Can you pass the U.S. civics exam? Ninety-seven percent of applicants for naturalization pass the exam, according to CitizenshipFirst, which is campaigning to “restore the civic mission of education.” Most native-born Americans can’t answer six of 10 questions correctly.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that American democracy cannot endure without an educated citizenry; that all students deserve to become informed and proud participants in American self-government; and that every generation must prepare the next to understand, protect and perfect the institutions of American freedom. These truths motivated the establishment of America’s school system long ago, and they must be an urgent national priority today.
We send kids to school to become citizens, not just employees, writes Robert Pondiscio, who left Core Knowledge to run CitizenshipFirst.
Our earliest thinkers about education weren’t thinking about college and career readiness. They understood well that democracy, historically speaking, was something of a long shot. There’s a famous story about Benjamin Franklin leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787. A woman asked him what kind of government he and the other delegates had decided on. “A republic, madam—if you can keep it,” Franklin replied. As Franklin knew, republics have a nasty habit of falling apart. Of being overwhelmed by factions. Citizens who can be relied upon to understand and peacefully exercise their rights and responsibilities—to keep the republic—are indispensable to a democracy.
School should be the place where we learn to become Americans, Pondiscio writes.
CitizenshipFirst is building a network of schools committed to “preparing students for a lifetime of active, engaged citizenship, and full participation in our democracy.” It’s also launched the Only in America Project to send “public speakers into classrooms to tell vivid, personal stories of immigration, political freedom, entrepreneurial success, military service” and other stories. The Band of Brothers Program will pair high schools with U.S. military units.