To Increase Knowledge of Civics, Try Teaching Civics

By Cole, Bruce | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, June 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

To Increase Knowledge of Civics, Try Teaching Civics


Cole, Bruce, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Amid this election season, the Educational Testing Service and the Council on Foreign Relations are worried about Americans knowledge of civics.

A recent report by the ETS, Fault Lines in Our Democracy follows on the heels of a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations. Both reports deplore the lack of civic knowledge and both suggest remedies. The CFR links education with national security and calls for broad school reforms; the ETS concentrates on what is called civic engagement. Unfortunately, for all the information this new report contains on who engages and who does not, it fails to make the most constructive suggestion to make sure teachers and students are taught fundamentals of U.S. history and government.

ETS demonstrates a relationship between civic engagement and age, income, and educational levels. In other words, if youre 55 or older, have an advanced degree, and earn more than $100,000 per year, its more likely you will cast a ballot and participate in some kind of civic service than if youre younger, have fewer dollars, and less education.

ETS, an outfit thats close to the higher education establishment (it administers the SAT, a test not without its critics), will certainly applaud this statistical correlation. But it is just that a correlation. It would be facile to conclude that it equals causation.

Often it is issues, not education levels or wealth, that motivate voters. If you dont believe this, just look at the 2008 and 2010 elections. Also, there is no proof offered by the ETS that older, wealthier voters have more civic knowledge than any other section of the electorate.

Moreover, the acts of voting and service are not the only tests of citizenship. What about philanthropy, jury duty, or service in the military?

The ETS report proposes a number of ways to increase voting and other civic engagement. Remedies include easier access to voting, strengthening confidence in government (tell that to the General Services Administration), more exposure to civic knowledge and working to close education achievement gaps. …

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