The Forum | General Education

Fortifying Our Civic Infrastructure

May 10, 2019

With the swish of a pen, education is on the national infrastructure agenda. In a letter to President Trump outlining priorities for a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer wrote, “to truly be a game changer for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives.” Education, especially civic education, in our nation has been in a sorry state of late. A 2018 poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies highlighted that only 24% of Americans could correctly identify one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for, with 37% believing he invented the light bulb; merely 24% of respondents knew why the colonists fought the British; and 2% believe the cold war was a battle fought over climate change. The results reveal the haunting reality that only one in three Americans could pass the U.S. Citizenship Test.

Thomas Jefferson argued, “It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.” It is within our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence that one can find the ties which bind us. Americans come from many nations, faiths, and ethnicities, yet are brought together by a common creed; a creed committed to the rights of the individual, representative government, and liberty. Yet many of America’s next generation cannot answer when asked from where our rights come. How can a republic be preserved in vigor when the manners and spirit of the American people are disinclined to learn and appreciate our history?  

The late Peter Schramm once said, “You Americans invented freedom . . . And you’re on your way to losing it.” This disturbing outlook is not due to a crumbling government or an outside power, but because we are not properly teaching the next generation of leaders what it truly means to be an American citizen.

Fostering engaged, informed, and responsible self-governing citizens is a lifelong endeavor which should begin in primary school and must continue to be advanced in the core curricula of America’s colleges and universities. If this bill is to truly tackle the most pressing challenges facing our society, then an emphasis must be placed on promoting civic education. Academic specialization and professional training are important parts of a college education, but to preserve a populous through the current climate of political strife and division, Americans must learn about the history, institutions, and values that have preserved and strengthened our republic since the Founding. As Thomas Jefferson aptly wrote, “wherever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” The solution to many of the nation’s woes lies in correcting the dereliction of duty that currently plagues our country’s classrooms.


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