What Kind of Civics Education Should Americans Get?

There’s only so many times you can see a social media commenter tell you that the Senate is not part of Congress before you want to call it quits.

I wish I were kidding, but yes, I’ve actually had this happen to me. And so much more.

So when I came across the Atlantic’s recent article, Can Civics Save America?, I read it with great interest.

The author shares some truly horrifying, but perhaps not terribly surprising, statistics like that only 1 in 4 Americans can name all three branches of government, or that 37% can name a single right they have under the First Amendment.

There’s been a widespread failure in our country to teach kids not just the facts and concepts about our government, but also the concept that it’s ok and even normal to disagree. This quote really stood out to me:

“The art of self-government depends on a capacity for argument, persuasion, compromise, and tolerance of disagreement—civic virtues that need to be learned and practiced.”

At a time when we are dealing with so much disinformation, I wonder if the population was better informed about how our government works — and honestly, how elections are run or how our court system works — less of the disinformation would take hold. I mean, if Americans understood what Congress was actually doing on January 6th, they couldn’t have gotten whipped up into a frenzy believing that it was possible to overturn the election. They would still have been upset about the outcome of the election, but the insurrection wouldn’t have happened.

There are attempts to pass legislation to help schools teach more civics, but of course, it’s being attacked by the right. (The Atlantic article has more on that effort.) In the meantime, I think we can all make sure that we make sure we know how things work, and pass on that knowledge to our own kids, family, and friends.

One thing I like to do from time to time is take a practice civics quizzes. (Yes, I can be a bit of a nerd.) There’s a bunch of them out there. Here’s one: Civics Practice Test

If you have children in your house, there are a ton of resources out there, from lesson plans to YouTube series (by reputable organizations) to full curriculums. I encourage you to look at some and be sure to teach your kids what they need to know.

Ultimately, while many politicians may prefer that the populace doesn’t understand how our government works, it is in our best interest to make sure that we do. That’s how and why grassroots efforts have been so successful over the years. We know how to get things done.

I’ll leave you with a lighthearted moment from the Pixar movie The Incredibles that I find very relevant. In the first half of this clip, the boss is very upset that our superhero’s customers have figured out how to “penetrate the bureaucracy.” It always gives me a laugh.

Scene from the Pixar movie, The Incredibles

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5 replies

  1. Well, you know my thoughts on this. We ALL need LIFELONG CIVICS EDUCATION. We can’t expect what we learned in public school to be sufficient for the rest of our lives. The political system is complex, and – surprising to many – changes over time. For example, jurisdictions that now use newer elections systems like ranked-choice voting.
    I have developed some workshops that cover everything from elections, to the Constitution/Congress, to how to be a citizen activist; I also teach about misinformation. Anyone out there who would like to check them out – and encourage their own local community orgs or libraries to sponsor them should go to http://www.civicthinker.info
    Typically, a sponsor will pay for the workshop and it will be free to the public [or their members, if that applies]. They are now virtual.
    I have a background as a teacher and a librarian. Have presented at conferences, for organizations like the League of Women Voters, and often for libraries. I see public libraries as the go-to places for lifelong civics education.
    I have two workshops coming up in the next two weeks. They are shown on the Schedule page of the website.

  2. Hello TOKYOSAND. I am an older person with no real educational grounding but it amazes me that often I have more education in some subjects than a lot of the commenters I deal with online. Then I find the common denominator. Home Schooled education. Mostly by programs designed by religious organizations. They are designed to mislead and out right lie to both children and child student. Yet it is scary how pervasive they are in our country. Even worse online. And if the curriculum is religious based, almost nothing you can show them or point them to has any effect, they are convinced they are correct. There is no mistaking the correlation between a country becoming more religious and that country also losing its understanding of science, biology and historical knowledge. The US is the country that once put people on the moon yet now we have flat earthers, anti-vaccine nuts, and young earth creationist demanding creationism be taught in schools. Hugs


  1. What kind of civics education should Americans get. – Political Charge | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

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