Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Is More Civics A Solution To America's Democracy Stupidity?


Some propose improving and expanding Civics education in our schools.  I presume they mean our public schools25% of us attend private schools, 78% which are religious based, which raises all kinds of questions about reliance of facts, critical thinking, the scientific method versus "faith" and "belief" not requiring verification or rational challenges.

But, let's suppose reaching 75% of us with rigorous, fact-based, verified data and truth about our democracy and how they are impacted by self-governance would make a big difference in Civic participation. Let's examine first the concept of self-governance.  

Data suggests that an overwhelming majority of us typically do not vote in America, which is the first principle of self-governance. An overwhelming majority of us, the data suggests, never attend a village, town, city or state legislative meeting and do not know and have seldom talked to an elected official. 

So, would better and expanded Civics education change that materially?  I have serious doubts.  In my own family, deeply exposed to politics, government and political engagement  some are on record saying "fuck politics".  I wonder if my own experience is mirrored in the broader world of our population.  I don't know but deeply suspect that it would have little impact.  That does not mean it is not worth trying if our very democracy is at stake. Which it is at this very moment.

Here is what Civics educators have to work  with in the families surrounding our young Civics students.  According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center in a study published in 2018, only 26% of us can name the 3 branches of our government.  18% of us trust our government. Other studies tell us only 30% of us know that the House of Representatives have 2 year terms and only 25% of us can name the 5 freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  23% of 14 year old eight graders are proficient in the National Assessment of Educational Progress Civics Exam.  Only 9 of our 50 states require one year of Civics education in their public schools, only 32 of these states require instruction on American democracy and other systems of government, Constitutional history, the Bill of Rights or how to participate in self governance. Only 6 states require Civics education of any kind and 8 states require none.

Colorado and Idaho are considered models of really good Civics education. Their respective turnouts in the 2020 election, in the 84-85% levels, with very different Presidential  preference results suggests that I might be wrong.  I hope I am wrong. 

There is now serious questioning going on about the factual content of our American history education in public schools, valuing mythology and over actual documented facts about the failures of our founders and their successors in providing democratic governance for all of our citizenry over the course of the many decades and centuries of our history dating back to the 1600's.  That is is the subject of a raging public discussion today and that is both welcomed and invaluable in looking for solutions to ignorance and susectibility  of a significant plurality of our citizenry to cultish preference for untruth and the faster, easier adoption of authoritarian governance over the plodding, sometimes ineffectual methods provided by self-governing and citizen engaged democracy.

Some are advocating some form of national service as a solution.  There is evidence with some other democracies that this improves public engagement  and tolerance for differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  Yet, in many of those European democracies there is a similar trend toward right wing, authoritarian fascist movements as we are currently experiencing here in America.

There is no question that major reforms are necessary to make our democracy more responsive to the needs of our citizens, all of our citizens and less manipulated to the ends of hyper capitalism so pervasive in our country and its destructive influence on the success of citizen driven public engagement largely ignored by the majority of our people, driven by the failures of hyper-capitalism to provide for the basic needs of a huge portion of our populace.

The jury is out on Civics education.  It is well worth attempting to improve and make relevant to a people mostly driven by the need for economic and social stability.