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Could Civics Class Help Mend Country's Deep Divisions?

North Dakota, like a majority of states, doesn't require that students pass a civics exam in order to graduate from high school. (SchoolPRPro/Pixabay)
North Dakota, like a majority of states, doesn't require that students pass a civics exam in order to graduate from high school. (SchoolPRPro/Pixabay)
September 29, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – Researchers are issuing a dire warning with a hint of hope - our republic is at risk, but solutions can be found, in North Dakota and across the nation.

Dr. Peter Levine, an associate dean at Tufts University, says an increasing number of Americans say they dislike or even loathe people who support different political views than their own. Deep distrust of institutions - from the federal government to organized religion and public schools - is also increasing. Levine explains what's at risk if these divisions continue.

"Falling apart; 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," he explains.

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. The report notes Arkansas does have a framework for civics and social studies classes, and has also added a requirement that students take the Immigration and Naturalization Service's "New Citizen Exam."

Levine notes 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, he's convinced there's reason to be hopeful.

"That is one ingredient to our dilemma today that civic education can help to address because civic education can teach young people to manage differences and talk to people who are different from them, and understand differences," he adds.

The report 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.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND