The report, “Citizens for the 21st Century: Revitalizing the Civic Mission of Schools,” cites West Virginia for its positive use of technology, teaching of ethics and incorporating 21st century skills, among other strengths. In a push to reinvigorate civics, the West Virginia Board of Education adopted new graduation requirements beginning with the Class of 2008. Seniors must take a full-year course that covers government basics as well as personal finance.
“The rights, freedoms and liberties that are the very heart of our democracy can’t be preserved unless we convey to our children the importance of community involvement, being informed and performing our civic duties,” said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “We also must teach them to practice civility, have respect for the law and respect human dignity.”
The West Virginia Board of Education took the bold step of making civics a required course at a time when a third of the nation’s school districts reported cutting back on social studies, including civics, government, economics, history and geography, according to the National Center for Education Policy. Schools often cite efforts to improve reading and math scores to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The national report, which is being released at the National Association of State Boards of Education’s national conference, found that the decade’s-long push for more testing and accountability has put American democracy at risk. It calls on schools to emphasize citizenship as a fundamental mission of public education.
“Civic education is a basic purpose of public schooling,” said Brenda Welbum, NASBE’s executive director. “As such, we must again infuse this core value into every part of the school curriculum. We need to teach students to be the ethical, responsible, active, and informed citizens this country expects—and demands—of them.”
“Civics is so important to a well-rounded education," said Priscilla Haden, secretary of the West Virginia Board of Education and facilitator of Civic Education West Virginia. “Students must master reading and math, but in a Democratic society, it is equally important for them to be well-versed in how their government works and their role in it.”