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National Statuary Hall

Basis For The Bethune Democracy Institute


Education Theorist John Dewey noted, “Democracy needs to be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” Bauerlin (2008) notes that our education system has not successfully “imbued a sense of civic duty” in young people. Over the past forty years, civics education has received less systematic attention in K-12 curriculum creating two generations of citizens who have a less than proficient level of knowledge about how our democracy works, lack reading a daily newspaper for current events, or have a basic understanding of our history.

mmb statue

Wattenberg (2007) asserts that political activism in millennials has declined. Based on data in the field, only one in five Millennials are considered civic or media savvy. The Harvard Opinion Poll Project (2013) reported that 75% of 18 to 29-year-olds did not describe themselves as “politically active.” Rather than declare membership in either major party, over half of the participants described themselves as “independents” distrustful of institutions. Lawless and Fox (2015) describe millennials as apathetic about public affairs and ignorant about civics. Their research paints “a grim picture about the prospects for an engaged citizenry and a healthy democracy” (p.135). Wattenberg (2008) asks the question: “How can we call ourselves a democracy if fewer and fewer people participate in elections…”

According to the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card in Civics, 32% of White students stand at or above the proficient level, while only nine percent of Black students are proficient in civics knowledge. Scores were closer when comparing basic understanding of civics test scores for eighth graders: White (55%) and Black (46 %). Some young people grow up to be citizens often without the necessary training to see the “big” picture. They often do not understand that the strength of the nation often stands on the policies that govern our daily lives. Citizens and Activists must be trained to effect change in our society.


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