Civic ed: From John Roberts’ pen to everyone’s ears

"Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it," the chief justice wrote. We couldn't agree more.


Happy New Year. At Civic Nebraska, we’re starting 2020 by reflecting upon some recent words from John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. On Tuesday, in his annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, the chief justice cited the need for more (and better) civic education to ensure the long-term vitality of our nation’s democratic systems.

Chief Justice John Roberts

“We have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside,” Roberts wrote. “Civic education, like all education, is a continuing enterprise and conversation. Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it.”

Needless to say, we agree. And we are heartened by the chief justice’s emphasis on everyone’s responsibility to help young Americans value our democratic ideals and institutions. We commit to it with our Youth Civic Leadership initiatives, which engage more than 1,500 students every day.

– Our Community Learning Centers are hubs of academic enrichment and civic engagement, helping students discover their passions, try them on and form their current and future roles as active members of their communities.

– Our Civic Engagement Clubs introduce civic leadership early on, empowering middle-schoolers to lead the positive change they seek. Clubs emphasize democratic essentials such as media literacy, service learning, civil discourse, critical thinking, and meaningful reflection.

– Our Government in Action Days bring the rights and responsibilities of self-government into focus for middle- and high-schoolers. The daylong retreats at the State Capitol and to other institutions challenge students to solve problems, work together, and understand our government more deeply.

That’s the foundation of modern and robust democracy: engaged, informed citizens who effectively evaluate situations, and then act for positive change. Young people who are skilled in thinking critically about – and making meaning of – societal issues are better able to navigate their individual environments, and succeed in them.

Such skills have immense transformative power. In 2020, we’ll be there to provide even more young people ways to critically and creatively engage with their world – and, as the chief justice emphasized, to work to improve it.

Won’t you join us?

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