Bring back civics

Opinion: Columns

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By Karen Muriello

One View

Can we be trusted with democracy? I'm starting to conclude that we can't, that we don't care enough, or know enough, to be trusted with our remarkable form of government.

An Annenberg Report found that less than one-third of eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and that only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of government. Sad. No, absolutely tragic.

Bruce Thornton of the Hoover Institute wrote, "The American people are not informed or smart enough for democracy," and "the masses are driven by their passions or private short-term interests." Yep. It's no wonder then that our federal government is in the chaotic, gridlocked state it's in.

I remember watching the news with my parents, way back in the bad old days when there were just three television stations. Walter Cronkite was our guy — authoritative and trusted, an objective source of news. We believed him.

Today, amid a plethora of news and opinion in the media, Americans appear to avoid sources of news that disagree with their personal opinion. Taking news from our social media feeds only worsens this problem.

"Civics" education used to be a standard part of American public education. In the '60s it was absorbed into history curricula. I was an elementary school student when this happened. I was sad about it then; I'm sadder about it now.

Civics teaches the rights and obligations of citizenship. It teaches us to listen to all sides of a question, to know what is going on in the world, and to rely on more than one news source. It teaches us how government works, how laws change, and the importance of our role in that process as voters — or in running for office ourselves. Civics teaches us how to debate both sides of a question, have respect and empathy for those who disagree with us, and ultimately how to negotiate compromise.

The politics of division, low voter turnout, and D.C. gridlock are symptoms of our ignorance. 

Can we please begin talking about bringing Civics back into public school classrooms?

Karen Muriello is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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Reader Comments

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Mary Kay O'Grady  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 8:20 PM

Since knowing about how our country should work is so important, I think 2 - 3 years of a combined American history, government and culture course should be required in high school.

Jeanine Pedersen from Oak Park  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 2:35 PM

In Illinois, students take the Constitution test in 7th grade as well as in high school. Additionally, Civics, as of graduating class of 2020, is a requirement for high school graduation in the state.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 1:24 PM

This must be a trap. mother nature sunk the Titanic, the Germans sunk the Lusitania, and there was no America to lend ships to Columbus.

Albert Franklin from Palo Alto  

Posted: April 10th, 2019 1:20 PM

The best history teach, taught me in junior high in Mountain View, California. After that, he would get me to read a little bit more, but at the time, I did not see the point in my doing so. It was because of that, I can see history and learn a great deal more such as I know that at the time of the sinking of the Titanic Germany was sinking ships they knew were carrying weapons which would be used against them. I am also aware, that Columbus wrote that he sank one of his sailing vessels which was replaced by an American sailing ship, with a third or his crew whom he left here in the America, while he took back to Spain with him Arawak sailors.

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