National Press Club

Education Secretary King promotes broader civics education

October 19, 2016 | By Gwen Flanders | glflanders@gmail.com

Education Secretary John B. King called for strengthening civics education at an Oct. 19 National Press Club luncheon.

Education Secretary John B. King called for strengthening civics education at an Oct. 19 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Education Secretary John B. King promoted an expansive view of civics education at an Oct. 19 National Press Club luncheon.

Speaking as a contentious presidential campaign nears its end, King said voting is “the cornerstone of freedom” but only one responsibility of citizenship.

Preparing students for the world beyond high school, he said, also means helping them understand how government works and getting them involved in solving local and national problems, including “homelessness, air and water pollution or the tensions between police and communities of color.”

It's also important to teach them to recognize the need for compromise on complex issues and instill in them a willingness “to think beyond our own needs and wants, and to embrace our obligations to the greater good.”

Citing research by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a coalition of business, education and civic groups, King said students who had effective civic education are “more likely to vote and discuss politics at home, four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, [and] more confident in their ability to speak publicly and communicate with elected officials.”

“As a bonus,” he said, it can prepare students for demanding careers because they will learn to “think critically, write clearly and persuasively and work with diverse groups of people.”

A “robust and relevant civic education,” King said, teaches students not only history but also the things that shaped it, among them the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution but also Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” -- and why they are still relevant.

Students learn by becoming advocates for solutions to real-world problems, he said. They also develop the ability to “look beyond their own interests to their enlightened self-interest in the common good.”

Although such discussions can become partisan, “civic education and engagement is not a Democratic party or a Republican party issue," he said. "We have to make sure classrooms welcome and celebrate these different perspectives.”