WASHINGTON — Elementary and high school curricula must include civics education now more than ever, former Florida governor Bob Graham said referencing statistics proving historically low political engagement among young people.
“This is a critically important issue,” Graham said at an event at the Center for American Progress Wednesday. “We cannot go another generation lost by failure to expose them to the basic principles and competencies of citizenship in a democracy.”
According to a 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, a significant decline from 38 percent in 2011. The study also found that trust in government is at 18 percent, and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996.
Graham and other panelists at the event spoke about last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead and 15 wounded. Winnie Stachelberg, an executive vice president at the Center for American Progress, said the way that the high school students rallied for gun control is evidence that young people can be critically important in enacting change.
“Given the recent outcry [from] those students who survived last week’s horrific mass shooting, today’s discussion takes on a whole new meaning,” she said. “Now perhaps more than ever our government and its leaders must prove that they’re not just listening to our nation’s young people, but that they’re doing everything in their power to ensure that all students feel protected and valued in the eyes of our society.”
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School traveled seven hours from Parkland to Tallahassee yesterday to meet with elected officials, including Gov. Rick Scott, and push for gun control and mental health funding.
Graham said at first he was “depressed and saddened” by the shooting, but is now “excited and livened” by the students’ response to the tragedy.
In the 1970s, Florida stopped mandating that civics be taught in schools. But, Graham said, thanks to a 2009 law restoring civics classes to Florida schools, students have become more empowered to take action and make change. He said these current high schoolers who are leading the charge to Tallahassee are part of the first group of Florida students to receive civics education since the 2009 law.
Thanks to a 2009 law restoring civics classes to Florida schools, Graham said, students have become empowered to take action and make change.
“The fact that they are now empowered is a testimony to the value of exposing young people to their rights and responsibilities,” he said. “A tragic event might be what it takes to achieve a renewal of America’s awareness of the importance of preparing our young people for their lives as citizens in a democracy.”
Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote, a nonprofit that encourages young political participation, said she hopes if anything comes out of the tragedy in Parkland, it’s that the students show the country that young people can be “very engaged” and “very knowledgeable.”