Our Failing Civics Education

A generation of ignorant citizens
Waving American Flag
Jonathan Simcoe, Unsplash
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When you ask high school students if they enjoy reading, the overwhelming majority will say no. When you ask high school students what is the meaning and significance of the Declaration of Independence, they will tell you some details of the war, perhaps outline the basic purpose of the document, and mention freedom. 

But when you ask them what is the difference between the nature of tyranny and liberty you get blank stares. Our educational bureaucracy has failed to meet the needs of the American project and the citizen-student in so many ways, but its lackluster civics education is profoundly problematic.

Our history and civics education relies on the robotic memorization of names, dates, and events. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple-choice test and can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded; they cannot explain “Big Ideas” that transcend time and formed our founding principles. 

Students cannot tell you the significance that the Laws of Nature should have in a society and a Government. They cannot tell you that there is a natural and intrinsic relationship between our Rights and our Duties, when you ignore the latter you violate the former. They cannot tell the purpose of a real education and how it is supposed to cultivate virtue and wisdom. They cannot tell you the difference between liberty and licentiousness.

The bottom line is that America cannot remain free if students and citizens do not understand the nature of freedom. Students cannot grow up to be virtuous, independent, wise, brave, resilient and prudent without the appreciation of those principles in our Founding and history. Students are not taught that an education steeped in virtuous Liberty is a lot more than just “live and let live.” It is knowledge, wisdom, prudence, and an application of these principles in your life to a good end.

Instead for decades we have focused our attention on graduating students who are “college and career” ready. But this goal is more about compliance with corporate order than instilling a virtuous and brave mind. It makes us less human, not more. It focuses on the latest trends of the day and the manipulation of language to fit the corporate order.

Our education system has been so focused on being “neutral” (which they haven’t) that it has forgotten how to be inspiring, grand, and profound. It has forgotten to teach the essence of the principles that we are supposed to be preserving and defending. 

And what do we have to show for it?  A society without virtue and young adults depressed and uninspired. Yes, the vast majority of students cannot pass a citizenship test. This is a problem. But a larger tragedy is that they cannot articulate the beauty of liberty and the power that it has to create a good and virtuous life for yourself, others, and the millions yet unborn. 

Our civics/historical educational results are unsustainable. A nation cannot be both ignorant and free.

Gary Vesper
Gary Vesper is a former High School public school & home school history teacher turned educational entrepreneur. Parents and students can learn more about his Language of Freedom online course and live semester class at www.PreservingFreedomUSA.com

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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