15 Sep 2014
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Parents Must Be Role Models In Our Democracy

Carol Kocivar, president of the California Parent Teacher Association, advises parents on helping their children become good citizens.

Parents Must Be Role Models In Our Democracy

Fault Lines in Our Democracy, a  recent study from Educational Testing Service, shows that “weak civics knowledge among young people is linked to less voting, less volunteering and greater distrust in government.”

For those who are civics challenged, this has nothing to do with whether you drive a Honda or whether you get lost on your way to the polls.

It is about our democracy and how we participate in important decisions. And it also is about how we educate our children.

Before I tell you how well our kids did on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics, let’s see how well you do.

Below are some of the issues our students were asked to know:

  1. What is the main source of government funding?
  2. What is the purpose of the constitution?
  3. Identify a right protected by the first amendment.
  4. What is the role of the Supreme Court?
  5. Identify the meaning of a Supreme Court decision
  6. Identify the effect of foreign policy on other nations.

Piece of cake?  Not so much?

The questions above that are in bold italics are the Piece of Cake questions. If you got those right, you hit “basic” knowledge.

To be proficient, a 4th grader should know the purpose of the constitution, an eighth grader should know the role of the supreme court and a 12th grader should know the effect of foreign policy on other nations. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010 (NCES 2011-466), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2011)

Did you beat the kids?

According to the report, only 27 percent of fourth graders, 22 percent of eighth graders and 24 percent of 12th graders were proficient on the 2010 NAEP assessment.

The report also found that if you are young, less educated and in a lower-income group, you are less likely to vote.

These findings have big implications for our democracy and for how we make decisions about the future of our state and our nation.

So what can we do?   Parents can be role models.

The report found:

“Parents… can boost the civic participation of their children. In fact, recent analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies has shown that the home may be a much more important influence than the schools. In the 2010 election, 18- to 19-year-olds were much more likely to vote if a parent voted (32 percent versus 4 percent). This large difference held across both gender and racial/ethnic groups. These data support the notion that good civic behavior is learned in the home, as well as in school.”

Here are some suggestions:

  • Register to vote.  Click here here for information on how to do this.
  • Find out how your local school supports civics education.
  • Support community efforts to register and encourage eligible young people to vote.

California State PTA believes civics learning should be a priority in school reform.

We helped write  Proposition 38 on the ballot in November to support a comprehensive education for all our children. This specifically supports funding for civics and history in our schools.

You can find  more resources to support civics education on the California State PTA website. With an important election coming up, we encourage you to use these resources in your school and community, including  MY VOTE.

Carol Kocivar is the president of the California Parent Teacher Association.

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