We can’t sustain a constitutional republic with a citizenry that is estranged from our Constitution, writes Judge Douglas Ginsburg.
In an interview with Tunku Varadarajan last year, I warned how the civics crisis in our educational system will ultimately weaken our republic (“Weekend Interview With Douglas Ginsburg,” May 21, 2022). One didn’t need a crystal ball to make that prediction. I just read the recent “nation’s report card” (“Miguel Cardona, Miseducation Secretary,” Review & Outlook, May 6).
Only 22% of eighth-grade students scored at or above the proficient level in civics, continuing a downward trend for civics knowledge among students since 2014. When nearly seven in eight students lack a fundamental understanding of why our government was designed as it is, no one should be surprised with the lack of civil discourse today. Voters are unaware of their rights—or even how to define rights—and high-school graduates can’t even name the two branches of the Congress, much less explain why there are two.
We can’t sustain a constitutional republic with a citizenry that is estranged from our Constitution and institutions—and we don’t have to. Nearly everything a student or teacher would need to know about the basic setup and functions of our government is available at no cost. The National Constitution Center’s interactive Constitution, the National Archives website, CivicsFundamentals.org and many others offer excellent, nonpartisan, online tools to learn about our government, history and rights. With all the free resources available, there is no excuse for America’s low civics scores.
Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
An earlier version misstated the eighth-grade civics result on the NAEP.
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Appeared in the May 22, 2023, print edition as ‘The Path Back to Civics Education in America