No democracy can survive if its citizens do not believe that democracy is worth having. The long-term future of our system of government depends not only on restoring a supermajority of citizens who demand democracy but also on ensuring that that percentage exists across the generations.
Nor is it enough for people simply to believe democracy is essential if they don’t know how to build, operate, maintain, fix, and adapt democracies. This means we also need to build a supermajority of citizens who have confidence in their knowledge of how to use their voices, skills of democratic coordination, and shared political institutions. That’s what our children could learn through classes on U.S. government, civics, and the problems and promise of democracy.
Want to address information literacy concerns? Civics is a great place to start. Want to target student apathy toward the news and being informed? Action civics is an even better start.
We also have to live the democratic principles that we proclaim we’re trying to instill in our youth. Students almost never have authentic input into how ‘school’ operates for them. No wonder our students become cynical and apathetic. Why would they treat seriously our proclamations about the importance of democracy when schools rarely give them a meaningful say in anything?
My favorite U.S. Supreme Court quote of all time is from Justice Fortas:
That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes… (Tinker v. Des Moines)
When it comes to modeling democratic principles in schools, we’ve got too many platitudes. How about some action (civics) instead?