Teaching civics has never been more important. Our republic depends on it

The exploration of American Principles is not just a theoretical exercise but a practical tool for students to navigate the complex terrain of American governance.

The United States, which was conceived as a grand experiment in governance, faces a pivotal moment in its history. Will we continue as a democratic republic or are we on the verge of remaking our government system as many other countries already have?

When drafting the Constitution and during the debates surrounding its ratification, the Founding Fathers expressed a belief in the ability of the United States to establish “a more perfect union.” Yet, the framers also were aware of the challenges and uncertainties that lay ahead.

Drawing on their knowledge of history and philosophy, and their own experiences, they understood the historical failures of democracies and republics, such as those in ancient Greece and Rome. The evolution of these systems into autocratic empires that led to their downfall fueled concerns about the sustainability of the American experiment.

Today, the question of whether the United States is ready for a new republic looms large, especially as voices within both political parties question the desirability of the limited government envisioned by the founders.

For this reason, the need for civics education has never been greater. After all, today’s high school and college students will be the generation tasked with making serious decisions about the direction and fate of the country. But it’s clear that the way we are educating students about civics—if at all—is failing. According to one study, fewer than half of adults could name the three branches of government, and 26% could not name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment.

As we live in what some argue is the second American republic (born with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789), students must ask themselves if they are prepared for a potential third republic.

To make informed decisions about the nation’s future, students must first understand the seven American Principles that together make the American experiment unique: Civic Engagement, Egalitarianism, Entrepreneurship, Governance, Individualism, Liberty and Trade. Studying history and civics through the lens of these American Principles will equip tomorrow’s citizens to make informed decisions about the kind of country they desire to live in.

As citizens grapple with weighty topics such as constitutional changes, alterations to the Supreme Court, winner-takes-all elections, and the traditional two-party system, the need for informed civic participation becomes increasingly urgent. Civics education based on American Principles plays a pivotal role in preparing students to understand and evaluate the promises, failures, and alternatives that shape the American experiment.

The exploration of American Principles is not just a theoretical exercise but a practical tool for students to navigate the complex terrain of American governance and contribute meaningfully to the ongoing conversation about the nation’s future.

When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 concluded its work, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what type of government the Founding Fathers had created. Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

As the American experiment evolves, each of us is responsible for its direction. I believe the discussion has already begun. We must be prepared when asked, “If not this, then what?”

Fred Fransen
Fred Fransenhttps://certell.org/
Fred Fransen is CEO of Certell, the maker of the Poptential family of free digital social studies courses designed to create independent thinkers. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. He can be reached at [email protected].

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