Rushville Republican

September 16, 2010

Constitution Day 2010



Each year on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Americans are asked to stop and reflect on our system of government. The success of our democracy is determined by the participation of its citizens, and today, America’s citizens are voting less, volunteering less, and complaining more. The antidote for this cynicism and apathy is to learn how to become good citizens and to teach these lessons to those who follow, in short, civic education and engagement. Our democracy is a work in progress – one that can evolve for good or ill. The best assurance of its continued vitality is to make civic education a bedrock of our children’s education. Civic engagement must begin in the classroom. Too many Americans lack a thorough understanding of our representative democracy, our institutions, our obligation to those who came before, and what each of us can do to preserve the blessings of liberty. A multitude of surveys confirm this fact, but more significantly, they also reveal the roots of lagging political participation and civic engagement. This lack of understanding is also prevalent among our children. In 2010, only sixty-four percent of Indiana’s fifth graders passed the social studies ISTEP. Knowledge of civics and government was one of the areas tested. Americans have many concerns ranging from the pothole in front of their house, to the quality of health care, to American foreign policy. Each of these concerns must be addressed through civic engagement. Rarely does change come in giant leaps. Rather, change comes in baby steps: a letter is written to a local newspaper; a person stays informed about issues in their community and the nation; a vote is cast; a neighbor is listened to and his views understood; a dialogue is begun. These are not insignificant actions but are the building blocks of a better democracy. If you ask them, most Americans want to be better people, living in better communities, in a better state, and in a better nation. Many want to get involved, but do not know how. Others are focused on improving their own world, but don’t recognize the importance of civic engagement. American civic education must become more robust and teach our children not only why civic engagement is important, but also how to engage. For most Americans, their only exposure to civic education comes in the form of a one-semester high school course. This is far too little focus for a subject of such importance and is insufficient to produce the engaged citizenry necessary to sustain democracy. The key to democracy’s continued success is to place civics on a par with math, science, and English. Civics must be taught systematically, at every grade level, as a core component of the curriculum. Only if we put a premium on civic education is it fair to expect our citizens to be engaged participants in their own governance. American democracy makes a wager on each citizen. The deal is simple: with freedom comes obligation, with liberty comes duty. If you and I do not fulfill our side of that wager, our democracy is doomed. You and I must also ensure that our children are equipped to fulfill the deal themselves. They are the future of democracy. We must give them both the passion and the competence to be effective. If we become a nation of spectators we will surely fail.