It's Time for a Talk: Revitalizing America's Civic Culture

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A partnership of organizations, led by American activist and Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, is hosting live simultaneous events on the East and West coasts to open a National Conversation in cyberspace regarding America's civics crisis on Monday, January 17, 2011. Entitled, "It's Time for a Talk; The National Conversation on Revitalizing America's Civic Culture," the discussion will address the unprecedented anxiety felt by U.S. citizens regarding our nation's future accompanied by the lack of comprehension surrounding the cultural meaning and heritage of America. For details click on the banner below.

We do not teach civics in our public schools today.

We define civics as those pre-partisan tools and talents that allow us to maintain the system of governance created by the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787; among other things knowing the difference between our particular system and those that came before, whether they are Theocracy, Monarchy, Autocracy, Totalitarianism, or rule by Philosopher-King. This absence is a fundamental error of potentially fatal consequence, since final political authority was designed, in a singularly unique fashion, to rest in the hands of the citizenry and their chosen representatives. 

Civics untaught is as self-destructive, and addle-headed, as medicine untaught or physics untaught. Worse, Nature abhors a vacuum, and if our designated sovereign-in-training is left out of the process, that process is being filled by those who were not designed to fill it, and they are undeniably capable of taking advantage of the system.

What rare remnants of 'civics' remain are 'the three branches of government' and 'how to pass a bill through Congress,' both of which are clearly inadequate and illustrate none of the complexities that make up politics and power in the nation today.       

We believe that ignorance of this elemental subject is the cause of the new, constant unease we share, however unwillingly, however we may be capable of admitting to it, when we contemplate the future of the country and the preparedness of our kids.  

The study of 'Civics' is the study of political power, and we should use that sensible candor in its subject title, taught as realistically as possible, as our students' brains are capable of absorbing greater complexity, from the tools of myths and glory-tales to the youngest, through the exercises of reason, logic, clarity of thought, and critical analysis.

Just as important is, how to explore the substance of an issue, how to know who is whispering in the Sovereign’s ear, and how to be certain that his interests are the interests of our nation. We must learn the difference between distraction and substance.  All these are critically needed in all subjects and for all teachers and students. These tools 'Raise all boats,' since the true mandate of education is to raise up intelligence in all students. 

When teachers are allowed to sharpen our children's minds through exercises of these tools in all subjects, the teachers could be liberated to teach what their students can know with a greater far-ranging set of tools, because becoming expert at sewing, or math, or chemistry becomes all the more attainable and as important as civics itself.

The study of civics, political power, law, the structures of governance, the ethics a people create for themselves, must not be defined as dry and dull but those things that compliment mankind, and at their best describe an adventure, a progress from the notion of men and women as less worthy to most worthy. That study is a necessity, more urgent than solutions to current problems, which will always be thought of as too tough, without the shared ethical foundation that knowledge of  '1st principles' detail first, ground us all. Without reason, logic, commonsense, current problems will always return with subtler thievery and gross selfishness, as is the reality of present American life. 

What is meaningful about our nation is no longer taught, the reasons we have been so admired for so long, the reasons America is considered a miracle of freedom and opportunity, is now known by everyone else in the world, except for Americans.

The world appreciates this nation for more realistic reasons than Americans do.  These things can only be known and worked if taught with thorough attention to detail, with rigor, and with passionate devotion to the ideas actualized in the founding documents.

We believe that this absence creates the idea that people in fact have no authority--when in fact they have all.

The tale of achieving America is a grand tale of progress, not accident, of growth, not only for those who live here but for those who don't and for whom we remain a beacon of light in a world most often experienced as darkness, ignorance, and shackles. We represent the light of mobility of thought, freedom of opportunity, and the ability of rising from one station in life to a better one, with fewer obstacles thrown in our way than any other theory of governance.

We believe wholeheartedly that in a nation bound by ideas only, those ideas must be taught to each new generation of Americans. Taught with passion and realism, be the fulcrum point of the creation and passing on of the ethical foundation we all share, which breathes substance into patriotism and devotion into our national pride. 

Only then can we truly know who we are, and why we are who we are. We stand together in saying to the governing bodies of the nation and its states that they become the stewards of a more rigorous and complex study of Political Power, so that the Sovereign in training is given ample ability to attain excellence. There is no more noble goal that we can bequeath our future.

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More Comments:

Maarja Krusten - 1/20/2011

Ah, yes, once again you remind me that you don't live in the United States. It's actually a great nation and not scary at all. I do wonder why you use rhetoric which signals "I'm scared" of the fundamentals of democracy but if that's what you want to tell us, by all means, let us know, again. Life's a lot easier when you don't take an elitist view of things and judge people by the content of their character and contributions.

Peter Kovachev - 1/17/2011

Ah yes, the sudden discovery of a "civics crisis," right after the recent "shellacking" in the midterms. Easy to fix, Maarja; just find a way to shut down cable tv and talk radio, replace them with "authoritative, credible and respected analysts," like Keith Olberman or Cathy Couric, and let a circus of fluffy celebs have a go at your kids' brains, with comfortably retired presidential librarians to take attendance and to make sure no one snickers at the wrong things. Easy.

Maarja Krusten - 1/12/2011

Well said. As someone who has spent my entire 38-year career in public service, I often shake my head at the way cartoons have replaced nuance in too much of our civic discourse. Rick Shenkman of HNN has highlighted some of the causes in his book, <em>Just How Stupid Are We</em>. While academics note the move away from studying government and the presidency, few have examined closely the connection between the lack of authoritative, credible and respected analysts and the ceding of ground to bombastic cable tv and talk radion hosts. Mr. Dreyfuss may be an actor, not An Academic (trumpets blare!), but even in what seems like the status-obsssessed world of academe, his words should carry some weight due to their reasonableness and plain old common sense.