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Parents Must Be Role Models In Our Democracy

Carol Kocivar, president of the California Parent Teacher Association, advises parents on helping their children become good citizens.

Fault Lines in Our Democracy, a recent study from Educational Testing Service, shows that “weak civics knowledge among young people is linked to less voting, less volunteering and greater distrust in government.”

For those who are civics challenged, this has nothing to do with whether you drive a Honda or whether you get lost on your way to the polls.

It is about our democracy and how we participate in important decisions. And it also is about how we educate our children.

Before I tell you how well our kids did on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics, let’s see how well you do.

Below are some of the issues our students were asked to know:

  1. What is the main source of government funding?
  2. What is the purpose of the constitution?
  3. Identify a right protected by the first amendment.
  4. What is the role of the Supreme Court?
  5. Identify the meaning of a Supreme Court decision
  6. Identify the effect of foreign policy on other nations.

Piece of cake?  Not so much?

The questions above that are in bold italics are the Piece of Cake questions. If you got those right, you hit “basic” knowledge.

To be proficient, a 4th grader should know the purpose of the constitution, an eighth grader should know the role of the supreme court and a 12th grader should know the effect of foreign policy on other nations. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010 (NCES 2011-466), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2011)

Did you beat the kids?

According to the report, only 27 percent of fourth graders, 22 percent of eighth graders and 24 percent of 12th graders were proficient on the 2010 NAEP assessment.

The report also found that if you are young, less educated and in a lower-income group, you are less likely to vote.

These findings have big implications for our democracy and for how we make decisions about the future of our state and our nation.

So what can we do?   Parents can be role models.

The report found:

“Parents… can boost the civic participation of their children. In fact, recent analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies has shown that the home may be a much more important influence than the schools. In the 2010 election, 18- to 19-year-olds were much more likely to vote if a parent voted (32 percent versus 4 percent). This large difference held across both gender and racial/ethnic groups. These data support the notion that good civic behavior is learned in the home, as well as in school.”

Here are some suggestions:

  • Register to vote. Click here here for information on how to do this.
  • Find out how your local school supports civics education.
  • Support community efforts to register and encourage eligible young people to vote.

California State PTA believes civics learning should be a priority in school reform.

We helped write Proposition 38 on the ballot in November to support a comprehensive education for all our children. This specifically supports funding for civics and history in our schools.

You can find more resources to support civics education on the California State PTA website. With an important election coming up, we encourage you to use these resources in your school and community, including MY VOTE.

Carol Kocivar is the president of the California Parent Teacher Association.

Erykah Grande September 11, 2012 at 04:14 PM
What an excellent topic, Carol! Thank you for taking time to write it up. It's very important to keep children involved, to teach them of the basic fundamentals of life before they are tainted by today's society. Time and time I've seen so many parents use excuses for their children, "oh, he just won't get it," "she's much too busy with her activities" and "he/she just won't find interest." It is our jobs, as parents, to show our little ones the importance of such things. To introduce it to them in a manner in which they won't find "boring". It is our job, as parents, to have unlimited patience with our children and to accept the fact that apples don't fall far from the tree. They will learn whatever you teach them and expose them to. WE learned what we were thought and exposed to. Let's just learn from our mistakes and do our best to make the following generations better. It's for ALL our goods.
Tim Ryder September 11, 2012 at 04:56 PM
The upcoming Neighborhood Council election on October 13 is a great opportunity for young adults to begin participating in the Democratic process. ERHS students who are 16 years and older are definitely "stakeholders" and eligible to vote. I implore the ERHS political science department and Student Body representatives to ensure that this opportunity for young people to participate in their future doesn't go wasted by apathy and indifference. It would be great if they just came out to support one of their own, ERHS student Caroline Roncalli, who has shown the courage to step up and help lead the community in these trying times
Holly Hale September 11, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Excellent article! Even in one of the college classes I teach the students did not know what the Electoral College is or how it works. They were completely unaware of the difference between Senate and the Congress, as well. Many people have the mistaken idea that one vote doesn't count. When 30 million "one votes" stay home then it has a profound effect upon the Electoral College. Everyone needs to understand this. In addition to that, Carol, when I hear women say it doesn't matter it sounds like "nails down a chalkboard." They don't even seem to know that barely a hundred years ago we weren't allowed to vote and other women died so we could. Duh! So thank you, thank you, thank you and all of us with 18 y/o kids need to see they register AFTER they read the party platforms. My son did at the OC fair. It was a moment of pride. God bless.
John September 11, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Great ideas. Please encourage young people to vote. I treasure the memory of walking to the polls with my father the first time I voted. I also had excellent political science teachers in high school. Thanks for the good examples.
Holly Hale September 11, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Our students need a combination of government/civics (poli-sci in some areas) and economics to fully understand how govt works. My son had both at Monrovia HS and I think they did a pretty good job with it. I took a load of those classes in undergrad. but I can still remember my HS govt/econ teacher well. He was a good egg.
The MOG September 11, 2012 at 08:00 PM
I'm 50 yrs old & have had a life time interest in Civics & Poli-Sci., as well as History. It seems that Philosophy & Psychology have a part in that too. I definitely believe that the Electorial College is an essential element to American Democratic Procedures;i.e. how we chose our Pres., and that students should comprehend this, and be, not only able to explain it, but defend it. Once, our school's had the mission of turning out good citizens, ready to intelligently participate in government, as Public Servants, and as Voters. Not only that, but also as Neighbors and human beings. Less now, since the Federal take over of Education. More & more we are being moved from a Republican Form of Government, towards a strickly Centralized Federal one, built on pure democracy, or mob rule. We lose our individual rights, citizenship, when we remove the document that protects them. I wish it were possible to put our schools back in to local hands, but the fiscal position of local governments has devolved so much over the last 30 years, that without some real solutions and partcipation on the part of teachers & most especially parents, that the cost of sustaining schools is just too costly, without Federal Subsidies. Those subsidies come w/strings attached; standardized tests, outcome based performance,etc., that don't always turn out for the best. Meanwhile we are forced to accept Fed. Mandates, because we become dependent on Fed. funds. Yet, it's still up to us to com up with local ans
David Fonseca (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 08:22 PM
This is great discussion topic. I thought the answer to the "what is the role of the Supreme Court" question was a little tricky to put into words. My initial thought was "to interpret laws and provide checks and balances to the executive and legislative branches." But what does that really mean? Scholastic.com provides an illustrative metaphor. "The Supreme Court is like a referee on a football field. The Congress, the President, the state police, and other government officials are the players. Some can pass laws, and others can enforce laws. But all exercise power within certain boundaries. These boundaries are set by the Constitution. As the "referee" in the U.S. system of government, it is the Supreme Court's job to say when government officials step out-of-bounds." With football season upon us, I think that metaphor would be very useful to young people!
rob vanasco September 11, 2012 at 09:08 PM
What everybody forgets is that we are not a 'democracy' which is the same as mob rule. We are a 'Constitutional Republic' where the minority is protected from the majority.
rob vanasco September 11, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Aside from the above comments I agree with the message being conveyed. The people of this country have become lazy and apathetic in this sense. We give up rights that men and women fought to protect for us in the name of 'security'. We expect the govt to provide everything for us..just like the Romans did before Rome fell. I vote in all elections...local and national..and the thing that makes me sad is that the polls are always empty...it seems people would rather wait 3 hours in line for the new ipad than take the 5-10 minutes to cast their vote and partake in being a Republic.
navigio September 11, 2012 at 09:26 PM
To be honest, that probably doesnt really matter because most people dont know the difference. If asked, I expect most would probably end up defining democracy using the definition of constitutional republic. If so, its primarily a vocabulary problem and not a misunderstanding of the nature of our system. :-)
navigio September 11, 2012 at 09:37 PM
The cost of not sustaining our schools is going to be even more costly. Also, I expect even if the feds went away, our state would continue to monitor performance using standardized tests of some sort. The problem is not so much that they exist, rather its our inability to understand what they signify and how we should be interpreting those 'results'. The responsibility for that falls largely on our own shoulders.
navigio September 11, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Agreed. Unfortunately apparently among our many freedoms is that to remain apathetic. Too bad. Some countries have compulsory voting (including fines for failing to do so). Some also make a point of having elections on non-work days. In our country it seems we'd rather make it more difficult to vote than easier..
Marshall Thompson September 11, 2012 at 10:14 PM
This sounds confused. A centralized, top-down Federal system is the exact opposite of "Mob rule." In my mind "mob rule" = anarchy.
Marshall Thompson September 11, 2012 at 10:26 PM
It's not always as simple as that. Rome fell partially due to the cost and difficulty of supporting and administering an expanding Empire based on military conquest. (Wait, that sounds familiar!) Then, a certain amount of genetic inbreeding with Rome's imperial families - men marrying sisters and close cousins - led to the concentration of undesirable genetic defects and personality disorders within the ruling class. These were worsened by the use of lead water pipes and the practice of storing wine in lead-lined casks which leached lead into their contents, hence into the bloodstreams of Roman royalty. Then competition from "barbarians" (think Germans and franks- French) from the north as the empire's center decayed hastened the Fall.
rob vanasco September 11, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Well said Marshall Thompson. Nero and Caligula were pretty nuts to say the least.
Tim Sole September 12, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I'm not exactly sure I would want "Parents" or anyone from California teaching civics to their children, for the following reason. The second amendment, protects the first. The "Parents" in California seem bent on destroying the second, which in turn leaves no protection for the first. That is just a simple fact. Basically the "Parents" in California can't even defend what we have, how would they be able to teach anything!
Tony Brandenburg September 12, 2012 at 12:47 AM
or seutonius and tacitus were simply great propagandists
Tony Brandenburg September 12, 2012 at 12:49 AM
without the first you wouldn't be allowed to advocate for the second.
Tim Sole September 12, 2012 at 01:02 AM
That's exactly why we need to protect it.
Holly Hale September 12, 2012 at 01:59 AM
@Marshall: Don't forget "bread and circuses."
Marvion September 13, 2012 at 04:42 AM
I remember the first ‘earth day’ wow kwel. Then the second ‘earth day’ mother nature will get MADD. Then the third ‘earth day’ do not go there FOG. I had to answer the above ‘asked to know questions’ thrice, many years ago. Ever since then all that was taught was, recycle, recycle, recycle, and even more recycle. Your weakling civics kids, and those generations past, need to vote any incumbent president back into office for a third, and fourth term. Yes, please vote for a recycled government. Vote any incumbent to a third and fourth term for president.
Marcus September 13, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I agree. We should all encourage students and even ourselves to learn more about how our local, state and federal government works. This way we can defend with clear conviction what we believe in, and indeed, what needs to to be changed. I still worry about certain political factions that want to repeal certain amendments - the 16th and the 17th e.g.
Holly Hale September 13, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Marvion: Sarcasm is a delightful tool for those who actually get it. One must be careful on here, tho'. Some folks take it seriously and get their panties in a bunch. You're right. We need to NOT re-elect a recycled govt and since FDR 3rd and 4th terms were outlawed. Thank God.
Gerald Elekes September 13, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Sarcasm is pointed directly at people who don't get it: that's the beauty of it. At least for those who do. It's a writer's cruel petard.
Holly Hale September 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Gerald: Yea. I appreciate the break from the mundane and a little sarcasm is just that. Although, I'm serious when I say there are people on "Patch" who don't always get it and go off on a rant......I won't name names, but they're there. LOL
Jennifer N September 13, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Unfortunately History, Civics, and many other classes have fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences that resulst from high stakes testing in our schools. By measuring teachers, schools and districts primarily in Math and English scores guess where the focus, money and manpower go at the expense of everything else. This is specifically what Chicago teachers are striking over. I whole heartedly agree with the writer, responsibility towards ones community is taught primarily at home.
Tim Sole September 13, 2012 at 08:04 PM
@Jennifer, the people who where against "Mandatory Testing", stated this would happen and it has. Pretty simple to me, no two people will ever learn the same, not everyone should be required to go to college (try and get any living wage job without a degree). I guess the only question we should ask, does a teacher, teach a child how to think or does a teacher, teach a child what to think. The first prepares a child for a lifetime, the second one leads to all kinds of scary stuff.
paris October 22, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Love your comment, after I watched a seminar about new core system study guide, i became very concerned and ,I am happy my kids are in mid school and i feel sorry for the new age children.

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