Citizenship education critical to long-term strength of our nation


Editor’s note: this post was originally published in the Deseret News on Sept. 17, 2014. It was authored by Gov. Herbert. 

Generations of Americans grew up learning the Three Rs, “readin’, ritin’ and rithmetic’!” While the study of what we today call English language arts and mathematics is still essential to compete in a global marketplace, it is far from a comprehensive list of subjects students must master to become productive members of our society and competitive in a global economy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, David McCullough, once said, “We are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate and ignorant of the basic philosophical foundations of our constitutional free society. We can’t function in a society if we don’t know who we are and where we came from.”

I was recently told of a government class taught at one of our state universities in which the instructor had each of his students take the U.S. Citizenship examination. Disappointingly, the vast majority of the students could answer only about 15 of the 50 questions correctly. That is simply not acceptable.

Our voter participation rates are also of significant concern. As recently as 1980, Utah had the fifth highest voter turnout in the nation at nearly 67 percent, more than 12 percent above the national rate. By 2012, we had fallen to the thirteenth lowest in the nation. Our communities and state are stronger when we have informed and actively participating citizens.

Many in America have lost the vision of American Greatness, including the values of freedom and self-reliance. In 2011, a study showed that only 57 percent of Americans believed that a “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” That was down from 80 percent the first year the study was conducted in 2002. Perhaps most alarming is that one in four Americans said they don’t trust the free market at all.

Here in Utah, we are working diligently to reverse these disturbing national trends.  The Utah State Board of Education, in outlining its vision and mission for public education, recognized citizen participation in civic affairs and economic prosperity among the basic elements needed to “secure and perpetuate” freedom. The board has embraced the ideal of preparing students who are college, career and citizenship ready.

I commend the educators who teach the critical lessons of our Constitution and help our youth become civically engaged in school and community causes. I support the work of Junior Achievement, which teaches students the financial and entrepreneurial skills needed to prosper in the real world. And I applaud the great work happening with our own Utah Commission on Civic and Character Education, which helps students see the importance of being involved in their government.

Still, we must continue to strengthen the teaching of these fundamental concepts in our classrooms. I pledge to do my part, both as a citizen and as governor, to assure this critical foundation is being provided for Utah students.

Today is Constitution Day, marking the 227th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s guiding document. From that day to the present time, it has never been more important for us as citizens to understand the God-granted freedoms guaranteed in within it and the duty we have to protect them.

I invite all Utahns, young and old, to join with me in a renewed effort to raise the standard of civic excellence in Utah. Become more involved in your communities and engage with the youth in your schools and neighborhoods as they seek to become better citizens. Together, we can ensure the sacrifices of those who came before us are put to good use by those who will follow in their footsteps.


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