Civics Education Brief

Claire Benson, Lifestyles Editor

This experiment speaks to a larger issue in America: a lack of civic education. There is a large focus on history in secondary education, and much less of a focus on current events and politics, an equally-important counterpart. 

Nationally, students perform at a low level when asked questions about the basic areas of civics: Politics and government, the American political system, the roles of government, world affairs, and the roles of citizens. 

According to the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 23 percent of eighth grade students scored “proficient” or “above proficient” on the civics portion of the exam and were unable to answer questions such as, “Identify a Presidential responsibility not in the Constitution.” This means that 77 percent of students performed “below proficient” or worse, demonstrating the true lack of understanding about the government, an institution that influences the daily lives of these students. 

Despite the fact that the government, on the state and federal level, control schools, regulate public transportation, guarantee basic freedoms, and more, students feel disconnected from the political environment in America, and this apathy leads to ignorance about current events and governmental developments. 

“Politics is very boring, and it doesn’t seem to affect me,” sophomore Megan Splan said. “I cannot vote. I feel like cannot make a difference.”

This general disinterest and lack of education does not solely affect students, but American adults that grew up with little political education as well. 

“In 2019, 2 in 5 Americans (39 percent) were able to name all three branches of government … More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania published in a recent poll. 

This poll shows the true lack of awareness of Americans, not only of current events, but of the basic governmental structure and rights upon which the U.S. was created. This statistic engenders questions about the reason that politics is such a poorly-known subject area among adults and teenagers alike. 

The inherent nature of political discourse is one of disagreement and moral difference. Within a two-party system, there is innate animosity that leads to counterproductive political discussions and a lack of motivation to endorse such debates in an educational setting. 

“Politics can be very controversial,” senior Roshni Veeramachaneni said. “In my AP government class when we discussed moral issues, things could be very heated. I sometimes felt judged by people with different views because they could be very passionate and not consider a different point of view. This leads to people becoming more set in their own views.”  

According to Pew Research, many Americans have a similar mindset, believing the quality of political debates to have decreased over time. Eighty-five percent of adults say these debates have become less respectful, 76 percent claim it is less factual, and 60 percent say it has become less issue-driven. 

This change in political debates illustrates the dysfunctional nature of political discussions across America today and highlights the reason that there is a growing aversion to politics. 

“Most high school students are not truly educated about politics or just do not care, and people don’t want to feel in the minority or have others attempt to invalidate their opinion, ” senior Evan Hayen said.

However, despite the need for this change, there has been little progress made in Michigan in the way of civic education; other states have seen progress with an incentivization by way of law. 

In order to combat these obstacles, many states have implemented legislation in order to normalize discussions about politics, show students how they are personally impacted by the government, and demonstrate the value of civil debates through improved civics education. 

Massachustts is one of the states with the strongest bills supporting civic education. The bill, Bill S.2631, was enacted on November 8, 2018; it promotes a more engaged curriculum for civics education, mandating each student to participate in a non-partisan civics project in their community. This bill complements an earlier action by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts that created a stronger framework for civic education in public schools. 

Students have begun to see real effects after this bill was passed, and many have seen the value in a broader exposure to politics.

“Students should be exposed to politics as much as possible in order to help them grow into active political participants,” Jillian Steeves, a high school student in Massachusetts, said to The New York Times when asked about her take on politics in education. “This means that in schools, students should be learning about the way the government operates and the types of political processes that are used.” 

In conducting this survey, the results have proven that there is a similar need for a stronger dedication to civics education in Michigan as well. With only two students having the ability to identify the Senate majority leader, there is an evident problem within the exposure to current events in schools. Participation in a community project will expose students to the value of politics and democratic values; they have been proven to improve students awareness about the American government as they are personally connected.