June 2015Volume 1Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Civics in our schools (Homes and communities) 2015

I was honored to be a part of the High School Mock Trials for 2015 and was thoroughly amazed at the talent of the students I listened to. After the mock trials, I began to ponder if any of these young people would then go on to become a part of our political culture, if the process of arguing a position would propel their deeper thinking of politics. This thought then pushed my conscience to thinking about our civics education in school, what is it and how is it perceived by young minds.

A bill making civics class a requirement for high school graduation in Illinois passed a state Senate committee on May 12.

Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, sponsor of House Bill 4025, passed the House 81-29 in April. He said the bill would ensure students are engaged in the political process, opponents say it is another unfunded mandate on schools that cannot afford to offer the course.

High school students must take at least two years of social studies to graduate. This bill would require at least one semester be a civics class. He sponsored the bill because he saw a growing trend of people not getting involved in government.

“While it serves a purpose, Facebook shouldn’t be the number one means of getting involved in your community,” he said.

McCormick Foundation, a nonprofit provides resources for civics education, has pledged $3 million to offset any costs in training for poorer school districts.

“The McCormick Foundation will fund the training and the rollout,” Cullerton said. “There’s private money helping it, but ISBE is creating the overall curriculum.”

The McCormick Foundation has an endowment of $1.57 billion, but Cullerton said should the funding dry up, other nonprofits and companies have expressed interest in backing the initiative.

I recalled when I was in school, many moons ago, civics education was something seen as having to endure and get through, a requirement, let’s say. The educator would stand at the front of the class, speak at the class and assign reading upon which the students would be tested. It was yawnable at best. It did not engage the student citizenry. Sadly enough, not many of my student colleagues ever engaged in any form of politics or self-governing participation, during their adulthoods. In fact, there is a lot of apathy and distrust in politics and politicians, in my generation. Most sadly, I see this apathy continuing with our youth.

So my thoughts then traveled to what would help to engage students not only in their learning of “civics” but also to be good citizens, once their formal civics education has ended. I then began to realize that civics education is a lifelong, on-going process, which if implemented properly should take place during our entire conscience existence. That our “civics” education is begun from the moment we are born until the day we die, being affected by our parents, our schools and the communities we live in.

We are affected from birth by our parents’ beliefs in politics, religion and level of activity in politics they engage in. We are affected during our years of schooling by our educators, with how well do our educators engage and challenge us in the political process, or do they only speak at us. After our own formal education process has ended we are then affected by our own activity level in the democratic process. How little or how much we ourselves engage in affecting decisions, or holding them accountable, of our law makers.

I do not believe merely voting, or writing letters to the editor is sufficient to be engaged and end political apathy. So if the formal type of educational training is not engaging our youth citizenry then what would?

I believe that hands on experiences and fruitful debate is what will engage our young people. It will remove apathy and help our youth to understand that they must be engaged in the political process to control the outcome of politics and how those politics will affect their futures. We must as an adult society instill in our “children” that they must be involved to have our culture continue as a “democracy.” We as parents, educators and the public must get our youth involved in attending and participating in local political meetings; fund drives; gathering signatures for local, state and national candidates, helping with candidates elections; participating in political clubs and organizations; and maybe engaging in occupations that can have an impact politically.

To engage our youth now will insure that there will be people in the future who will have the confidence to speak out and challenge mediocrity and look to new innovative ways to approach problems and correct them. We need new thinking, we need new blood within our political system. To do that we must engage those who will come after us to take over those positions we now hold. So civics teachers know that you have an incredible amount of responsibility and that is to be a prong in developing our future political and decision makers of our country, engage them in new ways, not just by teaching rote text, but by challenging their thinking, their questioning of decisions by law makers, by letting our youth know they have a voice and they can use it to challenge current ways of thinking.

This is “democracy.” ■

Login to post comments