When I was in public school “Civics” was a required course while American History courses accompanied that requirement.  I still remember the major point my Civics teacher emphasized over and over again:  “Vote for the man (sic) and not the party!”  (As a point of interest, in the first twelve Presidential elections in which I was eligible to vote, I voted six times for a Republican and six times for a Democrat.  I had learned that lesson well.) 

Were we still following that advice (first advocated by George Washington) we would not be awash in the repugnant mess America finds itself mired in today.

Until the 1960s, it was not uncommon for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed, hastened in its demise by the “No Child Left Behind” and “STEM” movements.

The loss of civics as a given for an American child’s education, combined with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, have weakened our democracy and made it more difficult for Americans to understand both the history of our country’s governing system plus almost eliminated a typical individual’s ability to understand both sides of any political issue — unless they have scads of free channel-switching time at their disposal.

Let’s look at the civics issue first:

“Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years.  Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996.  Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy. Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become engaged and knowledgeable citizens.

While the 2016 election brought a renewed interest in engagement among youth, only 23 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam, and achievement levels have virtually stagnated since 1998.  In addition, the increased focus on math and reading in K-12 education—while critical to prepare all students for success—has pushed out civics and other important subjects.  .  .  .

When civics education is taught effectively, it can equip students with the knowledge, skills, and disposition necessary to become informed and engaged citizens. Educators must also remember that civics is not synonymous with history. While increasing history courses and service requirements are potential steps to augment students’ background knowledge and skill sets, civics is a narrow and instrumental instruction that provides students with the agency to apply these skills.  .  .  .”  (The State of Civics Education” by Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown, Center for American Progress)


The other issue that has weakened our ability as citizens to be well informed on issues critical to the continued success of our republic, is the FCC repeal of the Fairness Act three decades ago.

“The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.”  (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, it was repealed almost forty years later by a 4-0 FCC vote (three Ronald Regan appointees and one appointed by Richard Nixon).  Several times, Congress has failed to reinstate it.

And, it goes without saying, killing the Fairness Act opened the doors to broadcasting entities like Fox News and MSNBC plus the large number of radio stations that provide single-slant programming for “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and others.

There you have it.  Is it any wonder that our nation has become so polarized and overrun with rancorous personal attacks, half-truths and outright lies?

Like me, you may have sufficient time to keep yourself educated about the “news of the day,” “the candidates on both sides” and the world we live in.  But, the majority of hard working Americans do not have the luxury of that spare time.  For the most part, they rely on one television channel, one radio station and, consequently, a single point of view.

This is dangerous for our republic and certainly results in much of the vitriol and the almost endless prevarications we witness every day.  (And as you well know, more than one politician takes cynical advantage of it all — to the detriment of our nation and its future.)

Americans are a smart and fair minded people.  A return to responsible civics instruction and a meaningful new Fairness Doctrine would alleviate many of our current political ills.  And, above all, it would strengthen the fabric of our unique American experiment.

More on Wednesday  –  –  –

— Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning
October 29, 2018  (Mondays & Wednesdays)


 (This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner,, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)