If a teacher asks a student to write an email to their congresswoman, do you think that class would called civics or social studies? If a student is asked to explain the first paragraph of the Constitution, which class is it? How about who’s third in line to take over the presidency of the United States in case of national emergency? Is it social studies or civics?
It sounds weird that the semantics of choosing between these two subjects is actually a thing, but I think it is. I have conducted my own limited polling and when I ask kids if they have ever had civics, the answer is often, “I don’t know. What do you mean?” When I quantify it by asking the questions above, the answer is usually, “Oh, I had that in social studies.”
This means that they really have not had lessons in civics or, as I think of it, “How to be a citizen in the United States of America.”
Just learning when the Constitution was written, why it was written, who wrote it and other facts and dates, although valuable, is not teaching anyone how to be an actual citizen. We have not done a good job as citizens in that we don’t give kids a background in which to participate, nor feel the responsibility to do it.
I’m not suggesting that facts aren’t important. They are, of course, but not remembering that there are 435 members of Congress who are all elected every two years would be good to know (and would explain a lot about money and campaigns) but isn’t the whole story. The whole story is that they know who they are voting for and might want to say something about that and at least vote.
Civic means community. So since it is all about community let’s propose that the study of civics be independent and in a class by itself.
In the end civics is the ability to understand what is going on now. We are citizens our whole lives so civics should be an ongoing study from kindergarten through … forever.
It is incredibly important that students learn that what they think matters, and how to determine what they think by researching and learning, It’s critical that they understand the importance of taking action and learning how to do it. It’s crucial to our country that students learn how to communicate; how to write letters, text, call, march, take part in elections, join, organize. In other words, they learn how to become an actual citizen.
So I am proposing that civics should be taught as a class by itself, not as a part of another class, in every grade all through school, starting now.
And maybe, just maybe it will work.
Sandy Asper, a retired teacher, lives in Newport Beach.