President Barack Obama tours a seventh grade classroom.

What can California schools do to improve civic engagement? The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the world’s democracies in voter participation, and less than half of California’s high school seniors consider active involvement in state and local issues their responsibility. That’s according to a report released Tuesday by a state task force set up to revitalize K-12 civic education in California. How can schools help students get more interested and involved with issues in their community and government?

Report: California Schools Fall Short on Civics Education 7 August,2014forum

David Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education
Joseph Kahne, professor of education at Mills College, research director of the Civic Engagement Research Group and former member of the Civic Learning Task Force
Robin Mencher, director of Education and Media Learning for KQED
Young Whan Choi, history and civic engagement coordinator for the Oakland Unified School District

  • ES Trader

    civics isn’t the only subject woefully lacking, so is finance and economics along with the 3 R’s……..public education isn’t valued by the masses because it is “free”. Put a price on it and parents will become more involved in its effectiveness.

    • Robert Thomas

      Yeah… Feudal Europe… Good times…

    • James Ivey

      Sorry, but that’s just wrong. My entire education has been public education, including one of the top law schools in the country. My daughter is currently in the Oakland public school district. I know a hundred or so students and know their parents. Every single one of them takes the education of their child(ren) very seriously. So, sorry, but you’re just wrong on this issue.

      • ES Trader

        In baseball a .200 hitter means that he does get hits occasionally but not very often and a line-up of ,200 hitters, even if there is one or two .300 hitters means a losing revord becauae of a lack of run production.

        That is how the American education system operates.

        MLB has a high percentage of foreign players and the American economy mirrors it. Silicon valley wants a relaxation of visa rules in order to have the workforce to function.

        So in MLB and NBA foreign players make millions for the entertainment of sports fans.

        For every example like you, there are too many others hitting sub .200 and .200 hitters are not ML material.

        In the history of sports, major changes in the game occurred often brought on by a single player.

        Babe Ruth did it with HR’s, ( prior to him HR’s were not plentiful), In football it was the forward pass, in basketball it was the jump shot, in track it was breaking the 4 minute mile and the “Fosbury Flop” that revolutionized the high jump.

        American education needs a similar catalyst.

        In Japan kids go to school nearly year round and 12 days on Saturday.

        Here the school year is still based on the economy is still primarily agriculture and breaks and vacations abound.

        So good for you that either your parents instilled the value of learning or you “caught” on yourself but this system produces too many K’s (strike-outs) for it to be a WS champion.

  • Not just education – maybe young people’s feelings that elected officials are ineffective (“they’re all crooks”) contributes to their political apathy since they feel that voting makes no difference in their daily lives.

  • Daniel Hudkins

    Hi, I wondered if the panel was aware of the work of the Junior Statesman Foundation also known as JSA. This 80 year old organization is devoted to civic education through clubs and summer programs throughout the United States. It’s the largest student run organization in the US and actually started in Los Gatos, CA. I have been the teacher/adviser of my school’s chapter and have also served on the foundation’s board. Students learn to debate and argue everyday questions in their lives. There is even a model Congress that takes place in the state Capitol every February.

    There are many resources available from JSA to support teachers.

  • James Ivey

    If I recall correctly, House Republicans passed a bill a few years ago that claimed it would automatically become law if not voted on by the Senate or vetoed by the President within a certain amount of time. So, apparently even the House of Representatives doesn’t know how a bill becomes a law under the US Constitution. Can we spread civil education to the House of Representatives? How about at least those that represent California?

  • Guest

    I see the communities in the South Bay where there are extremely high numbers of bi nationals here for work, really need civic education. The communities do not integrate anymore and civics would unite us. We are more and more breaking into little input country name across communities.

  • Robert Thomas

    My ever-dimming recollection is still pretty sharp about how well a robust Selective Service focused one’s mind on the intricacies of government and on national and international affairs.

  • Pearl McNutt

    At 22 I never had a Political Science Class until college, and the reasons behind this apathy among young people can be summed up in my classmate’s question “What’s the point?” When we see the frivolousness of Congress our entire lives how are we supposed to have faith in a system that, according to a lot of my classmates, seems less mature than we are. If young people want to feel involved in politics they have to be taught and experience that something can be done no matter how small, this is the only way to improve civil engagement

  • Tonya Clenney

    I help run Community Youth Courts, which is a non-profit program that offers diversion from the traditional juvenile justice system for middle and high school students. Our program depends upon many youth who act as lawyers (we call them Advocates) and Jurors. This program offers the students the ability to learn about the justice system and to have a real-time affect on helping the youth participating in the program learn from their experiences and give back to the victims if their crime. All the youth participating as clients and volunteers are learning from their interactions.

  • Chemist150

    How do you present politically neutral? I find it hard to believe that a teacher could be trusted to be neutral when teaching “politics” or “civics” outside of a standard curriculum.
    Could you teach those going into the “civics”/”politics” area to remember the private sector and the importance of it supporting their actions?

    • Robert Thomas

      My – at the time, required for every twelfth grade student – “American and Comparative Government” class was taught by Coach “Bull” Hotchkiss, as rock-ribbed a Republican as could be found in our neighborhood school district and who enjoyed channeling Grigori Rasputin during classroom instruction (“More cakes! More wine!“).

      I was a thorn in his side and enthusiastically engaged him in vigorous (undoubtedly jejune) debate during class; our Friday classroom games of current events “Jeopardy” devolved to one team consisting of myself and the other team consisting of Bull and all of my classmates.

      Mr Hotchkiss was a stunningly good teacher who insisted that every student understand and appreciate the operation of government, which at the time was reeling from the revelations brought forth by the Church Committee and other entities. Mr Hotchkiss taught us the history of our national government and demonstrated how it was always ever thus, at least since the first Adams administration. His faith in “Democracy by Pudding-Heads, like you and me” was instilled in each of us, By the Grace of Providence.

  • Tonya Clenney

    I recommend that Civics teachers look for their local peer/youth courts and partner with them to offer their students an opportunity to become engaged in Civics.

  • LaurenAyers

    Ben Franklin said that the main purpose of free public education was to protect democracy with informed and active citizens (I read the quote years ago, could never find it again).

  • Sarah

    Voting is not the only way to be engaged civically- are the guests going to address the roles of peaceful direct action, protest and civil Disobedience?
    Some of the most proud moments in this nations history were brought about by civically minded individuals who fought for social and political change using methods not discussed by this panel

    • Roland

      How about simply visiting City Hall to speak with your elected representatives??

  • Roland

    two principles you can enlist here…one is:

    a) there is no better way to learn something than to have to teach it; One
    of the callers, Phillip, nailed it when he said that students can
    assist or teach civic functions to immigrants and others…

    b) role models inspire

    I recommend using in-classroom speakers from the community.
    role-modeling is very effective because it can be both inspirational and
    educational. The speakers can explain (should explain) why they got
    involved, how they got involved, what methods of participation are most
    effective and talk specifically about some issues.

    The radio
    guests should have specified what it means to ‘participate’…do you means
    JUST VOTING? That isn’t the answer. Try going down to city hall and
    speaking with a council member…

    If you don’t turn on to politics, politics will turn on you. (Ralph Nader)

  • Jackie Shonerd

    There are some great civic engagement resources from Educators for Social Responsibility in Cambridge, MA at One of the measures of student engagement is the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, which most districts still administer. Several questions center on one of the 3 key factors that build resiliency: whether students have “opportunities for meaningful participation” at school (with the emphasis on “meaningful.”) This area has been rated extremely low by students in recent years, and this new CA initiative gives us a chance to change things. So proud to know that Oakland Unified History/Social Science is supporting teachers and students around civic participation.

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