By Jane Susskind, Carl Luna & Ken Druck
Dr. Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, makes a powerful connection as we witness the meltdown of our potential political leaders during this election year: “…research clearly connects the dots between adult civic behavior and youth civic learning. While the key stated reasons voters don’t engage are lack of interest and lack of trust in government, we know that high quality civic learning in schools is proven to have a direct, significant impact in these areas.”
It’s every parent’s dream to have our kids emulate the best parts of us — and become shining examples of citizenship in our community. It’s also every parent’s nightmare to see them embodying the worst in us, modeled by candidates who bully, accuse, shame, blame, name-call and show little or no actual capacity for civility. Our kids are undoubtedly watching us as we react to contentious Republican and Democratic candidates on parade. They are watching as we allow ourselves to be impressed by bravado instead of substance and statesmanship. As we pour oil on the fire of escalating rhetoric with our inflammatory comments. As we take radical, untenable, condemning and conspiratorial positions against our fellow American as though they were the enemy. As we passively sanction the kind of combative, slashing behavior that is appropriate for an Mixed Martial Arts octagon.
Is it time for a parent audit? Ask yourself, “What life-lessons are my children seeing and learning as they observe me watching/reacting to TV news, debates and town hall meetings this election season? The answers might surprise you, even shock you. The current political landscape is creating a “teachable moment” for both parents and educators. How can we guide our children to become the kind of citizens who will be able to rise above the fray of America’s embarrassment of leadership on the world stage to become informed, civically engaged citizens?
The rhetoric in this election gives urgency to the need to equip students with tools to become thoughtful participants in our democracy through civic learning in schools. Seeds of student civic learning were planted last April when the San Diego Unified School District agreed to integrate six education practices for civic education into the curriculum, part of a statewide pilot program, the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning, co-chaired by the Judith McConnell, administrative presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District.
One year later, bright green shoots of civic learning are sprouting as high school juniors and seniors in San Diego schools compete for scholarships through their participation in this year’s Student Civility Awards contest as part of the 2016 Restoring Respect Conference at the University of San Diego. Their essays, artwork, and videos answering the question of “We the People: How Can We Fulfill the Most Important Promise of the Constitution?” give a provocative look at the state of our democracy through the eyes of San Diego’s youth.
In addition to giving out awards and scholarships, this year’s Restoring Respect Conference on April 18 at USD — free and open to the public — will feature nationally known speakers with powerful messages.
Perhaps we can’t stop the escalating behavior and rhetoric in the political landscape, but we can provide students with an understanding of our how our government works best, how to critically assess the 2016 primaries, and how the respective candidates’ ideas, styles and capacity for collaboration might affect our democracy.
In this election year, the anger, distrust and contentiousness of the people toward government have gotten our attention. What hasn’t been talked about so much is how this mood affects those who will inherit the future: our youth. Will the unintended consequences of this toxic election year move our nation into an era of even further division and fragmentation? Or will we find the will to show the next generation how to live effectively in a diverse and eclectic world with others of differing opinions?How we answer this question for our children may well shape the America we leave them even more than the actual election outcome.
Jane Susskind is a law student and social media director for IVC Media. Carl Luna is a political science professor at Mesa College and director of the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement. Ken Druck is founder of the Jenna Druck Center, president of Druck Enterprises and author of “The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own.”