Even at the end of this crucial election year, more college-educated Americans than ever seem uneducated on civics and government. With voter turnout in the 2008 general elections higher than ever, and knowledge of business, government and constitutional principles lower than ever, the nation needs to make supporting civic education a priority. But even more than that, the culture must change and more readily engage civic issues in a meaningful and intelligent way.
The recent study that revealed these embarrassing figures came after examining 2,500 random college-age individuals on fundamental civics. Of those, only one in five college graduates earned a C or better on the exam. And while it’s unacceptable that American college graduates are civically illiterate, it’s not just the education system that must address the issue.
Though education is a surefire way to teach knowledge of our nation’s history, the education means nothing if citizens cannot use this knowledge in their everyday lives. Reading newspapers and paying attention to national issues is one way to keep up on civic happenings, but it is only one piece of a very large puzzle. Beyond the front pages of The New York Times and the sound bites on the nightly news, individuals can benefit greatly from experiencing both foreign and local news sources outside the mainstream. Reading articles from the BBC and the MidEast Wire can provide invaluable international perspective on national issues, while keeping up with local news and events is as important ‘-‘- if not more important ‘-‘- to everyday life as the national issues.
But the best way to improve civic literacy might be to talk with friends and family about current and past events. More than just reading and learning about civics, actively engaging others in conversation beyond superficial observations is vital to informed citizenship.It is truly a ‘use it or lose it’ situation. If individuals only think about the civic world around them when it is time to vote for politicians, each vote will progressively and increasingly lose meaning as more voters become focused on distracting issues like personality and campaign happenings when civic senses dull.
Students, particularly at Boston University, where the entire campus is entrenched in a city, should engage themselves with their local government. It is a shame on all citizens if even the most highly educated individuals fail to understand the most important fundamentals of citizenship.