Fleeting Thoughts Friday 11.4.16 – Civics and Civil Duties
There’s no getting around it, and who would want to? Without a doubt, the biggest news this week is that the CHICAGO CUBS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!! GO CUBS GO!!!
A true Cinderella story – fraught with falling two games behind, fighting tooth and nail to get back into the running all the way to game 7, losing the lead in what was thought to be an in-the-bag win, a rain delay in the 9th and a victory in extra innings – it was the most significant and extraordinary series I believe many will ever witness in their lifetimes. I will certainly never forget where I was and how loud I cheered with elation the day the Cubs cinched the world championship for the first time in 108 years.
Naturally, with how close we live to Grant Park, my husband and I decided that it was mandatory to attend the championship parade. A gorgeous day for a well-deserved celebration, so many fans were out and about, the city was buzzing with the electricity of the winners’ high…
And speaking of being high, it was on the way to this parade that we found ourselves surrounded by a group of young adults, approximately college-aged, with signs calling for the legalization of marijuana. These vivacious activists were out to encourage everyone to go vote on the 8th so that we can get pot legalized in Illinois.
I was immediately torn. I feel very proud that there are young people out encouraging the masses to get to the polls on the 8th. On the other hand, touting an issue that’s not on the ballot and not up for a vote next week was genuinely confusing and concerning to me. I feel this is yet again another example of a much larger issue that I’ve been mulling over in recent seasons: there are a significant amount of people who are uninformed.
Why? It’s been a disconcerting thought for me to contend with, but the more I mull it over, the more frustrated I get at the setup of our educational system here in America. This is not meant to harp on teachers in any way and it’s not a post about the dumbing-down of the nation – I’m sure there are several things that are going well within our system. But in a land founded on democracy that prides itself on being the land of the free and the home of the brave, I really do wonder at the status of our civics education in America. I find it fascinating that in a relatively young nation that survives solely on the participation of the population for government to function, that we spend so little time teaching our students how to participate and the importance of their involvement.
When I was in school I think I was given maybe two years’ worth of government & civics education throughout the entirety of my years. I remember being taught what the three branches of government were and being tested on the basics of the constitution, but that’s about it. Is it really so baffling that Americans ages 18-25 have historically been the least represented in the voting population? We get our panties in a twist when they don’t show up to the polls, and call them lazy and apathetic. But honestly, why would they care more? They’ve just gone through the last 18 years of their lives being told that literally everything is more important than civic knowledge.
We live in a nation where our students take years and years of math courses, science courses, language courses, etc. Students spend hours upon hours practicing and participating in sports day in and day out. And I’m not saying that these aren’t worthwhile things to learn, but so is learning how to affect government decisions at a local level. Sure, people may (MAYBE) know the three branches of government, but if you ask the average american who their congressman is, what their platform was, when the next local election is, what an alderman or a comptroller does, you will likely get a much larger number of blank stares than should make anyone comfortable. And this is a problem because it’s at this specific level, the local level, that people can make a difference.
We haven’t put the time into teaching young people how vitally important it is for them to be informed, and to participate in government & civil affairs. As I mentioned above, I’m not trying to criticize the civics education we are currently offering, but I do think it’s time to take a long hard look and admit that it’s not enough. In a nation where our liberties are being decided every day by our elected officials, why would we not require our children to be constantly enrolled in a current studies course every semester that requires them to know who their representatives are, what the debates are and to wrestle with the issues at hand. How can we be expected to hold our elected officials accountable when we don’t know who they are and what they even do? I’ve heard people argue before that there’s not enough material or information to justify a yearly civic studies curriculum. Hello!! It’s current affairs! By definition it supplies its own material! There will always be someone running for office, there will always be news on TV. And students are not only missing out on important information, but we’re robbing our students of the opportunity to learn how to discuss and debate important matters among one another with respect and open-mindedness. Instead of learning to respect people as human beings first and foremost and learning how to listen to someone else’s view and take into consideration where they are coming from, we’ve taught our kids that their comfort is more important than hearing, seeing and learning new things, more important perhaps than the truth. We’ve traded healthy knowledge and respectful debate for trigger warnings and safety closets.
A small post I made on Facebook about this exact issue a few months back drew some great insight from friends and family who brought up similar assertions. There are a lot of practical things that could and probably should be a part of our educational courses in addition to more civics classes. While years of advanced theory is key in a handful of professions, one might question how applicable all these hours of advanced algebra and french literature are in the grand scheme of life’s practical lessons.
Sure, these courses might be enriching, but are we really preparing our students to survive on their own in the real world as contributing members of society? Is an advanced AP Lit course going to be more helpful to an adolescent than learning about credit scores, how student loans really work, understanding how a mortgage works or how to calculate their taxes? People spoke out in the past against home economics and shop classes, but are these basic skills any less important today than they were a few years ago? I mean, are we beyond needing to know how to change a diaper, a light bulb, a toilet seat?
I’ll leave you to answer these questions for yourselves. If you think of any other classes or lessons that you think might be more helpful than the ones you took in school, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about them!
PS. Here’s where you can go to read about what’s actually been happening with marijuana legalization in Illinois this year https://www.mpp.org/states/illinois/
And, if you don’t quite have all the information about who’s on the ballot in the city of Chicago and what you will be asked to vote on, here’s a sample ballot.