“Graham says he decided to write [the book] after a year he spent as a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard after he retired from the Senate in 2005. [He said]: “What I discovered was that this select group of undergraduates was about as civically illiterate as the students I had taught at that high school.”
Unfortunately, he says, that was no surprise. “1974 was right on the cusp of a major change in the teaching of civics in America. When I graduated from high school in 1955, I had taken three classes in civics. Today a student is lucky to have had one semester of civics between seventh and 12th grade.”
Even if students do take civics now, they’re taught what Graham calls “spectator civics” — they teach students how to watch the game of democracy.
“Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport.”
Graham says he was surprised to find that even the Kennedy School lacked case studies of citizen action. “They were all about the actions of government officials or government agencies.” Graham and Hand used only two Kennedy School case studies for the book and reported the others themselves.
The book’s primary audience is college undergraduates and advanced placement high school students, Graham says. But it’s been used by a wide range of organizations, from the Service Employees International Union to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who “want their members to be more active and effective in engaging with government.”
Any readers who want to upgrade their skills as citizens can benefit from the book, as can people “having an immediate problem they want to be engaged in solving.”
Here are some core things from the book:
Citizenship Skills (pg. 26-27)
Each of the case studies in the ten chapters will introduce a particular citizenship skill.
1. First, you will learn how to identify and articulate the problem that you want to solve—not too narrowly, or too broadly, but just right.
2. Second, you will discover how to gather the facts necessary both to solve the problem and to persuade decision makers to adopt your proposed solution. You are not a parent arguing with a child…
3. Third, you will identify the levels of government—local, state, federal—and the particular agencies or entities within those levels that have the authority to act on your concerns and implement your proposed solutions.
4. Fourth, you will learn how to determine where members of the public who have an interest in your concern stand on your issue. Put another way, you will know how to put your toe in the water and determine whether and when it is prudent to jump into the pool.
5. Fifth, you will learn how to influence the individual decision makers who have the power to propel your initiative to victory or doom it to defeat.
6. Sixth, you will realize that the calendar on the wall, or even the watch on your wrist, can be your salvation or your undoing. Government decisions come with deadlines, and those decisions are also affected by cycles and trends.
7. Seventh, you will appreciate strength in numbers and learn how to find and unite with other individuals and groups who share your concerns.
8. Eighth, you will see that the media can be a powerful ally in sharing your concerns and solutions with both decision makers and the general public to whom those officials are accountable.
9. Ninth, you will learn that civic engagement, like most things in life, has a price. You’ll need at least a small amount of financial support to be successful.
10. Tenth, you will recognize that politics is often a zero-sum game: You win or you lose. But winning or losing is not the end of your effort, and you will learn not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or surrender at the first obstacle.
Senator Graham hopes when you have finished reading the book you will have information and skills you need to do the following: (pg.24-25)
- Understand and Influence the decisions of government
- Achieve a positive experience with government
- Convince your school, college, or university to shift civics teaching from a lecture-based approach that focuses on governmental structure to a dynamic experience that emphasizes personal engagement
- Deal with government at the level where you are most likely to experience it
- Develop the core personal skills necessary to influence democracy. These include the critical thinking needed to analyze an issue and develop a strategy; the information-gathering aptitude to determine the facts; and the communication skills to persuade the appropriate decision makers.
- Overcome the cynicism that says you can’t affect government action and replace it with the confidence that says citizen participation is the lifeblood of democracy
- Sandra Day O’Connor objects to civics ignorance (sfgate.com)
- A Crucible Moment
- Robert McCormick Foundation Civics Program
- Democracy Schools
- Call For Civic Learning (nasblog.org)
- Why Youth Are Less Civically Minded, Active on the Environment (bigthink.com)
THANKS FOR READING 🙂