• Joanne Jacobs

Teaching citizens: How are we doing?

High school students observe a moment of silence outside the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh in memory of the victims of the Florida school shooting. Photo: Jonathan Drake/Reuters

Schools need to do more to prepare students to become “engaged, informed, and compassionate” citizens and strengthen our democracy, concludes the 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education.

While scores on NAEP civics assessments “remained steady or climbed slightly from 1998 to 2014, “there are wide and persistent gaps by race, ethnicity, and income on the 8th-grade civics assessment,” the report found.

Most states require a civics course for graduation, but only about half show students “what civic participation looks like in practice and how citizens can engage in their communities.”

  1. 40 states plus D.C. require at least one course related to civics education as a high school graduation requirement. Most states require two or three.

  2. Fewer states (26 plus D.C.) have incorporated participatory elements of learning or community engagement, such as mock trials, into their standards.

Requiring civic participation or community service is problematic for public schools: What about students who want to “build the wall” or limit abortion? Does missionary work for a church count?

This spring, thousands of students protested violence that took the lives of students in Florida and Texas. Some vowed to register voters to elect pro-gun-control candidates. Will it last? Voter turn-out in November will show how many young people go to the polls.

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