Tag Archives: 2012 voting

Back to the Basics – Civics 1A

Lately I’ve been talking to people who are so busy just making it through the day.  And I understand.  Just to keep up with the daily basic needs of food, shelter and clothing can be daunting.  Yet now is not the time to forget our civic responsibility.

So many people have asked me to simply tell them what to do.  Well, after some research in the area of civic education, I offer the following for your consideration and action.


Some say the three basic components to the well-being of American constitutional democracy are

1.) knowledge,

2.) intellectual and participatory skills, and

3.) Civic dispositions.

Knowledge Component

As we progress through life, our knowledge of the issues should deepen.  We are expected –by the time we are of the age to vote and with each passing year– to have a greater understanding of topics posed by these five questions:

1.  What are civic life, politics, and government?

2.  What are the foundations of the American political system?

3.  How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values, and principles of American democracy?

4.  What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affair?

5.  What are the roles of citizens in American democracy?

I’ll admit I’ve never thought through these types of questions in a purposeful way before.  It’s quite a thought provoking exercise.  I find its fun to do with friends and especially school age students.  If you have children, ask them these questions.  It quite possible they may surprise you and have some pretty insightful answers, especially since schools include civic education in the curriculum.

Intellectual and Participatory Skills Component

This component involves the use of knowledge to think and act effectively and in a reasoned manner in response to the challenges of civic life in a constitutional democracy.  As citizens become more comfortable using these skills, they can identify, describe, explain, and analyze information and arguments, and evaluate, take, and defend positions on public policies.  When working with others, citizens can monitor and influence public and civic life by clearly articulating ideas and interest, building coalitions, seeking consensus, negotiating compromise, and managing conflict.

Civic Dispositions

This is a kinda fancy way of saying how the individual sees himself or herself within the democracy:  what are the rights and responsibilities of individuals in society and to the advancement of the ideals of the political community and civil society.  An example is like the individual’s willingness to become an independent member of society; respect individual worth and human dignity; assume the personal, political, and economic responsibilities of a citizen; abide by the “rules of the game,” such as accepting the legitimate decisions of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority; participate in civic affairs in an informed, thoughtful, and effective manner; and promote the healthy functioning of American constitutional democracy.

That said, I keep coming back to the question I often get from people when I talk to them about civic engagement: Why should you care about civic life, politics, and government?  My best answer is that if we understand civic life, politics, government, and civil society, we can make informed judgments about what government should and should not do, how we are to live our lives together, and how we can support the proper use of authority or combat the abuse of political power.

So…what is civic life, politics, and government in American constitutional democracy?

I’ve come to understand that our private (or personal) life is devoted to the pursuit of private and personal satisfactions, while in contrast our civic life is focused on concern with the affairs of the community and nation.  All our time and attention must not be focused only on private concerns.  We have a responsibility to devote time to the public affairs of the community and nation.

Politics is the process by which people reach collective decisions that are generally regarded as binding and enforced as common policy.  Increasingly, this political process is becoming filled with misinformation, misdirection and some say outright lies, making it difficult for the average person to reach sound collective decisions.  Some elected officials in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have even said that they will “not compromise” meaning it’s their way or no way, cutting off reasoned discussion of issues, making it difficult to reach a collective decisions.

Government is often described as the formal institutions and processes of a politically organized society with authority to make, enforce, and interpret law, and other binding rules about matters of common interest and concern, such as society’s order, security, and prosperity.  The term government also refers to the group of people, acting in formal political institutions at national, state, and local levels, who exercise decision-making power or enforce laws and regulations.  Some parts of government, such as Congress, state legislatures, and city councils make laws; other parts, including federal, state and local agencies such as health authorities and police, enforce laws; and still others, such as federal and state courts, interpret laws, and other rules.

Civil society refers to voluntary non-governmental political, social, and economic activity.  Among the many non-governmental actors who make up civil society are groups such as parent-teacher and professional associations, multi-national corporations and small businesses, labor unions, public charities, religious organizations, and youth groups.  The governmental and non-governmental activities sometimes overlap.  One of the responsibilities of citizens is to distinguish the appropriate and inappropriate influence of one upon the other.

Now is always the time to reflect on how we’ve doing.  Could we allot more time in our day, perhaps 15, 30 or more minutes, to expand and deepen our knowledge and understanding of civic life, politics and government?   I’ve found it’s worth the attention.  My life has greatly increased in joy, amusement and happiness.  I own it, feel it, live it and love it!

Join me on this continuous journey.  Civics 1B is coming soon!

–the Educating Gossip

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