“Young people aren’t learning anything about civics today.”
“When I was a kid, we learned how to be good citizens.”
You might have heard statements like this, or even said them yourself in the past. Often they follow a news report of some sort which reveals an utter lack of understanding on how government works, or just a report on a bill that passed with which the speaker disagreed.
Even as a history teacher, I too have been tempted to think kids aren’t learning citizenship, but of course I know from firsthand experience that that is not the truth at all. In fact, our state requires some kind of civics and citizenship learning at every single level of school -- even Pre-K! It’s right there in the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies.
So what are we talking about when we say “civics?” According to the state standards, civics is defined as “the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how their governments work. The goal of civics is to develop literate, informed, competent, and responsible citizens who are
politically aware, active, and committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy.”
But how do we really become politically aware in a fragmented media landscape where truth is out of style (shout out to MC 900 Ft. Jesus)? It’s hard when people don’t prioritize their citizenship and choose to take in sound bites instead of really studying an issue. My own mother has said repeatedly “they’re all liars!” so many times of late, and I don’t argue with her (I mean why would I? She’s the momma!), but I don’t think we should all just throw up our hands, thinking it’s beyond saving. Because what is the “it”, really? IT is our nation! I think it’s worth spending time doing some digging into primary sources to find out what’s going on in our local and national governments.
How do we practice citizenship by being politically active without being politically offensive? I found a lot of interesting suggestions on www.goodcitizen.org and I encourage you to try a couple of them. For instance, one says “go on a police ride-along.” This is a great experience and everyone should do it. Another is to “serve on a jury if asked.” People always talk about trying to get out of jury duty, but I can tell you the process can be fascinating if you recognize that you are a part of it, even if you aren’t the one in the witness box.
Hopefully your family is getting ready for Thanksgiving this week, the most American of all holidays. Part of showing gratitude is by actually serving the nation in which we live, be that through the military, at a polling place, or as a volunteer. We should all be on the same page on this one, people. If we’re not, Lord help us all.