It’s Time to Take Action on Civics Education

Farah Daredia

The American public education system was founded upon the values of educating young people to become informed and engaged citizens so that they could carry our democracy forward. Thomas Jefferson once even proclaimed that of all the arguments for public education, “none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people safe, as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty.” And the educational philosophy of the Great Neck school district is in agreement with this sentiment. The Great Neck School District to “help all children acquire, according to their capabilities, the power and will to learn and to live a creative life as members of a democratic society,” and strive to make it possible for each child to achieve a “heightened sense of responsibility for full participation in society.”

Today’s generation of students has grown up in a democracy that has been bruised and crushed and ripping at the seams for our whole lifetime. Today, political and economic interests seem to have replaced the Constitution as the center of our democratic institutions. Today, both sides of the aisle cannot even agree on what is reality and what is fantasy, let alone work together to serve the American people as elected representatives. And today, in the midst of unprecedented economic and public health crises, all Americans have felt the real and fatal consequences of the dysfunction and polarization that have come to define our democracy: hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead, 1/7 families can’t put food on their table, and it has been a struggle to keep providing kids with an education.. 

As our generation comes of age, the democracy we inherit is in critical condition. The responsibility of reviving, rebuilding, and strengthening the fragile American democratic system rests in our hands. But less than half of young Americans vote, even in presidential elections, and just 10 percent of Americans between 18 and 24 met a standard of “informed engagement” in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

The only way that we will effectively be able to rise up as dedicated citizens and agents of change is if we receive a strong civic education. This is not the kind of civic education where students memorize ideas from core documents to cram for exams only to forget them shortly after. Great Neck students should be taking action civics through an “issue to action” curriculum grounded in critical thinking, communications, research, and problem solving as a required course from middle school to high school. Through an action civics model, high school students identify problems in their community, choose issues they care about, find their root causes, research them, find allies to support their cause, and come up with their own ideas on how to take action in the real world. Action civics provides students with the civic skills necessary to drive systemic change, encourages young people to find and use their voice to engage in important issues, and shows youth that we have the power to make change in our communities. With this curriculum, young people will effectively be able to “learn democracy by doing democracy.”

With a strong civic education, my hope is that our generation will be able to leave behind a democracy and country that is a little better than the one we inherited. From a young age, students should know how the government works and more importantly, who it’s about: all of us, its citizens. Through this understanding, we’ll have the courage and investment to actively use our voice in democracy and to elect leaders and advocate for the changes we want to see in our country. Our school should cultivate a culture of civil discourse, because our democracy is defined by its diversity of beliefs and backgrounds, but our goal is shared: we should all want what’s best for our country. Only by learning from and conversing with people who have different perspectives will we realize how to work together in unity to move our country forwards. 

It will inevitably be our turn to lead our democracy forward, but the question that remains is whether or not we’ll be prepared to address this crisis that lies ahead of us. Our school district has the power to decide the answer to that question. If our schools implement an action civics curriculum, not only will our country’s democracy be better off, but the Great Neck community will be too. Great Neck is already leading in academic excellence, but today, we have the opportunity to lead in the promotion of democratic values. Yes, adding a new curriculum is a large step that will take much planning and effort from Great Neck administrators and educators. But our democracy is in crisis, and now, more than ever, that means we need drastic action. For Great Neck students to become forces of good in our community and democracy, our schools need to implement an action civics curriculum.

Note to student readers: If you’d like to see the government investing in civic education, the YMCA is inviting students to cosponsor the Civics Secures Democracy Act, which is a bipartisan bill that grants federal funding for civics and history education. If you’d like to become a student sponsor, just take a few seconds and fill out this form: