Lack of civic education does not bode well for nation
ABOTA Foundation to bring national decision makers together to reinstate civic learning in schools
 
In the last decade an alarming trend has developed that will have a long lasting impact on America’s citizenry. Most states do not emphasize civic education in their schools, which includes learning about the U.S. Constitution, voting, jury duty, government, law, current events and related topics. 
 
America’s school systems are in an era of dwindling budgets and expanding needs. Social studies courses — history, government, and civics — are not teaching the basics of American government, which is dramatically impacting the civics skills of students.
 
The trends have been well documented. The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests revealed that only 27% of fourth-graders, 22% of eighth-graders, and 24% of twelfth-graders performed at or above the proficient level in civics in 2010, the last year the civics assessment was administered to students across the nation. The percentages of students at or above proficient in 2010 were higher than in 2006 and 1998 at grade 4, not significantly different from the percentages in the previous assessment years at grade 8, and lower than 2006 at grade 12. 
 
A 2012 study by the Center for Information and Research in Civil Learning & Engagement at Tufts University showed that most states do not emphasize civic education and that only nine states require students to pass a social studies test to graduate from high school.
 
“These trends do not bode well for our nation,” said Michael T. Callahan, National President of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Callahan, along with a group of planners, have studied these trends and have been working to find ways to return civic education to American schools. But the road has been tough, they say.
 
“The ABOTA Foundation has supported civic education with resources to educate young Americans so they can defend the basic freedoms guaranteed to them by the Bill of Rights,” he said. He added that the ABOTA Foundation, the non-profit arm of ABOTA, produces Justice by the People as a free, downloadable, online resource at www.Scholastic.com. The 10 lesson plans and one interactive game focus on the basic freedoms of trial by jury and other constitutional liberties. The ABOTA Foundation also sponsors mock trial programs, lectures and a teachers law schools throughout the country.
 
Callahan said that while ABOTA has had success in reaching millions of teachers and students, there is no requirement for teachers to teach civics except on Constitution Day (every Sept. 17) when it is federally mandated for schools to teach about the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
 
“We realized that the decision makers in the world of education need to be alerted to the issues surrounding the lack of civic education,” Callahan said as he described ABOTA’s plan to bring legislators, school superintendents, leaders in civic learning, and administrators together in Austin. “Our challenge was to get the right people in the room at the same time so they will not only understand the real problems our country is facing, but come away with a template to implement civic learning programs back in their own states and school systems.
 
On Oct. 11-12, 2013, the ABOTA Foundation will host its first “Open Forum for Civic Education for our Youth” in Austin in collaboration with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will serve as the keynote speaker. Justice O’Connor has been a forceful proponent of civic education and has lamented about the lack of civic learning in almost all states. 
 
The Open Forum will address the need of civic education, the state of civic education today, practical solutions, and best practices in states across the nation. There will also be sessions dedicated to technology and e-learning. The goal, the planners say, is to create a practical action plan than can be used as a template in all states.
 
Charles H. Baumberger, chair of the Open Forum and 2011 ABOTA Foundation president, said the Open Forum would bring together like-minded organizations to develop a plan to work together to further the common goals in civic education.
 
“Those who are attending all share the same concerns that there is not sufficient emphasis on the teaching of civics in our schools,” Baumberger said. “The key is to devise a strategy for all our organizations to work together in promoting civic education. An informed citizenry is essential to the preservation of our democratic republic and the fair and equitable administration of justice under the rule of law.”
 
The Open Forum for Civic Education for Our Youth will be held in collaboration with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools at the Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas, Oct. 11-12, 2013. For more information, click here.