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Why Don’t They Teach Civics Anymore?

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

What are some other resources for students to learn about governance as civics (or social studies) in schools remains out of favor?

by Donnajean Ward

At our most recent Bedrosian Center board meeting we talked about the disappearance of civics from school curricula.  So I wasn’t surprised when I typed “civics” into Google that the first thing to pop up was an offer from my local SoCal Honda dealer – an Accord LX for only $199/mo. for 36 months ($1,999 due at lease signing).  I had to scroll down a bit to get to the first mention of civics as “…the study of the great theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government.”

I remember my own civics classes (social studies) in middle school.  My civics teacher was Stan Trompeter.  It is a testament to him that I didn’t have to rack my middle aged brain to remember his name.  What I also remember is how he challenged a room full of 12 year olds to think about communism, democracy, due process, and a host of other political concepts that were playing out in the daily news.  But even then, civics education was on the wane — in high school we talked about civics mainly in the context of world history or American history — not so much in the “current events” context I remember from 8th grade.  And it seems that decline has continued.

In the most recent (2010) Department of Education National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Assessments, 36% of students scored “below basic” in their knowledge of civics.  Basic knowledge for 12 graders is defined as having:

“…an understanding of what is meant by civil society, constitutional government, and politics. They should know that constitutional governments can take different forms, and they should understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional government and politics, including functions of political parties and other organizations. They should understand both rights and responsibilities in a democratic society, and they should recognize the value of political participation. They should be familiar with international issues that affect the United States.”

You can test yourself against the 2010 results by taking a mini test on the NAEP website (I got one question wrong) and you can also check out ICivics, a web site with online games and role play designed to teach kids what civics is all about.  ICivics was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and I can attest that the games are fun and addicting– my inner 12 year old spent waay too much time trying to run my pretend constitutional law practice!  The Annenberg Institute for Civics also has great resources for civics education (but no funky cartoon avatars).



The Annenberg Classroom:

Bedrosian Center