Do you know your rights and obligations as an U.S. citizen? That is what you learn from a civics class. In this article you will learn what is civics and why it is important in America. In particular, America to continue to be an effective democracy needs knowledgeable citizens. With knowledgeable citizens Government corruption is kept in check and citizens are well informed to exercise their rights and freedoms.
It seems that we as Americans may have a knowledge gap on what is civics and at our own peril. Our participation in democratic processes is changing. With the advent of the internet and social media, many of our local civic institutions (ex. churches, unions, etc.) have diminished as well as our understanding of civics in general. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. Also, less people are inclined to volunteer than before. And for some segments of our society, such as the Millennial generation, there is low voter participation.
What is Civics?
The short answer is that it is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society. The term derives from the Latin word civicus, meaning “relating to a citizen“. EdNote, an education policy blog, provides the key competencies to achieve by studying Civics:
- Be Knowledgeable of Civics Institutions, Rights and Responsibilities. This includes both core knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge. Example: What are the three branches of Government?
- Be Able to Apply Critical Thinking in Regard to Civics. This includes knowing how to identify, assess, interpret, describe, analyze, and explain matters of concern in civic life. Example: Able to evaluate the viability of a political candidate or able to express a political opinion based on critical thinking versus just going with the crowd.
- Be Able to Participate In Civic Activities. This encompasses knowing how to interface with elected officials and community representatives, communicate perspectives and arguments. Example: Able to engage in dialog with those who hold different opinions as well as participate in electoral and democratic processes to include voting, letter writing and even protesting.
- Be Able to Value Civics and the Democratic Process. This encompasses interpersonal and intrapersonal values, virtues, and behaviors. Examples: Able to tolerate opposing views, reject violence, desire community involvement, and be concerned for the rights of others.
Why is Civics Important?
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French foreign minister, said, “Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it.” If you live in a democratic society, civic knowledge is important. Below are some key reasons why civics is important.
- Democratic Government By Its Nature Requires Civic Participation. A democratic government will only exist in name only if its people do not participate in the democratic process. At its essence, a democratic government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
- The Government Will Become Inefficient and Corrupt Without Knowledgeable Citizens. Elected officials are held accountable only by civic-minded people. William Galston who specializes in public philosophy and political institutions issues said that citizens need to develop “the capacity to evaluate the talents, character, and performance of public officials”.
- Enables Citizens to Know Their Rights and Freedoms. A civics education enables a democracy to raise free and equal citizens. People are able to know their rights and responsibilities as well as acquire the traits and virtues to contribute to the continued success of their democratic government.
See Brookings’ The need for civic education in 21st-century schools, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Civics Education, and CAP’s The State of Civics Education for more information of the what is civics and why it is important.
For more information from Unvarnished Facts on Government, click here.
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