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Civics education in America at the turn of the new decade

June 9, 2020

A study out of the University of Pennsylvania found only 39% of adults surveyed could correctly name the three branches of government, and one in five could not name a single branch. Unsurprisingly, researchers found those who took a civics or government class in high school performed better on the test. An informed populace is vital to our system of government, which makes these statistics alarming.

These numbers aren’t new, and across the country many states are taking steps to educate their citizenry. In Massachusetts the governor signed a nonpartisan civics education bill that furthers civics education through civics engagement projects and awareness programs starting in the eighth grade. Tennessee also has a new law requiring high school students to pass a civics test before graduating, while Florida passed a similar bill for middle school students.

The National Center for State Courts has long supported civics education and provides many resources for schools and courts to promote civics education for both the young and the not so young. NCSC engages children in civics education is through an annual Civics Education Contest. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, elementary through high school students are encouraged to submit a brief essay on voting rights. Rules and age specific writing prompts can be found at the National Center’s 2020 Civic Education Contest page.

To further promote civics education NCSC developed the Justice Case Files, graphic novel series. This educational comic book series, first released in 2007, is available for free from both the National Center’s website and on Apple Books. The series makes learning about the courts fun for students and teachers alike. Whether the comics are being used for an in-class lesson or in preparation for a field trip to their local courthouse, free lesson plans for each issue are available on the National Center’s website.

Additional resources are the Civics Education Resource Guides.  The guides are an evolving list of civics education resources from across the country including the first video in the court education series, and the monthly Court Talk podcast which focuses on the intersection between courts and current events.

How is your community furthering civics education? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share!

For more information contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.