The National Center for Education Statistics in Washington DC just issued a periodic progress report on what students know in a variety of subject matters (aka, the Nation's Report Card) and discovered that only 27% of high school seniors were proficient in civics and government. What exactly does that mean? It means that kids about to head off to college can't identify the 3 branches of government. And its not just kids, many adults are equally clueless. In a speech 2 months ago, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota, a possible Republican candidate for president, identified New Hampshire (instead of Massachusetts) as the "state where the shot was heard around the world."
Now maybe this doesn't come as a surprise to you given our nation's dogged focus on reading, science and math for purposes of keeping pace with other western countries. After all, No Child Left Behind was the federal policy implemented to focus on these 3 subjects, largely at the expense of other subjects like history, social studies, civics, art, well, pretty much everything else.
As someone who studied art in college and still dabbles in it to this day, I find our collective lack of focus on the arts to be an incrediblly sad loss for the next generation. But as a voter and an active participant in state government, ignorance of basic democracy is just flat out dangerous. Those under the age of 25 are less likely to vote. They are less increasingly disengaged from civic and political life. And who can blame them? With the polarized antics on talk radio and TV, it looks like a giant joke. But it is precisely that sort of crack in the system that exposes us to being misled as a nation.
Democracy depends on engaged, informed citizens who particpate in the process in an educated, meaningful way. So, what to do? For starters, you want to arm yourself, as a parent, with some lesson plans, web quests, games and discussion forums aimed at educating kids on the Constitution, the 3 branches of government and the rights and responsibiliites of citizenship, visit iCivics.org - a web based educational project developed by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a long time champion of civic education. It won't solve everything, but it is a start.