constitutional democracy are Ralph Regula,Ohio Republican, David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and the 96 House members who joined them. …

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