Civic Education: A Key to Trust in Government

By Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, CSG senior fellows
 
The public’s sense that government isn’t serving them efficiently and effectively is particularly strong when it comes to their understanding of the federal government. But that’s little solace to those working in state governments, which are similarly targets of widespread mistrust. According to a September 2016 Gallup poll, some 37 percent of Americans surveyed had little trust or confidence in their states.
 
There are a number of reasons why this is true, including the kind of vicious electioneering that fills the television airwaves, and the growth of various movements dedicated to attacking, rather than
improving, the very existence of government. But one more factor that is particularly troublesome, given the fact that it can be resolved, has been the decline in civic education; particularly that which focuses on the states and localities. How, indeed, can anyone trust a powerful entity that they don’t understand?
 
It’s a basic element of human nature that ignorance leads inexorably to mistrust.
 
The experts agree:
• Gerald Wright, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Indiana University: “Students are overly cynical now. To be effective citizens they need to understand how the system operates, and there is too much of a tendency just to say ‘Aw, they’re all corrupt.’ And they won’t participate and it takes them out of the game and then it leaves the space open for those who want to get in the game for their own self-interest.”
 
• Randall Reid, director of performance initiatives at the International City/County Management Association: “Becoming a better civic creature helps you understand the place you’re in.” 
 
• Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools: “Civics education is important because it’s the only way the vast majority of people know how our government works. It has cross benefits in that it helps develop skills like critical thinking that are essential to workplace competency.
 
Read the full report here: 
 
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