Citizenship education — the responsibility of all Americans
By George Nethercutt Jr.
Splash Guest Column
Citizenship education is the responsibility of all Americans. It binds our nation, helping us understand the concepts that made the United States unique throughout history.
For at least a generation, Americans have been undereducated about civic learning and engagement, routinely failing standardized surveys testing their civic knowledge. Citizens with a basic knowledge of America, and the active citizenship it produces, are essential to our democracy's prosperity, particularly when multiculturalism and globalism have complicated what it means to be American.
To most Americans - today, and in decades past - to be a good citizen has meant to take pride in being an American, a patriot, to love our country, to know its history, its state capitals, what the branches of government are and how they work together, to vote in elections, to work hard at our job, to pay our share of taxes and to volunteer and participate in our community.
To be patriotic and a good citizen should not mean saber-rattling or chest-pounding, but rather a willingness to sacrifice, in battle or at home, to support decisions of our government leaders or take issue without rancor. It also means to take pride in the American story and its ever-evolving culture, and to participate in civic affairs, whether that means attending town meetings, marching on Washington, D.C., writing your congressman or simply voting in elections.
Citizenship and patriotism create a sense of unity, of belonging to something bigger than us, of accepting all-for-one and one-for-all, while at the same time celebrating, and respecting, our differences. The argument could be made that too many Americans, particularly among the young, are citizens of no country, no continent and no world - except perhaps the United Friends of Facebook. Too many can't identify Arizona or Nebraska, Iraq or Brazil, on a map. They can't state who was president during World War I or II, or what the Battles of Bunker Hill or Antietam were about. Even current elected officials seem clueless about the precise amount of our national debt, how taxpayer dollars are really spent and how federal policies affect domestic and international economics. Clearly, there's a massive disconnect between Americans' love of country and what they know about it.
Studies show that citizens with a workable understanding of the American system are more likely to vote, become active in community affairs, have stronger families and engage in the discussion and debate of political issues.
They are more patriotic.
The fabric of American society - an enlightened society - can be enhanced by a civically knowledgeable younger generation. As the next generation of leaders, young people particularly are charged with perpetuating the American system, for the best kind of patriotism is that which embraces national values and lives them through citizen actions.
Attend a naturalization ceremony celebrating new American citizens. Ask them what American citizenship means to them. Their answers will help all of us appreciate our citizenship and rich heritage even more.
George R. Nethercutt Jr. is a former member of Congress from Eastern Washington. His nonprofit foundation, The George Nethercutt Foundation, is sponsoring a Citizenship Tournament this fall for 4th-, 8th- and 12th-graders to win up to $10,000 scholarships and a trip to Washington, D.C. Visit www.nethercuttfoundation.org for more information. He wrote this column as part of a series highlighting the Partners Advancing Character Education (PACE) trait of the month. The trait for November is "citizenship."