Last week wasn’t exactly a high point for American democracy.
A sitting U.S. senator was tried on bribery charges. Another admitted to groping a woman as she slept. On the other side of the Capitol, a complex, controversial tax reform measure was passed by the House without a hearing and outside of the normal legislative process.
Pressing reset on the ills presently manifesting in the United States’ political system is impossible. The next best choice is to impart the ideals of democracy and public service onto the next generation of leaders – students.
As such, a proposal by the State Board of Education to define Nebraska’s “civic readiness” standards required of high school graduates in the state comes at the right time.
The plan’s four prongs include demonstrating the knowledge of government’s proper function and structure, gathering and processing information to participate in a republic, taking an active role in the political process by voting and other means and representing the rights, freedoms and ideals of a democracy.
Individually, each piece seems like a rather common-sense standard for Nebraska students. But, as is often paraphrased, common sense isn’t always common.
Hence, the growing movement for standards such as beyond the typical college- and career-readiness benchmarks of this type makes perfect sense.
Though graduating a student who is armed and ready to play an active, informed role in American democracy lacks the tangible outcome and measurable data points of placing that student in college, creating a properly civic-minded adult is important as well. Credit Nebraska educators and administrators for taking steps to prioritize an intangible – but critical – result of our state’s schools.
Today’s youth are growing in a far more diverse world, both in terms of ancestry and exposure to ideas, than most current elected officials. But students are also seeing dysfunction that accompanies a historic rash of partisanship in recent years, Congress’s approval ratings in single digits and a president whose term has been marked more by Twitter exchanges than legislative accomplishments.
What they’ve seen over the past last week – or last few years – isn’t the best American government can offer. Nebraska is taking a positive step to help students grow to one day participate in and lead our democracy.
In the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
The American political experiment brought democracy to a modern world. The ride has been bumpy at times – not just recently – and by no means has it been perfect. But the best way to improve U.S. democracy and grow the gap over the other forms of government Churchill chides is to inform and empower our youth to one day take the reins as they pursue a better country and world.