Over the past days, weeks, months, and yes, years, we have seen a gradual erosion of the very foundation of the rights of American citizens. It is difficult to trace this phenomenon to a specific ground zero, but maybe, just maybe, a good starting point might be our failure to teach civics in our schools today.
Very simply, civics has been defined as “the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society. ... Civic education is the study of the theoretical, political, and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties.” While the definition is straightforward, the definition fails to capture the significance of the necessity for all Americans to have a basic knowledge of the foundation of America.
So, the rhetorical question which necessarily needs to be answered is why should anyone care about civic education? To borrow from the words of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the reason all Americans should care about civic education is that “It’s just critical that if we are going to survive as a nation, that all our citizens know and understand the fundamental beliefs that caused the formation of this country and stand at the bottom, the bedrock foundation, for the things in which we most strongly believe. So, you have to start at the beginning – and that means the Declaration of Independence.”
Take just a moment to think about the words of Justice O’Connor when she said, “if we are going to survive as a nation” Americans need to “understand the fundamental beliefs that caused the formation of this country.” Civic education would provide all of us with the tools necessary to navigate through the dangerous waters which lie ahead for our nation, and civic education would also allow all of us to understand our role in the ongoing debate regarding our freedoms. Another important purpose of a civic education, or maybe one of the most important reasons for a civic education, is that as Americans we would, and should, be equipped to engage in the debate over our freedoms.
Very candidly, like so many Americans, I had spent most of my life viewing America from the sidelines. Time and time again, I found myself wanting to jump onto the field as a player, instead of merely cheering loudly for those willing to take the field, those willing to be bruised and battered fighting for the values which mean so much to all Americans. Every time I thought about raising my voice in opposition to those things which I strongly believed were tearing apart the very fabric of the freedoms, freedoms which our Founding Fathers had woven into the Constitution, I decided my small voice would never be heard, or I did not have the skills to be a player on the field. Yet, as I stood on the sidelines with so many other Americans, I finally decided that enough was enough and unless I was willing to enter the fray, as an American I had no right to complain about the direction America was heading.
Another rhetorical question which needs to be answered is why is civic education so important today? While the list of reasons is endless, one reason is that civic education would allow all of us to respond to attempts by lawmakers to dictate the speech of Americans; or attempts to limit our right to assemble whether on the grounds of our state or nation’s capitols to petition our government; or attempts to limit our right to assemble and worship together without interference; or the attempts to limit the other myriad of rights set forth in the Bill of Rights.
On a final note, it is time for all Americans to take a moment to understand our basic founding documents, documents which provide us with the ability to jump onto the field as a player in the debate about the future of America, the future of those freedoms found in the four corners of our Constitution. It is also time for our lawmakers to require that all Americans, and all Kentuckians, are provided a basic civic education, a civic education which will equip all Americans with the tools necessary to allow America “to survive as nation.”