Preparing the next generation of citizens requires bringing back civics

Louise Dubé and Rajiv Vinnakota,

January 25, 2023

Citizens & Scholars President Rajiv Vinnakota and iCivics Executive Director Lousie Dubé co-write in The Hill how a recent omnibus provision passed by Congress singles a huge investment in civics education and cultivating the next generation of engaged citizens. 

Preparing the next generation of citizens requires bringing back civics

Buried in the year-end omnibus spending bill, Congress delivered a significant, new investment in civics education that will help cultivate the next generation of engaged citizens and strengthen American democracy.

The unheralded provision, which drew bipartisan support in the House and Senate, provides $23 million for K-12 civics education, including a competitive grant program for universities and nonprofits offering evidence-based, innovative approaches to improve the quality of education in civics, government and American history inside and outside the classroom.

Many of us of a certain age remember learning civics as part of a required school curriculum. For today’s students, civics is more likely a patchwork of social studies classes that cover the mere basics, if it’s taught at all. Only seven states require one year of civics or government studies; 13 states have no civics course requirement at all. Since 2000, federal spending on civics education has been slashed by more than 90 percent to just $4 million a year — that’s around five cents per student annually compared to $50 per student on STEM.

The results are disturbing. Only 47 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government (25 percent cannot name any), and more than half feel disaffected by our system of government and pessimistic about our democracy.

We have an opportunity and an obligation to turn this around for Gen Z. From an early age, they have been on the frontlines of urgent issues, including climate change, community violence, mental health, economic uncertainty and immigration. They are laser-focused on the future and embody a spirit of self-empowerment that big change is possible. However, they are also losing faith in institutions, from the government to the media to corporate America. They are skeptical of elected officials on both sides of the aisle. For many of them, the verdict is out on whether democracy works for all. Investments in civics can increase their interest in engaging in civic life and help them learn ways to do so productively.

Related: Gen Z is eager to help Arizona. All we need are opportunities to lead

This new funding, signed into law by President Biden, is an important step, but much more is needed. The Civics Secures Democracy Act, sponsored by bipartisan members in the House and Senate — including Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), and supported by the CivXNow coalition (which was founded by iCivics, where one of us serves as an executive director)  — offers one model and roadmap: a $1 billion investment across K-12 and higher education to expand educational programming in history and civics, with funding available for state education agencies, nonprofits and institutions of higher education and research.

But federal funding alone is insufficient to meet the scope of the challenge we face. State and local governments must also step up, and the private sector has a responsibility to participate and help lead the way. While the federal government should not mandate school curricula, it can spur and support efforts by local schools and communities to prepare young people for their critical role in our system of self-government.

With this funding comes an opportunity to not only reinvest in civic learning but to reimagine it with the next generation.

Read the full article here.

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