Civic Education Must Innovate to Deepen Constitutional Knowledge and Strengthen the Republic

Civic Education Must Innovate to Deepen Constitutional Knowledge and Strengthen the Republic
Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Christopher R. Riano
Julie Silverbrook
In his first inaugural address, George Washington put the fate of this country’s democracy in the care of its people. “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government,” Washington explained, “are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Yet 233 years later, civic knowledge among Americans is at an appallingly low level. What’s more, a recent Quinnipiac Report finds 67 percent of Americans think our democracy is in danger of collapse.

None of this is surprising to those of us who have devoted our lives to improving civic education in this country. Americans are finally starting to pay attention to the alarms raised. Thankfully, there are collective calls for improving civic education—not only during school years but as a lifelong endeavor for every person in our self-governing society.

The challenge for those of us in civic education is threefold: (1) there is less classroom time for civics in primary and secondary school; (2) the marketplace of ideas is crowded with misinformation coming from every direction; and (3) there are few resources designed to engage people of all ages.

“Schoolhouse Rock!”—and more recently “Hamilton”—have been able to capture the public’s collective attention. But now more than ever, we need more ways to meet people where they are and bring us together to discuss and embrace our charters of liberty.

That’s why iCivics and the Center for Civic Education, two leaders in the field of K-12 civic education, have collaborated to launch “The Constitution EXPLAINED,” a new 35-part short-form animated video series. This series is a deep dive into the text and history of the U.S. Constitution. Each video is only 2-4 minutes long and can be played individually or as part of the broader series.

Bite-sized, entertaining videos make it simple for learners—both young and old—to engage with American civics. Families can gather around the kitchen table watching them on a tablet, and middle school and high school teachers can play these videos in their classrooms.

These are just a couple of examples of how the field of civic education can continue to innovate and bring foundational constitutional knowledge directly to “We the People.” And we need to do much more and call on other organizations in the field, and those within other sectors, to commit to this essential endeavor.

In order to preserve and protect the U.S. Constitution—and perfect the shared ideals contained therein—we must ensure that “We the People” are fully informed about our laws and system of government. To paraphrase John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, knowledge is the soul of our republic. Each year on Sept. 17, Constitution Day, we are called to deepen our knowledge and strengthen that soul in commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. We hope you will join us in that endeavor.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Christopher R. Riano is president of the Center for Civic Education and a lecturer in constitutional law and government at Columbia University.
Related Topics