Uses

(This section was written by Chris Abelt and Kim Maxwell)

In this section we will consider practical applications of the concepts put forth in the Federalist Papers as they relate to encouraging civic engagement today- on primarily the part of younger Americans. We are also inviting secondary and college-level teachers and administrators to share their “best practices” in the civics education to this end.

The National Education Association (NEA) considers civics education a Forgotten Purpose.  “All 50 states require some form of instruction in civics and/or government, and nearly 90 percent of students take at least one civics class. But too often, factual book learning is not reinforced with experience-based learning experiences like community service, guided debates, critical discussion of current events, and simulations of democratic processes.”  Many universities in America have a civics core requirement but then give students a cafeteria style set of options, many of which have little to do with active and effective participation in American democracy. The cafeteria structure also obstructs the creation of a broad base of common knowledge; it is hard to create an intellectual community when the community does not read the same books.  Many studies show that far too many young adults know very little about our government or the dimensions of the serious problems we presently suffer.

A 2018 survey by the National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP) found that only 24% of eighth-grade students in the US scored at or above “proficiency” in civics, and only 15% of high school senior were proficient in civics. This translates to many students lacking a basic understanding of American Government and History. The same survey also found significant gaps in civics knowledge and skills among demographic groups. Students from higher-income families and those whose parents had higher levels of education scored higher on the test than those from lower-income families and those whose parents had less education. The bottom line from the NAEP survey suggests that many US students do not possess a sufficient level of knowledge and skills in civics to fully (or even partially) participate in the democratic process.

Voting among citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 is significantly below voting levels at 30 and above (although the level jumped considerably in the 2020 national election).

All this should not only worry school administrations and teachers.  It should be seen as a missed opportunity of huge proportions.  Most faculty in America lean left (as does this site, but not in the same way).  The youth in America now vote 65% Democrat, 35% Republican, the only group not either evenly divided or weighted toward Republicans.  With elections as close as they are now, schools should put strong, engagement based civic educations at the top of their list of priorities.

We end this short lecture with an observation.  Participation in politics generally requires an interest in politics.  A recent book entitled “Hooked” by Princeton’s Markus Prior states (but does not defend) that we do not know how interest in politics develops within any one person, but there is strong evidence that it begins early in life.  With students today trained in group collaboration and rapid information access, a premium should be placed on making politics / civic engagement interesting, including the study of how to accomplish it.  We say this knowing that reading the Federalist Papers or working one’s way through this web site would not sit high on any list of requirements to stimulate interest.  Our value is in satisfying interest, not creating it, our enlistment of the musical Hamilton notwithstanding.

Our purpose in this section is to open a dialogue with you, existing or prospective teachers of civics or related courses in American high schools and colleges.  Managed properly (which is our promise), the dialogue will be open and across all participants.  If we are successful, it will become a group think followed by group action.  We discuss the actions in the section entitled “Act” on this site.

In the course of our presentation here will be a deeper dive into the unwritten Constitution and the business of our rights under American government, issues that do not easily derive from the Federalist Papers, but which form a corporate part of how we experience and judge our governments.  Learning about our governments (we mean local and state as well as federal)—how they are structured now, how they work now, how they have changed with time, and why they have changed—must be a foundation stone in any such effort.  But it should not be considered enough.  Absorbing judicial review, our bizarre process for electing the President, and the administrative state will not lead one to new ideas on health care, immigration, global warming, poverty, or race relations.  Issues must matter.  Nor will it bring the experience of actual participation into the orbit of a student’s learning curve.  We hold that this trio—government, issues, participation—three legs holding up the stool, must be integral parts of civics in today’s education world

However, we are not going to produce here either a proposed curriculum or classroom protocols (with one exception).  We are not near enough to today’s education system to know its range of cultures, expectations, and operating procedures.  So we are going to offer some ideas and some tools, but ask you to fill in the blanks of actual practice.  As you supply ideas, we will publish them here, after a bit of curation, so that, over time, something looking like a handbook for high school and college teaching for civic engagement will materialize.

We invite interested parties to fill out our engagement form [insert hyperlink to form here] and share their US government studies / civic engagement teaching best practices. Those with experience in addressing the causes / remedies for disadvantaged people are also invited to share their experiences.  We might call it collaboration.