Researchers: Nation at Risk Without More Civic Education
DES MOINES, Iowa - Americans increasingly are losing faith not only in government but in their fellow man's ability to make good political decisions, according to new research that says it poses a major risk to Iowa and the republic at large and recommends more civic education for the next generation.
A growing number of Americans say they dislike or even loathe people who support different political views than their own, said Dr. Peter Levine, an associate dean at Tufts University. Deep distrust of institutions - from the federal government to organized religion and public schools - also is increasing, he said, explaining what is at risk if these divisions continue.
"Falling apart," he said. "Our basic political institutions not functioning or not functioning nearly adequately, and our people becoming increasingly polarized and angry at each other, to the point where we're not really governable."
Levine co-authored a new report that says part of the solution is to require more students to take courses on civics, government, law and related topics to ensure they're better informed and more likely to vote. Civic learning opportunities are lacking in Iowa, he said, adding that far more resources and professional development are needed to change that.
He noted that large civic associations that were more popular in the 20th century, such as organized religion and unions, have given way to narrower agendas. As challenging as things are now, Levine said, he is convinced there's reason to be hopeful.
"I think the way forward is through the next generation. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about them, their idealism and their openness to a variety of views," he said. "But I do think we need to educate them better than we do now for citizenship. And so, if we do that, then I'm pretty optimistic in the long run."
The report, online at civxsummit.org, includes a chart that summarizes the key civic learning policies in each state and pinpoints what the research team sees as the areas of greatest need.