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Unless civics is engrained in the nation’s social fiber from early childhood education through college, personal politics will remain a once-a-year venture to the polling booth for the few who actually show up on Election Day. The act of governance must be a perpetually inclusive and forward-thinking engagement among educated citizens.
This program’s requirements should include essential readings on the diverse American political experience, from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address. Further, this course could include a daily reading of national and local newspapers coupled with frequent presentations on articles that students find compelling.
In addition to iCivics-oriented digital activities, the course ought to include fieldwork for students to learn about those cultivating civic engagement and crafting government policies. One valuable assignment would be for students to conduct interviews and develop a feature story on a problem concerning their township or city. Such in-the-trenches activities would culminate in a visit to the students’ election board to register to vote.
By the end of the program, students would know that citizenship is more than just a privilege, it’s a duty. Americans should understand how their local government works, what federals checks and balances mean, and how public policies affect their lives. Then, not only will they be prepared to vote and engage in town halls, they will want to.
If successfully implemented in public schools, this proposal will not hurt minorities and immigrants; it will only galvanize them to fulfill their full degree of citizenship. With the myriad of domestic and foreign challenges facing the next generation of Americans, the time for civic education is now.