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Civics education a building block of our American Democracy

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We all know about reading, writing and arithmetic, but have you ever thought about the importance of our children learning civics? Arizona is leading a push to make sure civics is a part of our curricula. In 2015, Governor Ducey and legislators made sure students had to pass a civics test to graduate from high school. That begins with this year’s senior class. Arizona was the first state in the nation to make this requirement.

But years before that, in 2009, an Arizona legend began another effort to bring civics into the classroom. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics to restore civic education in our nation’s schools. As Justice O’Connor said, “The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.”

Sen. Kimberly Yee

Sen. Kimberly Yee

I had the honor of standing alongside Justice O’Connor a couple weeks ago in the Arizona Senate, as I read SCR 1026, a resolution I authored to express our continuing commitment to the promotion of civics education in Arizona schools. Coincidentally, in addition to our interest in civics education, Justice O’Connor and I are the only female Senate Majority Leaders in state history.

So how concerned should we be about a lack of civics education? The National Assessment of Educational Progress found only 23 percent of 8th Graders performed at proficient level in civics. A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found only 36 percent of adults could name all three branches of government. More than one in three individuals couldn’t even name one branch. More than half of Americans do not know which party controls the U.S. House and Senate.

The success of our Republic depends on the active participation of its citizens. As it says in the Resolution, the lack of an educational foundation regarding the fundamentals of the democracy established by this country’s founders and defended by generations of American soldiers increases the potential for incivility and threatens the sustainability of our American democracy.

Civics education helps teach children the principles and history of constitutional democracy. I encourage parents to join me in promoting enhanced civics education in our schools. Civics education is vital to our nation’s future. Let’s make this happen together.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, is the Senate Majority Leader.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

8 comments

  1. Never mind all this pushing for new initiatives, the damn legislature needs to figure out how to pay for education and leave the curriculum to educators.
    As an aside, the legislature needs some civics lessons as well

  2. I applaud your efforts to ensure that students understand our system of government, Senator, it is vital in order for them to effectively engage with that government. One step we can all take to help do that is communicating clearly and accurately with them–let’s stop using the word “democracy” when referring to the United States.

    The founders considered many forms of government, including democracy, and rejected all of them in favor of a republic. It is popular these days to use the term when talking about the U.S. but it serves only to confuse those that don’t really understand the importance of a republican form of government. The word “democracy” is not contained in any founding document nor does it describe how our government works. Let’s help the next generation develop a clear understanding by using care in our own use of terminology.

  3. Why not require passing the test that immigrants take to become citizens for high school seniors? This is at least a start in giving young people tools to participate in government.

  4. This is excellent news! I hope all states follow Arizona’s example. It is UNACCEPTABLE that people are so uninformed before casting their votes.

  5. Depends who’s doing the teaching, and what they’re teaching.

    Wrapping oneself in the flag — in this case, “civics” — is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    Mr. Gibbs got one thing right: our society is a democracy in name only. In a true democracy, the people actually govern. In our market-dominated “republic,” it’s the dollars — or rather, those who have most of them — that do the governing.

    I’m curious. iCivics sounds so …. technoid. I wonder how much responsibility teachers should be asked to assume when our mass culture condones and even encourages distraction, derogation, and denial in the civil sphere. Oh, you don’t know the meaning of the civil sphere? Neither do our legislators.

  6. PS More Americans than just soldiers have given their lives for our democracy. Teachers, for one, labor under impossible conditions, often their whole lives, trying to do what’s asked of them by those who never taught in their lifetimes. Civil rights advocates died defending our democracy. Workers die prematurely all the time funding our democracy with their labor. Who doesn’t defend our democracy? People who actively seek to subvert it, like our own Arizona Legislature with its outrageous gerrymandering to put party ahead of democracy. Oh, will that be taught also?

  7. Is this another one of your unfunded mandates? Why not visit some of our aging and deteriorating schools so you can see what they look like and help fund arts, sciences and many more workforce development classes..

    I attended your press release on the abortion bill you sponsored last year, it was clear you had no idea what the bill had in it.

    Here’s to hoping the people of your district see this and vote you out in the next election.

    Sincerely,

    Patriot

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(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)

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