Education has been an effective solution for many pressing global issues. Wildlife activists use it to limit the hunting and extinction of endangered animals, parents use it to help their children accept those with different backgrounds and ideologies and religious groups use it to remove any misconceptions concerning their beliefs. Since schools do not utilize the power of education as a tool for improving our democracy, as shown by statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the University of Pennsylvania has proved schools across the country are doing poorly in Civics courses, Paly’s value in civics, a part of U.S. Government should be used as a model.
U.S. Government classes like the ones at Palo Alto High School need more attention in building effective courses and funding in order to properly educate students so that they can make more informed choices for their country. Our country is run by the idea of a republic, where people’s voices are a vital part of moving it forward. Therefore, if citizens themselves are not educated on our nation’s system and values that we hold today, and are encouraged to think of how to improve the system and make a difference, the government can quickly descend into a state of turmoil.
This lack of a proper national education in civics has been occurring for many years. According to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) on civics in 2010, only 24 percent of 12th-graders performed proficiently or above on an assessment created to test their knowledge of civics.
In 2011, federal funding for Civics and Social Studies classes were blocked, only making matters worse. Out of Americans as a whole, two-thirds cannot even name the three branches of government, according to a recent study performed at the University of Pennsylvania, something that is taught on the very first day of the U.S. Government class at Paly.
U.S. government, the semester-long class required for 10th graders, has a median grade of A- according to Paly Input club. The high test scores of Paly students contrast sharply when compared to the rest of the nation and their scores on NAEP tests. This is caused by the community support of Palo Alto schools and passionate teachers who want to inform students about their country and their rights, sentiments that should be adopted across the nation.
“I think [U.S. Government] is the first time that students have really thought about it [the government] as a system and how it really works,” said Caitlin Evans, U.S. Government teacher. “Students also sort of realize the rights that they have and the rights that they don’t have.”
If other schools had the right amount of funding and devoted time to improving their civics classes like Paly does, it could affect decisions the country makes for itself. First, with more funding for Civics, other schools can hire more passionate teachers who can implement interesting applications to civics that can better improve the student’s knowledge of their country and make them excited to learn. Then, for example, the newly civics-educated citizens will be able to realize, and help others realize for example, that Trump is not treating people who make up the Judiciary Branch with respect as shown when he condemned them for their decision to put an end to his “Muslim Ban,” even though they hold an equal amount of power to the Executive Branch due to the checks and balances system. Being able to understand this makes them more knowledgeable about the characteristics of their leaders that they want in power rather than making voting based on other characteristics that have little correlation with their ability to work respectfully with the rest of the government. However, this is just one example of how knowledge of civics can shape our country and values. A civics education is what ensures that we check our government so that we can all stay prosperous.
It is not too late to move our democracy in the right direction. More funding needs to be put into social science departments all across the country, and the government and students alike need to treat U.S. Government as important as other subjects. By copying Paly’s attention to U.S. Government, we can help our citizens participate in democracy fully equipped to make the correct decisions for our country.