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A sigh of relief


A major confrontation between the legislative and executive branches of our national government has been resolved – at least temporarily. But its aftermath has left ramifications for all levels of government and private enterprise. It is a harsh reminder that the price of our form of democracy is constant vigilance combined with an educated public that understands the nature of our system. The cry of “No taxation without representation” in the 1700s was a colonial response toward authoritarian British rule that sowed the seeds of revolution, resulting in the birth of the United States of America. A strong commitment to checks and balances between three branches of national governance is mirrored within state governments as well. A bicameral (two-tier) legislature is matched by executive and judicial branches to hopefully hold shenanigans to minimum. Although political chicanery is always a threat, public opinion and grass roots action remains the ultimate power.


Recognition of this fact and personal responsibility is evidenced within our educational and civic organizations. Although not always enthralled by the subject, operation of our government is taught in some form to our youth. Recent events may have temporarily brought those lessons to the forefront of even the most resistant of students. When the livelihood of a significant part of our population is coupled with the disruption of regulatory and protective mechanisms of common cause, distress spreads rapidly and threatens the basic fabric of our society. This is not a matter for petty concerns or ego-driven hysteria… our entire civic structure is at risk.


The importance of education for all of us to understand how our government works and the wide variety of functions it performs can not be overstated. Many flaws and misadventures within politics are directly related to public ignorance that thrives on routine and non-inflammatory subjects that can lull even the most ardent observer into a sense of complacency. This is the true enemy of the people, hiding deception and malfeasance in plain sight. There is no immunity from bad conduct at any level of government. The antidote for a malignant infection of this type is knowledge of how the system works combined with constant vigilance.


The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, released the “2018 Brown Center Report on American Education,” saying that although discussion of governmental components is common within the United States, “participatory elements and community engagement appear less common.” The report contends that although difficult to define, effective civics education and preparation for an informed and active electorate depends on three primary factors:


  1. Civic knowledge: an understanding of government structure, government processes, and relevant social studies knowledge and concepts


  1. Civic skills: abilities that enable students to participate in a democracy as responsible citizens; and


  1. Civic dispositions: attitudes important in a democracy such as a sense of civic duty and concern for the welfare of others


The report is a guideline to not only an informed electorate, but one that participates as well. It is important to note that the study speaks to a “set of ‘best’ practices” that involve not only classroom education but activities “outside of formal classroom instruction.” This is a matter of prime importance to all of us, young or old, government employees or not. If you don’t believe it, just ask the federal employees and contractors who lost income and businesses that depend to some degree on a functional government. This was a “partial government shutdown” and over for now. But, for all of us, government employees or not, it was a loud warning against complacency and neglect that can easily lead to corruption and dysfunction of our society. The temporary relief is welcome, but doesn’t eliminate our civic obligations.




2018 Brown Center Report on American Education: An inventory of state civics requirements