The Woodrow Wilson Foundation recently published a report, based on a survey of 41,000 Americans, indicating that only 40% of respondents were able to pass a twenty-question test based on questions found on the US Citizenship Exam. Considering this appalling statistic, Enfield Schools are doing some wonderful things in their Civics curriculum. And in light of recent comments made in front of the Enfield Town Council by Marie Pyznar encouraging people to look at positive things happening in our town, I’d like to take this opportunity to accept Marie’s challenge and discuss what our schools are doing as well as the importance of civics.
In the age of social media, it’s important to understand that civics and civic engagement is more than voicing concerns from the security of one’s keyboard. That’s one part of what our Enfield School’s Civics Curriculum is trying to instill. In their coursework at the high school, students are learning about the US Constitution and political history. They design and run their own campaigns including platforms and advertising. And perhaps most impressive, they engage in structured controversies which force students to examine both sides of an issue before forming their opinion.
The students in this curriculum are our future leaders. Many adults could even learn a thing or two from these students. Too often we shy away from intellectual debate. Too many of us close our minds to rational arguments just because it comes from someone to whom we are politically opposed. Too few of us are willing to have our pre-conceived notions challenged by different points for no other reason than stubborn adherence to a belief or political ideology. That’s not how to be civically engaged.
Civics comes down to understanding our history and its importance. It requires two-way communication. It demands active, engaged citizenship. To quote Michael Douglas in The American President: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’” As individuals and as a society, we need to understand and respect our laws, our country and those who have come before us. We need to let our voices be heard in constructive rational ways. That’s how we move forward as a country and that’s how we bring about positive change in our communities.
Published in the Enfield Press on March 14, 2019
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