The civic knowledge of the average American seems to be quickly declining. A survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center last year found that only two in every five Americans can correctly name the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Yet the priority for civic education continues to decline within our school systems.
Beyond being able to be drilled on American history facts, a solid understanding of civic history equips students with the knowledge of how our nation was established and the tools to allow individuals to be actively engaged citizens.
But as Time contributor Jason Steinhauer, wrote in his piece, "American Students Need History — But Not for the Reasons You're Hearing," history can challenge students "to be more independent-minded analysts" and, as a whole, "more compassionate human beings."
Steinhauer states, "The best reason to study history is not to memorize facts, but rather to experience the historical process and learn to interpret facts in a thoughtful, independent and meaningful manner. If we are to continue to foster national greatness and prepare students to independently assess an increasingly complex world, we should continue to promote such thinking."
As Steinhauer so clearly writes it, for the young of America to be able to think independently and become engaged citizens, they must learn and understand significant moments within our history.
While there are things we can all learn and benefit from at every point in history, these specific moments in history are moments every college student should learn and grow from.
- The American Revolution. The American Revolutionary War still stands as one of the most critical points in history when our nation sought to establish our rights and equal freedoms. A political revolt in North America, this war defined the total freedom of America from Great Britain. As a war that made the first steps toward our nation's independence, it was also our nation's first steps to the individual freedoms and human rights we live in now.
- The U.S. Constitution. Many may view the U.S. Constitution as just another document that helped establish the freedom of our nation. However, the U.S. Constitution isn't only vital for students to know as a critical component of our nation's history. It is the document that secured our rights and freedoms and is essential to our democracy. Essentially the U.S. Constitution places the power of the government in the hands of its citizens.
- The Emancipation Proclamation. When President Abraham Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation, it defined the Civil War as a war for freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom to slaves in Confederate states. The Civil War was a critical time in America's history, which could have easily led to the division of our nation. This proclamation also determined the future of America, before the Union won the Civil War. Had the Confederates won, our society would look entirely different.
- The Civil Rights Movement. One of the most defining times in American history, the Civil Rights Movement was certainly the continued restoration of equality for all and, in more ways than one, a return to what the Emancipation Proclamation first stood for. Particularly amid the current climate our country faces, it is vitally important that each citizen understand the history of civil rights, equality and justice that was fought for and continues to be sought out.
- September 11, 2001. Many students now entering college are unaware of the great importance of this devastating date. September 11 (9/11) was a direct attack against human rights and an act of terrorism. The events of 9/11 significantly shaped our future. At the time the terrorists attacked our nation, we were not engaged in any wars and the majority of us did not even know that ISIS existed. This attack catapulted our country into a wage against terrorism that we still currently face. Our country initiated several new policies, such as the USA Patriot Act, tightened the belt on airline securities and launched us into a War on Terrorism that still lingers. As former president George W. Bush stated, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
To understand our freedoms and continue to protect and actively advocate for the human rights of others, students must learn the critical moments that brought our nation to where it is today.
By failing to teach civics, we fail to prepare individuals to think critically and think for themselves. When we equip students with the ability to understand our nation further, we can enable them to participate in civic engagement more actively.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern's president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.
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