Just ask middle and high school students about their society’s basic institutions, courts, trial by jury, the law of wrongful injuries (tort law), or about their civil rights and liberties — and the duties that accompany these rights — and you’re likely to draw blank gazes. In 2006, a poll revealed that more high school students knew the names of the Three Stooges than the names of the three branches of government. Just last year after my address to the student assembly of a preparatory school, a small gathering of students who wanted to talk could not name their state’s governor, senators or representatives to Congress — notwithstanding the ballyhooed information source that is misnamed the “smartphone” in their hands.
The imbalance between the vocational emphasis in education and the civic experience is vast. Civics, as a topic, is not a standalone subject in most schools anymore. And where it is, the textbooks are so dry, dreary and self-censoring of controversial subjects that reading them is like reading a microwave oven manual.