Civic education is necessary for every citizen to be able to perform the required obligations in a democracy. However, the teaching of civic education in schools has declined. This discussion aims to shed light on the current situation of civic education in the United States.
The reasons why the teaching of this subject is being neglected are explored. Moreover, the differences in the way white and minority students participate in civic education are discussed. The paper also examines the importance of teaching this subject in schools and the best methods that can be used to efficiently pass on this knowledge to the students.
Civic education arms students with the necessary knowledge and skills in order for them to be able to take part in the activities that citizens in a democracy are involved with. It enables them to exercise their civil liberties and carry out their responsibilities as future responsible citizens.
In addition, it prepares the young people for the roles of leading their country or participating in the country’s political activities. Civic education also aims to bond the youth and their country. It teaches the youth not to be self centered but also be concerned about the welfare of their society and country as a whole. Moreover, it teaches them to be loyal to their country and be ready to defend it at all times. Therefore, it is important that this subject is adequately represented in the school curriculum.
Reasons why schools have stopped teaching civic education
In the United States, civic education is rarely taught in schools. Courses touching on civic education are rarely included in the curriculum, and if they are, the students study it for a very short time. The subject is assigned few lessons. This is not enough to instill knowledge to the students about their government, rights and responsibilities.
Many students are disinterested in the subject because they are not enlightened on the importance of political awareness. Many Students do not even take part in student elections and are disinterested in community initiatives like taking care of the environment. Most of them do not even know what is contained in the constitution or their civil rights. Therefore they have no idea what privileges they are entitled to as legitimate citizens in a democracy, and consequently would not know if their rights were violated (Gehring, 2005).
In addition, there is little effort on the part of the government to enforce a public policy in support of civic education. Therefore, civic education is not adequately included in the school curriculums. The curriculum incorporates civic education in few units or courses and therefore it is not taught thoroughly.
Moreover, the teachers are not well prepared to teach the subject. The teaching of the subject is done by teachers qualified to teach other subjects. Many teachers are also not knowledgeable in the matters of civic education. Therefore, they cannot be able to enlighten the students on this matter. Some of them do not even know the relevance of teaching the subject.
Additionally, the teachers feel that civic education should not be allocated a lot of time. Therefore, they reduce the civic education lessons and spend more time teaching other subjects that they consider to be important, for instance, mathematics and sciences. This therefore denies the students enough knowledge on the subject.
The teachers also feel that instilling civic knowledge to students is not their responsibility only and therefore they can get it from other sources outside the school. They assume that students can learn this information from churches, community or though adult civic education programs once they finish school. Outside the school, civic education is taught to adults through adult civic education programs. These programs are initiated by the government or Non-Governmental Organizations.
The citizens are taught about how to become good citizens and leaders, how to participate in electing leaders and what their rights as citizens are. In addition, issues like low levels of citizens’ participation in the government’s activities and neglecting of certain groups in the society are tackled. However, the teaching of civic education should start from school so that the students gain a proper understanding of civic issues from an early age (Office of Democracy and Governance, 2002).
Minorities’ involvement with civic education
American schools comprise of white students and those from minority groups. There is a difference in civic participation between these two groups of students. Students from minority groups are less involved with civic education than the white ones. They rarely attend civic meetings and seldom participate in civic activities like volunteering and voting, among others.
America has a history of sidelining the minorities and consequently, the minority students do not trust the government. Before the 1960’s minority groups in America were denied their civil rights. For instance, the education facilities for the whites and the minorities were separated. The facilities designed for the minority groups were usually of poor quality and little government funds were availed to improve them.
The minorities were also denied voting rights by being deregistered. Therefore, they could not take part in the process of electing their representatives. The minorities were also discriminated in matters of economic and employment opportunities. Crimes of violence were also perpetrated against them.
Therefore, this history of slavery and injustices against the minority groups creates disinterest among the minority students. They feel alienated and unwanted in their country. Many minority students feel excluded from the American history therefore they are not interested in civic education (Iram, 2006).
Today the minority groups have equal civil rights as the other white children. However students from minority groups do not actively take part in civic education. Discursive democracy is encouraged in civic education, which does not enable members from all groups, including minorities to participate equally and voice their concerns.
Even if they participate, their contributions are not taken seriously and therefore they are not able to influence the discussion. The minorities also need to learn the common language of expression so that their views can not be misunderstood (Blum, 1999).
Students from the minority groups think that civic engagement is for rich white children because they feel discriminated. The school curriculum is not accommodating to the minorities as it is designed with the assumption that all students are white. The curriculum and teachers also assume that all students are well off.
Therefore, the problems of poor minorities are not taken into consideration during civic education. Therefore, these students feel that they are being treated as insignificant citizens. The schools also assume that every student speaks English whereas many minorities have other native languages. All the documents used in teaching civic education like the constitution are written in English. This denies the minority students an equal opportunity to understand civic knowledge (Nodding, 2005).
Citizens from minority groups are mostly less educated and have lower incomes than whites and these contribute to their low participation in civic activities. The civic education curriculum taught to minorities is different as the teachers feel that the minorities need proper understanding on how to become good citizens (Levinson, 2003).
Involvement and participation of white children in civic education
White children have always been given better privileges in schools throughout American history. During racial segregation, the schools attended by white children were well funded and had good facilities compared to those of the minority groups.
White American children participate a lot in civic education. They feel a sense of belonging in their country and therefore engage in activities to improve its welfare. This is because the system of education and the laws were designed with the white students in mind. The school curriculum is in favor of white children as it is designed with the assumption that all children are white, rich and speak English as their native language (Nodding, 2005).
Students from white families are also rich and are able to participate properly in civic activities. They can participate in community building, and other activities. They can also afford the necessary equipment required for students to participate actively in civic activities.
The white students also actively take part in civic activities like electing student leaders. They have trust in their government because they are properly represented. Even when they leave school, statistics show that white citizens are the most active participants in civic activities. They vote in large numbers and are more likely to attend civic meetings, and take part in community development activities (Blum, 1999).
The country’s core documents like the constitution are written in English; therefore the white children can clearly understand its contents as they are native English speakers. During civic discussions in class, the white students participate more actively because they are English speakers and can express their views without being misunderstood. Therefore they are able to influence the discussion.
Reasons why civic education should be taught in schools
Civic education is taught in schools, communities, labor unions, churches. The citizens are taught how to vote wisely, what rights they are entitled to, or how to resolve conflicts. Teaching civic education in schools is important because it instills civic knowledge to the students from an early age. Civic education can be taught from as early as kindergarten all the way through the entire school life. Therefore, this knowledge prepares the students to be future democratic citizens.
They learn the importance of shared responsibility and taking initiative. Civic education should be incorporated in school curriculums in order to achieve this goal. The contents of the course should be in line with the needs and the level of the students. For instance, kindergarten children should not be taught complex issues as this will be taught later when they can clearly understand it.
The students must be prepared to either be good rulers or obedient citizens. Students need to be taught that in democracies there must be the rule of law and everyone should obey it. They are also supposed to challenge the rules that are unjust It teaches them how to co-exist with other members of the society and to live ethically.
Civic education entails knowing the country’s governance history, how an autonomous government works, the responsibilities of different sections in the government, their privileges and responsibilities as citizens, the rationale and procedures of voting, among others (Crittenden, 2007).
The citizens in a democracy must have the correct knowledge, virtues and behavior in order for it to develop. The citizens must understand how their government is run and whether their welfare is being taken into consideration. Citizens need civic education in order to be able to know how they can progress themselves locally and nationally.
They must be taught the importance of trusting in their government and obeying the law in order to avoid any conflicts. This ensures a stable democratic system. Civic education enables the citizens to learn the virtues expected of them in a democratic system like loyalty, forbearance, concession and reverence for the law. The citizens are also encouraged to actively and responsibly participate in activities like voting, among others (Lynch, 1997).
Civic education should be taught to every student in a democracy in order to mold them into responsible and enlightened citizens in future. It instills political knowledge and awareness about various issues in the government, including the functions of the government, the rights of citizens, the responsibilities of leaders, and the composition of the political organizations, among others. The citizens also get to know their civil rights and what to expect from the government.
In addition, civic education encourages political participation among the citizens. It enlightens the citizens and empowers them to take part in political activities that shape their future. These include voting, attending government meetings, challenging injustices, and pressurizing their elected leaders to represent them effectively. They learn that they are not just passive but active participants in their own governance.
Civic education also raises the political worth among the citizens. The citizens feel empowered, in control, and in charge of making the decisions that affect their welfare. They have the audacity to challenge any injustices perpetrated against them. They even condemn poor representation by their leaders. They can even protest if their rights are violated.
Civic education is also important because it imparts the necessary democratic principles in the citizens. For instance the students learn that they should have loyalty, forbearance, respect for the rule of law and concession. These values are important for a democratic government to prosper.
The study of this subject also creates awareness to the citizens and therefore they begin to see the defects in the way their government is run. Therefore they are able to push for changes in the way things are done. This leads to better governance and a better democracy.
Moreover, civic education empowers all the members to actively take part in the political activities. This includes the women and the minority groups. These citizens get enlightened on equal rights and therefore there is increased participation in the activities of the democracy by all the citizens regardless of their gender or race.
According to Branson (1998) civic education involves teaching the ideals of self governance to the students. The students learn how to take part in the civic activities in order to enhance the wellbeing of their country. It enables them to make informed choices about the governance off their country. Civic education arms the students with civic skills, knowledge and dispositions.
Civic education gives the students knowledge about their country and how it is governed. The students get to know the proper meaning of being civically engaged and what government means.
This helps them to understand why it is important to have a government and the rule of law governing all the citizens. It will enable them to learn the roles of the government and therefore they can challenge the government if those roles are not performed satisfactorily. They will get a clear understanding of the importance of self-governance (Audigier, 1993).
Besides they get to know the composition of the political system and its values. This enables them to know the history of their country and the values that it upholds. This will in addition enable them to know their constitutional rights as citizens and the need to obey the rule of law, and practice loyalty and other virtues. Understanding of this knowledge will involve the exploration of certain documents like the constitution and other legal documents with fundamental information about that country.
The students also gain knowledge about what is contained in the constitution and whether the government is in line with democratic principles. This will enable them to find out if their government is upholding the values contained in the constitution and whether the rights of the citizens are being violated.
In addition, the students get to know what is expected of them as citizens in the democracy. The students get to understand that each one of them has obligations as a citizen to ensure the well being of the country. They learn that their active participation in civic activities can improve their standards of living. This can be achieved through participation in the election of leaders, community service, among others.
Furthermore, they get insight on how their country relates with other countries in the world. The students get to knows how matters happening around the world affect them. The world is interconnected and matters happening in one country affect the rest in some way. They understand why good relations with other countries area important in ensuring their wellbeing.
According to OBrien (2010) civic education enables students to acquire the necessary skills to enable them to perform their obligations and fight for their rights. They acquire both logical skills and other skills to enable them to take part in civic activities. Logical skills include critical thinking, evaluating and analyzing issues. The citizens are able to think critically and analyze issues related to the democracy.
They are able to understand the meaning of national symbols like the flag. Moreover they understand the importance of values such as loyalty. They get to analyze how their government works and therefore are able to identify any misconduct on the part of government officials. The students acquire good decision-making skills which enable them to make informed and correct decisions on matters affecting them.
The students as well learn how to relate with others without conflict. They learn to share and exchange ideas with others meaningfully. Civic education enables students to learn enough skills to enable them to take part in the civic activities of their country. It teaches them how to resolve crises by engaging in peaceful dialogue. Students learn to participate in activities like meetings, court hearings, elections, community service, among others.
Another importance of civic education is that it helps students to develop values that are necessary in a democracy. The students are taught to be responsible, respectful of others and loyal to the country. They are also taught to abide by the laws of the democracy. They learn that self-governance involves people performing their responsibilities and having self-regulation in everything and not relying on the country’s laws to govern them.
They also learn what is expected of them as citizens including serving the community, electing leaders, pin-pointing injustices, paying taxes, among others. It enables the students to be informed about what is going on in the government and whether proper procedures are being followed, failure of which corrective measures should be recommended.
Methods used in teaching civic education
In order for civic education to be effective, it has to be taught through a number of ways. These include discussion groups, staging dramatizations, mock political and legal dealings, distributing civic literature, lectures and mass media among others.
Each method applied should match with the intended goal. For instance, passive methods like lectures are used to merely pass on information about a particular issue whereas vigorous methods like dramatization should be used to change the citizens’ perceptions and actions towards democracy (Feith, 2010).
Successful civic learning takes place when the lessons are held frequently. Moreover when teaching methods that are participatory like dramatizations, mock-ups and discussions are applied, better results are achieved. In addition, when teachers encourage their students to actively participate in the civic learning activities more productive learning takes place and the students are able to grasp concepts more swiftly. Therefore the quality of training is important in fostering good democratic behavior to the students (Lewis-Ferrell, 2007).
Successful civic education should include participatory activities. The teacher should initiate discussions about civic issues that are happening both locally and internationally in order to illustrate her points. In addition, after the theoretical teaching is over the teacher should look for avenues where the students can apply the knowledge. This can be in form of doing community service. Moreover, the schools’ extracurricular activities should include civic engagement.
The activities should include ways through which students can contribute to the welfare of their school and the community as a whole. Students should also be included in the process of making decisions that affect them. This encourages them to participate more actively in civic activities. Engaging students in community service gives them a sense of responsibility and prepares them to take up their roles in the community in future (Levinson and Stevick, 2007).
The teaching of civic education should largely include discussions. The students should be allowed to voice their opinions about various issues. Discussions will enhance the detailed learning of a range of civic issues and will also create a feeling of democracy among the sstudents because each person will be ggiven an opporrtunity to share theirs views (Prasanth, 2004).
From the above discussion, it is evident that civic education is an important ingredient in molding students into politically enlightened and democratic citizens in future.
Therefore it is a pity that currently, this subject is not taken seriously in American schools. The subject is not adequately represented in the school curriculums and therefore most students have little or no civic knowledge. This calls for action to be taken to ensure that students gain civic education because the future of a democratic nation depends on civically enlightened citizens.
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