In October 2013, the Joe Foss Institute (JFI) Board of Directors met to discuss the growth of the organization and whether we, as an organization, were in fact meeting our objective to promote civics education and prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens.
The organization, under the direction of CEO Dr. Lucian Spataro, had grown to reach hundreds of thousands of students and teachers each year. The program being presented to students was more professional and attractive than ever before, and the veteran’s JFI works with were becoming more adept at delivering the material. A veteran training program had recently been added, as had curriculum modules built around the Flag, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Despite those tangible accomplishments, Norman McClelland, a JFI board member since 2005, asked, “Are we really moving the needle though?”
McClelland, seeing the increasing lack of civic awareness throughout this country, wanted to know why schools today aren’t emphasizing civics education in the same way they did in his youth. Dr. Spataro, a former college professor and charter school operator, told the board it is because civics is no longer covered on the tests that matter, and the old adage in education is: “if it is tested, it is taught.”
Following up, Spataro and other board members spoke with educators around the country and found the reality far worse than they imagined. Civics is being boxed out of the classroom today by an all-consuming focus on science, technology, English, and math (STEM). Teachers and administrators are being incented to teach content that will be tested – tests that are being used in many cases to determine funding and a host of outcomes for schools, students and teachers.
While no one argued STEM isn’t important, the downside is that civics and lessons on the Bill of Rights, Constitution, and how our government works are being left by the wayside. Students are not learning how to run our country, how government is meant to operate as outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and more importantly, the history behind how our country came to be – the philosophy behind America’s values.
Then, someone asked “if we aren’t teaching our students these very important fundamental principles, what will happen to our America when our kids grown up and they prepare to run our country.” It was an “Ah hah” moment for all of us: when you know you have identified a serious problem, and need to do something about it.
A year later, The Civics Education Initiative was created with three goals in mind: first and foremost to bring attention to this “quiet crisis” to ensure students graduate with the tools they need to become informed and engaged citizens; second, to get civics education back in classrooms across this country; lastly, that the Civics Education Initiative should be only the first step in expanding civic awareness and learning for our students – we don’t want them to stop with just this one program, but for the Civics Education Initiative to serve as a foundation for a re-blossoming of civic learning and engagement.