Simply stated, Civics is the study of how our government works and the part American citizens can play in their own government. Civics is often required to be a part of public-school curricula, and many state homeschool laws require the subject be included as part of a core curriculum. Why? Because, regardless of a family’s political preferences, the study of civics is crucial to preparing our children to be well-informed U.S. citizens.
One of the great lessons that can be learned from understanding the structure of our government is that students will learn to connect the past and the present as a part of becoming informed future voters. If homeschoolers understand the way our American government works, it will be easier for them to make sense of real time current events and will give them some sense that there is a functioning system set up to solve modern issues of our society.
BENEFITS TO HOMESCHOOLERS
“Civics helps students engage in critical thinking and writing, which engages those 21st century skills that will be essential in their future. In examining civics, we cultivate empathy.” (Amanda Setters, Curriculum Associate, iCivics, https://www.icivics.org/about )
A quick list of how homeschoolers can benefit from a civics education includes:
- Civics instruction prepares students to be informed/engaged members of their own communities.
- Learning about the fundamentals of Government helps students understand their role in actual citizen ownership of the government. A democracy is organized to recognize all opinions and ideas about how the government should function.
- A good civics education teaches kids about the basics of how their government works. They learn about the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government and why these three branches must work together to pass and enforce laws. They also learn about the duties of each individual branch and how all three make up a carefully constructed checks and balances system.
- Students learn that government officials represent the people who elected them and that voters have the power to vote politicians in and out of office if the changes they want do not happen.
- Homeschool students who have access to a comprehensive civics’ education learn that voting is an important right of every citizen and that voting is the primary way to make sure their voices can be heard.
- A well-designed civics education can provide a homeschool student with the information they will need as adults to make informed decisions about political campaign speeches or news stories from the many U.S. news sources that cover issues related to people running for public office.
- A civics education can be an important element in helping students recognize that every citizen has Constitutional rights that cannot be taken away. Students of civics learn about the Bill of Rights and what those ten amendments to the Constitution guarantee to all Americans. They will also be given the opportunity to understand the remaining seventeen amendments and what the Constitution means when it gives power to its citizens and puts certain limitations on the government.
A CIVICS EDUCATION SHOULDN’T STOP IN THE HOMESCHOOL CLASSROOM
According to the website icma.org, “The earlier students learn about the impact that local government has on their lives and how much their voices and votes make a difference, the better for all of us.” (https://icma.org/k-12-civics-education)
Dr. Brooke Blevins, Co-director of Baylor University’s iEngage Summer Institute, points out that “Without civic engagement, civic knowledge only does so much good. Whether it’s a donation drive to collect supplies for abused children,” or any other participation in the local community, “K-12 educators have an opportunity to… guide and teach students how to be active members of democracy far beyond election season.”
CIVICS LESSONS CAN BE FOUND EVERYWHERE
There’s no need to limit your homeschool student to reading civics textbooks. There are many other context-based ways to learn about what’s happening in our government, how the government operates, and what role your student can play in the process, both now and as an adult.
Read the Newspaper – This used to be the main way we all learned about what was happening in our world. Now we’re more focused on responding to click bait and reading news in a squeezed and commercialized “entertainment”-focused mode on the Internet. Newspapers still exist. Buy one or subscribe to one and sit down with you student and show them what can be learned from a great newspaper.
Read “living books” about civics – Living books are generally written by someone with a passion for the topic or someone who has experienced the subject matter first-hand. Readers tend to engage in living books and are drawn to learning more about a subject.
Keep up with the news – Challenge your homeschool student to keep up with the news on an assigned government topic for just one week.
Discuss current events – Talk about current events with your student and ask them to write a weekly current events report that aligns with that week’s civics lesson.
Study the election process – Election years provide an excellent living classroom where kids can learn first-hand how a democratic election was designed to work. Federal election years provide an excellent “workshop” for kids to dissect the process and decide whether or not they think the system is working the way it was intended to function.
Fewer than one fourth of eighth graders tested “proficient” or higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam in 2016. Even students studying advance coursework don’t score well. The average score on the AP Government and Politics exam is near the lowest of all forty-seven AP exams. Barely half of the students who take this AP exam pass at all. And it’s not just kids who are lacking knowledge of American civics. A recent Pew Research Center study found that only one in three Americans can name one of three branches of government.
American civics is disappearing from K to 12 programming. Our country is nearly 250 years old, so this is a great time to learn about what principles guided our forefathers in creating “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (SOURCE: Pledge of Allegiance, 1954, current version, per 4 U.S.C. Section 4)