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Civic Knowledge: Americans’ Ignorance of American Principles, History & Government Can No Longer Be Ignored

by Angela E. Kamrath, President
American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF)

Many recent studies point to a growing problem in America which can no longer be ignored. The problem is that many Americans of all backgrounds do not possess adequate civic knowledge about our nation’s history, founding ideas, and governing institutions. This widespread deficiency among the general public is a serious matter in a self-governing republic such as ours, which relies on an educated citizenry to govern itself.  If these trends continue, as many historians and practitioners note, America will not be able to endure as it was designed by our Founders. Consider the findings of the following studies within the past 20 years: 

  • In 2018, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted a civics assessment, the Nation's Report Card in Civics, of approx. 13,400 8th-grade students to measure their "civics knowledge and skills that are critical to the responsibilities of citizenship." Only 24% of students performed at or above proficiency.
  • In 2020, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) examined the origins, nature, and effects of “action civics” as a means for civic education in a qualitative study titled Action Civics, New Civics, Civic Engagement, and Project-Based Civics: Advances in Civic Education? The study found some merit in action civics or experience-based learning but concluded that it “placed too much stress on participation and too little on the acquisition of the knowledge of the fundamental political, philosophical, and moral principles undergirding the Constitution.”  
  • In 2020, the Concord Law School issued a report detailing how American civic education has fallen victim to competing priorities in U. S. classrooms. The report found that K-12 teachers are required to focus on math and reading skills to prepare students for standardized testing, college and beyond which leave little time to devote to civics and government. Only nine states and the District of Columbia require 1 year of civics or government education for high school graduation---31 state require a half year and 10 states have no requirement.
  • In 2021, The Ethics and Public Policy Center published a report documenting advocates of ‘Action Civics’ pressing the novel practice of mandating that ‘Action Civics’ that will politicize an already tainted K-12 educational system irrevocably cementing the partisan Left’s hold on our culture. ‘Action Civics’ amounts to school-sponsored indoctrination and political action in support of progressive policy positions.
  • In 2022, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education found that only 12% of university professors were ‘conservative’. Other recent studies determine that conservatives make up less than 5% of historians, sociologists and literature professors at American colleges and universities. The Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology revealed that one in three conservative graduate students and faculty had been threatened with disciplinary action for expressing their views, conservative events had been canceled and campus police have physically prevented conservatives from taking the stage.   

Without citizens’ learning of America’s founding principles and history, America as we know it cannot survive. If Americans are ignorant of America’s heritage, our nation cannot endure as it was originally designed by the American Founders. America’s heritage is at risk in our society, culture, institutions, and education today.

Various political, educational, intellectual, media-informational, immigrational, socio-economic, and cultural influences have likely contributed to the nation’s civic deficiency, but one solution seems obvious. Students and citizens, in every generation, need effective doses of civic education throughout their school years and beyond. Americans of all ages must commit ourselves to learn, with increasing competency, about America’s founding history and philosophy—about America’s values and ideals. We must know and apply the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. What is more, we must pass this knowledge and these values on to others and to the next generation. Civic learning, participation, and education should continue throughout our adult lives. This commitment is the responsibility of every American.

The American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF)—a non-profit, non-partisan organization—works to address this growing national educational problem. AHEF is dedicated to the research, teaching, and promotion of America’s factual, philosophical heritage with an emphasis on the themes of freedom, unity, progress, and responsibility. AHEF offers free K-12 lesson plans, Founding Blog, and other educational resources to help teachers and citizens learn and effectively teach America’s founding documents, principles, and history. For more information or to access our lesson plans at no cost, visit www.americanheritage.org.

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