The current civics requirement does not adequately prepare students to be savvy participants in a healthy republic.
Civics classes: Oklahoma hates them, but every good democracy needs them. My flirtation with government before majoring in the subject was tragically brief; Claremore High School, the pinnacle of modern education, had block scheduling, meaning that we only took U.S. Government for nine weeks.
I want to clarify that my teacher (shoutout to Mr. Douthitt) was fantastic, and he did a phenomenal job with the task placed in front of him. We learned about as much as we could about our American republic in half a semester, which was comprised essentially of a daily 85-minute “Schoolhouse Rock” episode. I learned all about the three branches, the devolution of power and the abhorrent rise of the presidency into a modern dictatorship (that might be an anachronistic projection). However, I knew that it wasn’t enough. Oklahoma needs more civics classes.
The Founding Fathers, as troubled as they might have been, imagined this nation to be a republic, and thus, its people would be in need of a civic education. To maintain the republic, as Benjamin Franklin once said, Americans needed proper pedagogy (methods of education) concerning how the nation was run, how to keep representatives in check and what kind of virtues to look for in those representatives. George Washington even envisioned building a national university for every American to attend and gain this invaluable knowledge.
Instilling civic virtue into the sovereign citizen should mean to provide every American with the tools needed to discern the common good. More than just learning about how government operates, a civics class should teach about how interest groups, whether corporate, civic or ethnic, impact the American system. They should discuss the racial and gender politics, international relations and comparative governmental systems. Understanding others through the lens of governing is how we are able to define equality and locate freedom relative to one another. In other words, at the core of a civics class is cultivating empathy.
Oklahoma politics are notoriously selfish and narrow-minded. All you have to do is take the 30-minute drive from North to South Tulsa or ask the teachers who will have to strike for the second time in as many years to corroborate that fact. It’s largely through ignorance and, perhaps most dangerously, an infectious apathy that this state remains one of the poorest, educationally weakest and racially disadvantaged in America.
Pulling Oklahoma out of these dire straits demands more than policy. It will require a fundamental rewiring of how we think and care about one another. By refocusing Oklahoma education around the idea of civic virtue, politics and economics can follow. Civics classes, through the understanding of how governing means being ruled and ruling in turn, needs to take a higher priority in Oklahoma education. It honestly might be the only thing we haven’t yet tried.