You can't Google good citizenship — civics education is more important than ever

You can't Google good citizenship — civics education is more important than ever

Education is often at the top of the list of national priorities, especially for American presidential candidates. The U.S. should therefore make civics education a priority.

Civics education encompasses the study of U.S. history, government, economics and foreign policy. It can include other basic topics as well, but civic learning has been largely absent from educational discussions for years, though it’s now staging a “comeback.”

Some state legislatures have passed state laws requiring high school graduates to pass the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services test (the one applicants for American citizenship must pass). While naturalized citizens must pass a civics test (know 100 civics questions, yet be able to orally answer correctly 6 of 10 questions of the 100 in order to demonstrate their command of the English language), natural-born Americans needn’t do so.

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Students may (and do) ask: “Why must I learn about Civics? It won’t help me get a job.” STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have received much attention in our schools as the focus of most high school education efforts are now on job possibilities. Yet there are plenty of CEOs and other employers who are of a generation that believes civic learning is important to every citizen.

Too many Americans do not really understand how America came to be — only 26 percent of in a recent national poll could name the three branches of government, let alone what they do. Nor can most Americans understand how to navigate the federal government.

Almost ten years ago, Newsweek gave the citizenship test to 1,000 Americans — the results were humiliating. Things have not gotten better. A similar survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation last fall found nearly two-thirds of Americans flunk the test.

The fact is you can’t Google good citizenship.

Civic learning — including a basic understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution — is increasingly important. Neither document is lengthy; each can be read quickly, and every American should.

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Every American should also attend the swearing-in ceremony of new citizens in a U.S. District Court. Observers will see how important American citizenship is to successful applicants. Unlike many natural-born Americans, they don't take their citizenship for granted.

A quality education should encompass civic learning as well as STEM. A truly educated citizen will know America’s roots, understand how laws are made, appreciate the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, know how applicants achieve citizenship, understand the legislative process and the interaction between the three branches of government, know about past history and its application to today’s national problems and be able to articulate details about America’s economic system.

The United States has a primary obligation to make sure citizens understand how America works. America’s education system will be stronger if civic learning for all is a priority.

George Nethercutt is the former Republican Congressman from the 5th District of Washington and a former member of the National Security Appropriations Subcommittee. He teaches a contemporary civics class at the University of Denver.