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Civics Lesson Sorely Needed – MT Teacher Leads the Charge

December 17, 2008

Bozeman, MT – Describe a free enterprise system, name the three branches of government, and list the "inalienable rights" referred to in the Declaration of Independence. Those are examples of civics questions on a quiz given to randomly-selected Americans by a civic education group, and 71% of those quizzed received an "F." Those results are part of a report, "Our Fading Heritage," from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Literacy Program, that calls for more civics education in schools.

Sally Broughton is Montana's "Teacher of the Year," who teaches social studies at Monforton School near Bozeman. She also helped write some of the questions for the national civics test, and finds the recent poor results shocking. But she thinks she knows what is going on.

"We have so much emphasis on reading and math that civics is what's getting skipped. It doesn't have to be that way, because there's no reason you can't read civics materials for reading study material."

Broughton weaves civics education into her social studies classes. Students have to identify a problem in the community, propose a public policy solution, and take the proposal to the city, county, or whatever board can consider it.

"Civics education doesn't need to be an add-on; it shouldn't be an add-on; it should be part of the regular curriculum. It's just part of what you're doing."

Broughton is also a member of MEA-MFT, the state's union for teachers and other public employees.
She's coordinating a summer conference to help teachers learn about ways to incorporate civics education in the classroom.
The full report, and an online version of the civics quiz, can be found at
www.americancivicliteracy.org.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT