Cheney Free Press -

By Lee Hughes
Staff reporter 

Of civics and being Americans worth fighting for

Write to the Point


Last updated 11/14/2019 at 9:30am

At a recent high school assembly marking Veterans Day, keynote speaker retired Gen. Neal Sealock suggested that students be the “kind of American worth fighting for.” He defined that as a citizen who is active in elections by promoting voter registration, casting informed votes themselves and speaking out against injustices such that everyone could realize the benefit of the freedoms our veterans and active military have and continue to protect.

“We can do that by volunteering in our communities, teaching, mentoring and leading by example,” Sealock said.

It’s a wonderful and inspiring vision. But it also begs the question: where does that sort of ideal start? It starts at home, and like any other academic subject, civics should also be taught in schools.

And it is — barely. And the marginalization of the subject is beginning to show.

A 2017 survey by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that over 30 percent of American’s were unable to name a single right guaranteed under the First Amendment —down from 38 percent in 2011, according to a 2017 Forbes article — and only 1 in 4 could name the three branches of government, a civics basic.

The Washington Post reported in 2018 on a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation multiple-choice poll that asked 1,000 Americans questions from the same test immigrants must pass to become naturalized citizens. The test requires a score of 60 to pass; yet only 36 percent of those surveyed were able to achieve a passing score.

Civics isn’t a conservative or liberal ideology, but a basic American ideal that pertains to all citizens.

According to the Washington State Board of Education, by state law students are only required to take a half-credit in civics to graduate.

A half credit.

Ignorance isn’t bliss in the vacuum of knowledge of basic American rights, the Constitution and its amendments. It leads to what we are experiencing today: political polarization and the manipulation of an ignorant citizenry.

State lawmakers have long been aware of the decline in civic understanding. Revised Code of Washington 28A.230.090 outlines graduation requirements for Washington students. Under a 2009 finding it notes, “Two-thirds of our nation’s twelfth graders scored below proficient on the last national civics assessment, and fewer than ten percent could list two ways that a democracy benefits from citizen participation. A healthy democracy depends on the participation of citizens.”

Indeed, yet the same RCW only requires a half-credit of civics be taught in schools.

And within that half-credit students are required to learn about federal, state, tribal, and local governments, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, current issues facing each level of government, electoral issues — elections, ballot measures, initiatives, and referenda — pass the civics portion of the test given to immigrants who want to become American citizens, as well as demonstrate an understanding of the “basic values and character traits (that) are essential to individual liberty, fulfillment, and happiness,” as stated by RCW 28A.150.211.

All that in a half-credit class. Really? It’s no wonder a concrete understanding of civics is waning in America as cash-strapped school districts struggle to meet the many unfunded mandates from state lawmakers, like special education.

On Monday, I was on-hand at Fort George Wright Cemetery on Government Way covering Veterans Day. It was below freezing when volunteers began setting up flagpoles and hoisting approximately 50 American flags into the cold morning sky.

A part of that contingent included a handful of Boy Scouts and a lone Girl Scout from Fairchild Air Force Base. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3386 Commander Rob Mitchell was there with his young family, laying out American flags alongside veteran’s headstones.

Mitchell’s family leadership is also where civics begins. As Sealock suggested, through leading by example, parents teach their kids to appreciate and value the freedoms so many American’s take for granted.

It takes a village to raise a child and to educate self-aware American citizens. At a minimum, that village should consist of engaged parenting, strong civic organizations, and formal and engaging civic education in our nation’s schools.

After all, being an American citizen who understands and appreciates what our nation’s freedom means — and how we come to continue to enjoy it — is a basic American ideal that populates our nation with people worth fighting for.

Lee Hughes can be reached at


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