Ignorance of Civics is a major contributor to our nation’s current problems and divisions, said Dr. David Davenport, guest speaker at the Coronado Roundtable’s November meeting. Election year 2020 provided a stress test for our system of government, largely because Americans, especially younger Americans, are woefully ignorant of how it works. In his remarks titled “Commonsense Solutions to Our Civics Crisis,” Davenport noted that only 15% of Americans are proficient or better in history and only about a third could identify a single right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights or pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test required of immigrants, whose passing rate is 90%.
The reasons for this alarming degree of ignorance, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos described as “stark and inexcusable” are many and include a lack of funding, focus on STEM subjects and No Child Left Behind efforts and poor teacher training. Little or no civics education is provided at the elementary and middle grade levels.
An outcome of this gap in education is a widespread lack of understanding of how our government works, leading to, among other things, a distrust of government and its institutions and low voter turnout. The latter averages less than 50%, placing the U.S. only 26% among 32 nations. Voter turnout among older Americans is around two-thirds but only half of that among younger Americans eligible to vote. This apathy and lack of understanding of how systems of government work has also led to the rise of socialism in America. Recent polls have indicated that about 60% of young Americans have a favorable view of socialism and half would rather live in a socialist country. This preference appears to be formed more by naïve prospects of “free” benefits, rather than an appreciation of the very high taxes required to pay for them.
The solutions, Davenport says, will require more federal funding and testing requirements but even more action on the part of state and local education authorities in restoring civics to curricula and certifying teachers to teach it. Parents, too, must ensure that civics is discussed in the home and passed on to the young family members.
Davenport, a Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a visiting scholar at the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, is a past-president of Pepperdine University. He is the author of four books and a regular columnist for the Washington Examiner. He was introduced by Roundtable Board Member Dr. Suzanne Popp. Roundtable President Kirk Henry presided over the ZOOM meeting. The Coronado Roundtable presents prominent speakers on a variety of topics at its monthly meetings on the fourth Friday of each month except November and December. The November meeting is held on the third Friday because of the Thanksgiving holiday and there is no meeting in December. Meetings are being held by ZOOM in view of the pandemic restrictions and the public is invited to participate.