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Politics

Civic Education: Becoming a Responsible Citizen

May 19, 2015 - 6:00pm

I was taught early in life to be an active citizen both in school and throughout the community. These lessons were instilled in me by my parents and by my teachers, and provided the foundation for my love and appreciation of our local community and for our country.

As an elected official, I have noticed that the more people complain about their situation, the more they demand the government fix their problems. Yet, they know not whether more or less government is the answer to their needs. How many people either understand or are ever taught how the political process is designed to work? They complain, but many do not know how to be engaged to make positive change. Over the years, unfortunately, I have noticed an alarming decrease in civic participation, particularly among our youth. Because of this increase in apathy and a lack of understanding about how the political process works on a local, state, and federal level, I am concerned about our next generation.

It is my belief that the largest contributing factor to this apathy is a lack of understanding of basic civics, brought about by a void in civic education throughout the United States. Additionally, there is a general lack of a sense of civic duty, responsibility and civility

We cannot sit idly by and allow this to take place.

An increased emphasis on civic education must be made and, I believe, a national civics charter school initiative should be established that is dedicated to this mission. This educational journey would teach and inform the next generation in our community about their role as citizens, improve students civic knowledge, and thus the overall health of our republic.

Education

Education is the key to great change. It enables individuals to lift themselves to better circumstances, to support their families and communities, and to bring about change for the better. Education is vital for individuals to be contributing citizens. It is essential in combating poverty, apathy, hopelessness and disillusionment.

Civic education, in particular, is critical in molding good citizens. In past decades, civic education was a prominent part of the curriculum of our nations students. These students were encouraged not only to learn about civic duty but to actively participate in civic life. Unfortunately, today that is no longer the case. The teaching of civics in first and secondary education has fallen by the wayside, and surprisingly, there is no program in Americas university system devoted to preparing teachers to teach civics to their students. This leaves many without even a basic understanding of how local, state, or federal government operates.

Our Founding Fathers thoughtfully formed our government by crafting the Constitution, giving future generations the great opportunity to effect change, with many subsequent generations doing so. Rather than simply taking this for granted, we must reinforce the power of civic engagement to hold for future generations.

How many of us would be more inclined to exercise our right to vote, volunteer on campaigns, or even run for office if we had a stronger understanding of the trials and tribulations that resulted in the founding of our republic? The framers certainly were educated, and in creating the Constitution, brought to the drafting table a wealth of knowledge of government, political theory, and the English Parliamentary systems evolution from a monarchy. Additionally, their own experience with Parliament governing their home colonies, and trying and taxing colonial citizens, without representation across the Atlantic, was at the forefront of their minds when they established our form of government. How many of us know that principles of the Magna Carta are in our Bill of Rights, let alone the amendments in which they are contained? How many of us know of the failings of the Articles of Confederation? How many of us know of the events of the Ratification debates?

These critical moments helped to shape the very foundation of the establishment of our country and our government, and they should not be overlooked.

Civic Duty

As citizens, we all bear the responsibility and right to raise our voices for just and noble causes and to speak out against those causing harm to our communities and our great nation as a whole. Good citizenship requires diligence in keeping informed of current events, as well as active involvement whether through our schools and communities or our local, state, and federal governments. At a minimum, we should be studying the current events, issues, and decisions facing our communities, and thoughtfully weighing in with politicians and public officials.

It is important to set an example for our nations youth, as they will be leaders sooner than they think.

We have more opportunities to become involved and effect change than ever before. Today the privilege to vote in elections is extended to those of all races, religions, income and education levels alike. What better way to combat the apathy of our youth than parents taking their children to the voting polls on Election Day? Or to a city commission meeting? Or by encouraging them to write a letter to their local paper or their local elected officials?

We, too, should be attending these meetings, writing letters, and asking questions rather than sitting idly by, with shoulder-shrugging resignation, lamenting about the direction our country is taking.

There are organizations, for all ages and philosophical beliefs, giving countless opportunities for outreach to our communities. There are clubs for both Republicans and Democrats. The Chamber of Commerce and other service organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, help to keep people engaged in our community.

In order to combat the shortcomings leaving our youth unaware of opportunities they have to effect change, I am actively exploring civic education policy and ways to fill this void. Florida, currently, has zero charter schools or magnet schools with an emphasis on civics, government, or public policy. The establishment of such a school, dedicated to civic education and character development, would inform the next generation in our community of their role as citizens, improve students civic knowledge, and thus the overall health of the state of Florida, and ultimately this nation.

It is my firm belief we can instill in our young people a sense of civic duty and a passion for involvement that will help to bring forward new opportunities and successes for our nation. In doing so, the next generation can learn firsthand that early, thoughtful, and diligent involvement can effect real change. Let us provide the platform for solid citizenship so that the next generation can be the next greatest generation.

Dennis Ross is a Republican United States congressman from Lakeland representing the 15th Congressional District and serving his third term. He is a senior deputy majority whip.

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