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Reclaiming Democracy

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison, Founding Father and 4th President of the United States

No nation can be really great unless it is great in peace, in industry, integrity, honesty. Skilled intelligence in civic affairs and industrial enterprises alike; the special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the man of business; the rigid determination to wrong no man, and to stand for righteousness-all these are necessary in a great nation.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

Without civic morality communities perish; without personal morality their survival has no value.

Bertrand Russell, British Philosopher

Our disregard of civic and moral virtue as an educational priority is having a tangible effect on the attitudes, understanding and behavior of large portions of the youth population in the United States today.

William Damon, Professor Stanford University


Introduction

Reclaiming Democracy

Reclaiming Democracy focuses on the now radical idea of requiring the teaching of both US and World history and Civics to all children in grades k-12. In some states, the focus on teaching civics and history extends to post-secondary liberal arts education, but that may not be soon enough to rectify the dropping of both History and Civics from public schooling in favor of math and science since 1980 and the Reagan administration’s attack on public schooling.

In our pursuit of a resilient democracy, the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor shines brightly through Civics, emphasizing the pivotal role of civics education. However, since 1980, a crucial element has been missing—a foundation that once anchored American education.

Reclaiming Democracy: The Forgotten Foundation

In 1980, the Reagan administration dealt a blow to the essence of democracy by downplaying the significance of history and civics in K-12 education. This decision, while perhaps unintended, set the stage for a persistent crisis in civic ignorance. The result threatens the core of our democratic principles. Unintended or not, the results speak for themselves.

With the elimination of History and Civics from public school curriculums, students for the last 40-odd years grew up ignorant of the nuances of the American form of democracy. This weakness along with other so-called reforms, created a society disturbingly ignorant of how government works.

Crisis of Civic Ignorance

Without a fundamental understanding of civics, our democratic system falters. O’Connor’s poignant observation that only a third of the public could name the three branches of government. This sad fact underscores the severity of a situation demanding immediate attention and remedy.

Reclaiming Democracy: The O’Connor Solution

O’Connor’s visionary response, civics, engages a staggering 9 million students annually. Its success suggests that effective civics education cannot be confined to K-12. It must transcend, instilling civic knowledge and confidence that permeates society.

Evidence of Impact

Research indicates significant growth in political knowledge with just 30 minutes of weekly interaction with civics. Similarly, at Oklahoma State University, actively engaging teaching strategies propel students beyond mere comprehension, fostering a genuine understanding of political dynamics.

Reclaiming Democracy: Flexibility in Learning

The adaptability of online classes stands out as a key facet of effective civic education. Technology serves as a bridge, ensuring the continuity of democracy’s teachings even amid unforeseen shifts from in-person to online formats.

Empowering All Citizens

Civics education emerges as a great equalizer, empowering women and minorities traditionally excluded from political discourse. It is a pathway towards understanding the intricate workings of government, and breaking down barriers to participation.

Reclaiming Democracy: O’Connor’s Timely Call

In 2012, O’Connor highlighted the intricate complexity of our government and the necessity to teach it to every generation. Her call reverberates today, emphasizing the critical role of civic education in shaping informed, active citizens. This is true especially as young Americans question the very essence of democracy.

Facing the Challenge

As recent polls suggest a decline in the intent of young Americans to vote, O’Connor’s vision gains urgency. Civic education becomes the potent remedy to rejuvenate democracy, addressing skepticism by equipping the youth with knowledge and fostering a sense of civic responsibility.

Reclaiming Democracy: The Path Forward

Reclaiming democracy demands a concerted effort to restore the robust foundation of history and civic education. O’Connor’s legacy serves as a guiding light, urging us to answer her call and empower the youth with knowledge, ensuring not just passive observers but active, engaged citizens in the ongoing narrative of our democracy.

A Call to Action

We must prioritize and reinstate comprehensive civics education in our schools. The void created in 1980 must be filled, and it starts with recognizing the urgency of this matter. Every American child deserves the tools to understand their government, fostering a generation of informed voters and active participants in the democratic process.

Conclusion

As we stand at the crossroads of civic responsibility and democratic revival, history and civics education emerge as the cornerstone. O’Connor’s legacy inspires us to act, to bridge the knowledge gap, and to empower the next generation. Reclaiming democracy is not just a choice; it is our collective responsibility, and it begins in the classrooms where history and civics light the way. Are we as a people so willing to give up 235 years of democratic values to the whims of a narcissist like Donald Trump? I would hope not but I am not optimistic either. No matter, for the time to act is right now!

By Politics-as-Usual

Roger is a retired Professor of language and literacy. Over the past 15 years since his retirement, Roger has kept busy with reading, writing, and creating landscape photographs. In this time of National crisis, as Fascist ideas and policies are being introduced to the American people and ignored by the Mainstream Press, he decided to stand up and be counted as a Progressive American with some ideas that should be shared with as many people who care to read and/or participate in discusssions of these issues. He doesn't ask anyone to agree with his point of view, but if entering the conversation he demands civility. No conspiracy theories, no wild accusations, no threats, no disrespect will be tolerated. Roger monitors all comments and email communication. That is the only rule for entering the conversation. One may persuade, argue for a different point of view, or toss out something that has not been discussed so long as the tone remains part of a civil discussion. Only then can we find common ground and meaningful democratic change.

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