Civic Education Increases
Young People's Interest
in American Government, Study Shows
September 23, 2003
Tuesday - 1:00 am
More young Americans know the name of the reigning American Idol
and the city where the cartoon Simpsons live than know the political
party of their state's governor.
That's one of the more troubling
findings detailed in the new report, "Citizenship: A Challenge
for All Generations," released Monday by the Representative
Democracy in America Project, at the first Congressional Conference
on Civic Education in Washington, D.C. The report is based on
the results of a national survey, which found that 15- to 26-year-olds
don't understand the ideals of citizenship; they are disengaged
from the political process; they lack the knowledge necessary
for effective self-government; and they have limited appreciation
of American democracy.
The poll was conducted by Knowledge
Networks, an Internet-based research firm that interviewed a
random sample of 632 respondents in the 15-26 age group and 654
in the over-26 age group. The sampling error for each of the
age groups is plus/minus 4 percent.
It's clear, based on these
and other findings, that policymakers and teachers must devote
new energy to civic education. The report presents evidence that
courses in civics and government pique young people's interest
in and aid their understanding of the American system.
The study shows that:
- Only 66 percent of members
of this younger generation believe it's necessary to vote in
order to be a good citizen, compared with 83 percent of Americans
over age 26.
- Half of those 18 to 26 claim
to have voted in the last election, compared with three-fourths
of those over 26.
- Half of those 26 or younger
regularly or sometimes follow government news, and believe you
should, in order to be a good citizen, compared with three-fourths
of those over 26.
- Eighty percent of those 26
or younger know Ruben Studdard won the last American Idol competition.
But fewer than half of the members of the younger generation
know the party of their state's governor.
In addition, the study found
- Members of the younger generation
who have taken a course in American government or civics are
more likely to see themselves as personally responsible for improving
society, and they have a broader concept of the qualities of
a good citizen. For example, 71 percent of teens and adults in
their early 20s who have taken a government course believe voting
is a necessary component of good citizenship, compared with 57
percent of those who have not taken civics.
- Two out of five Americans
between 15 and 26 years old who have taken a civics class say
their interest in government increased as a result.
- Young people who have taken
a civics course are two to three times more likely to vote, follow
government news and contact a public official about an issue
that concerns them.
Today, 39 states require a
course in civics or government before high school graduation.
Sixty-four percent of young respondents to the project's survey
said they had taken such a course. But the report results show
more must be done.
"This is a pivotal time
in our country's history," said Utah House Speaker Marty
Stephens, who is president of NCSL. "We can't let apathy
and ignorance become the status quo. I challenge all states to
examine their civic education requirements, to make sure their
schools are turning out informed citizens who don't take for
granted the freedoms America provides."
A Challenge for All Generations
The Representative Democracy
in America Project is a collaboration among NCSL's Trust for
Representative Democracy, the Center on Congress at Indiana University
and the Center for Civic Education. The project is designed to
reinvigorate and educate Americans on the critical relationship
between government and the people it serves. The project introduces
citizens, particularly young people, to the representatives,
institutions, and processes that serve to realize the goal of
a government of, by, and for the people.
Source of News Release:
National Conference of State
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