Many people bemoan the fact that children aren’t being taught cursive or how to balance a check book in schools (news flash: those things are becoming obsolete), but the one thing that we never hear about in the ranking of school subjects: government education.
In most social studies curricula throughout the United States, government is taught as a subject, but it almost always is taught in a haphazard manner with no emphasis on breaking down subjects or focusing on details. Thus, most students come out of these classes only knowing a marginal bit more than before or no increased knowledge at all. What is the root cause of the issue and what are its domino effects?
The root cause is rather simple. Like most subjects that are not math or English, funding is diverted from things like music and social studies into these because it’s a way for schools to track progress in supposedly “important” subjects. The issue also comes down to educational philosophy. Is public school intended to prepare you for the work force? Is it intended to make students into more well-rounded human beings so that they may contribute to society in multiple ways? Is it intended as a pipeline into very specific career paths? There isn’t a right answer to this question of course but schools are slowly moving towards a career path approach which limits the amount of generalized education students receive and by extension, social studies education.
One could ask why civics and government education is so important. The answer would be that our entire country is founded on a system of governmental representation. Many go their entire lives without ever meeting their elected representatives. I know I certainly have never met Chuck Smith, Pittsburg’s representative in the Kansas State House of Representatives nor have I met our newest United States Senator, Roger Marshall. Without independently researching, I would have never learned how to contact my representatives in government to voice my concerns over specific bills or more broad issues. This is why our education system needs a vital injection of funds to invigorate every program, but especially civics. A robust education in civics is how citizens involve themselves in the common purpose of society: to provide for everyone.
Another element of civics education that should be strengthened is running for public office. Growing up, I never received any information about how one actually runs for office when that should be a cornerstone in our civics education. Trying to involve your voice and your community’s values in the conversation should be the highlight of the curriculum, not absent completely. Students who become invested in civics should have a clear idea of how to involve themselves in the political process.
What are the consequences of a lackluster education in civics? The consequence is representatives who would rather die on their sword than represent the interests of their communities. You get people who can’t name the three branches of government (yes, a sitting United States Senator couldn’t name the three branches accurately). You get people who perpetuate election-based lies when a candidate has lost. Forming policy is something that comes with time. No one can be expected to be an expert in that when they start but any representative must be an expert in operating within objective reality.