The Case for Teaching Civics in School and at Home

For shame... The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered to some 27,000 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students, tells it all. Questions ranged from how our government is financed to the rights protected by the Constitution and how our laws are passed.

On a 300-point scale, the results:

· Average 4th grade score: 157

· Average 8th grade score: 151

· Average 12th grade score: 148

That's just about failing all around, and says former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, these results "confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education." And for that very reason, she has founded her icivics website, promoting civics through games and activities.

Equally unsettling is a recent Marist Poll wherein just 60% of our 18- to 29-year-olds correctly named Great Britain as the country from which we gained our independence. Really.

Meanwhile, though, most educators agree that a solid grounding in civics and American history is essential to our country's success and standing in the world. Moreover, an unofficial survey of middle and high school teachers finds these topics topping the list:

· The fight for independence and the prominent players in that struggle

· The Bill of Rights--the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution

· Law-making in the U.S.

· The Civil War and slavery, along with the 13th and 15th Amendments

· The impact of Supreme Court rulings on our daily lives

· The workings of the House of Representatives and Senate, along with who are Pennsylvania's members of Congress

· Prohibition, along with the 18th and 21st Amendments

Wondering now how you measure up? To find out, take's Independence Day Quiz-your teenage child, too. Just be advised that, reportedly, 96% of high school seniors failed the quiz, as did more than 50% of those over 50.

Questions range from naming our National Anthem and our current president to how many Constitutional Amendments there are, the number proposed by Congress but never ratified, and who said, 'Give me liberty or give me death." Go ahead and give it a try.

And since Election Day has recently come and gone, I've just got to ask: did you vote? Your children will ask, too. Sadly, turnout was light. Take Philadelphia, for instance, where only 17.6% of eligible voters bothered to turn out.

No wonder then that we now have Democracy Day, first celebrated this past March 23rd and sponsored by Rock the Vote and the National Education Association. The date coincides with the passage of the 26th Amendment giving 18-year-olds the right to vote-something most of our voting-age teens apparently know next to nothing about. How about you?

Says Vote the Rock's president Heather Smith, "Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage. Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country's democracy."

The need, then, for fostering your children's interest in history and civics cannot be overstated, so, along with your vote, consider:

· Civil War Reunion at Pennypacker Mills Park, 5 Haldeman Road in Schwenksville, on Saturday, June 4th, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 5th, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. You'll enjoy continuous demonstrations, activities, refreshments, and even Civil War music. For more information, call 610-287-9349.

· The Dreyfuss Initiative: An Evening with Richard Dreyfuss at the Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street in Philadelphia, on June 8th, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. His mission: to change the way students learn about civics and the rights and duties of citizenship. Seating is limited so don't delay in registering online at

· The History Channel: Be a frequent visitor. Head there today, May 17th, and discover that, on this date, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was decided, ruling that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

· The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History: This site promotes the study and love of American history, offering numerous programs and resources to all who visit.

· The Conspirator is a film based on the guilt/innocence of Mary Surratt in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln-a story most Americans know little, if anything, about.

In other words, be part of the solution, not the problem, helping to ensure that your kids get hooked on history and civics, too.

Carol is a learning specialist who worked with middle school children and their parents at the Methacton School District in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years and now supervises student teachers at Gwynedd-Mercy College. Along with the booklet, 149 Parenting School-Wise Tips: Intermediate Grades & Up, and numerous articles in such publications as Teaching Pre-K-8 and Curious Parents, she has authored three successful learning guidebooks: Getting School-Wise: A Student Guidebook, Other-Wise and School-Wise: A Parent Guidebook, and ESL Activities for Every Month of the School Year. Carol also writes for; find her articles at For more information, go to or contact Carol at

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