By Cheryl Brown
"There is a new survey out that says Americans want unelected informed business leaders, no debate, no conflict to lead us. They want politics that are neat, clean and invisible.
They dont want to see democracy in action. They dont want to see debate, they dont want to see compromise. They dont want to see multiple issues dealt with at the same time," said Margaret Branson, Associate Director for the Center for Civic Education.
"That is not democracy!" she said.
Branson was speaking at the Civic Mission Education Symposium held recently at Riverside Community College. The one day conference was presented by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association in the RIMS Region of California.
Branson, along with coordinators Dr. Peg Hill and Nita Grantham, said students have to be inspired and we must work together for this civic mission, one America. "Civic knowledge/understanding, civic values, caring about others and civic participation are the core of the civic education program," said Hill.
According to studies, citizens between the ages of 18-25 are on the decline for good citizenship. Most are not even inclined to vote.
There is a direct correlation between success for students who have the culture of education and citizenship in the home.
Parents who take their civic duty to vote seriously and volunteer and participate in the democracy have successful student. "Adherence to the Constitution depends upon a knowledgeable and watchful citizenry," said Branson.
She explained that, there is a lack of understanding of the essentials of democracy. To make democracy work all citizens need to understand its basic values and principles.
In a worldwide study, Americans rated 10th of 28 countries polled in their understanding of what a democracy is. It was even less for Americans understanding of international or transnational affairs.
Adolescence is the best time to teach civic education. It is a time when young people formulate their identity and personal ideology. Young people should be given a sense of who they are and develop high expectations," said Branson.
The place for teaching this civic responsibility is in the schools. "It is their foremost responsibly."
Some ways to develop civic skills "have debates or discussions, write a letter to someone you dont know about an issue. Develop political groups in school. Vote more frequently. Volunteer more.
Voice concerns through boycotting, signing petitions contacting public officials or the news media," Branson suggested. "It is important for teachers, parents, guardians to serve as role models. Youth with engaged role models are more involved themselves," she said.
Now to put her work into practice there were several workshops; Model programs to build civic knowledge; Community and school partnerships and Service-Learning in Higher Education were the choices.
The speaker from We The People/Project Citizen spoke of his experience with his own students in that they identified an issue that needed to be changed, gathered information, evaluated solutions, proposed public policy and presented an action plan. Each time his students did so they were successful and they remembered everything about the issue, because they took ownership of it.
There was one mention of the children at a school near the boarder of Mexico in San Diego. The students were concerned that a canal running by their homes and school was polluted and causing health problems, these 4th graders investigated. It is now in the hands of the Mayor and the Council. The self -esteem of those students went off the charts.
As the day progressed the luncheon speaker pinching in for Senator Presley was Tom Mullen, former member of the Board of Supervisors. He spoke of the importance of civility in our society and told the story of how they found new police officers had to be trained on how to treat citizens they stopped to give tickets. After the training there was a marked difference in how they approached the citizenry.
Mullen said what his ex-boss stood for were the principles that make America great.
Dr. David Long and Dr. Herb Fischer, who also presented a plague to Dr. Branson, presented awards to Mullen for Presley.
"It was so great that I went to the NAACP Youth meeting and introduced the information to them.
They are planning to use the model to tackle some pressing issues in the community," said Bill Collier, a participant and community volunteer.
"I was shocked to find out how the state budget is affecting this important area of education. The very tenets of the democracy we live in are being challenged. How can we continue to live in a democracy when such low numbers of students are learning to participate?
However there is hope, the education professionals I met have not given up. They still seem to have hope for the future," said Rev. Art Forbes, pastor of Riverside Christian Family Fellowship.
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