To protect our democracy, we need to prioritize civics education

May 12, 2021

Civics education has been a driving force throughout my career, but nothing showed me the urgency of the issue like being in the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as thousands of armed insurrectionists stormed the building, literally determined to stop the election certification and kill the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and others doing the hard work of democracy.

The events of that day made clear just how fragile our democracy is and how important it is to have citizens who are knowledgeable about our democracy and committed to protect it.

Failing to foster greater civic engagement will only accelerate and invite further threats to our democracy.

I strongly believe in making sure that young people understand how the process works.

That is why, over the years, I’ve been in hundreds of classrooms around the country, in high school and college discussing the importance of civics education.

This should be something that people on both sides of the aisle can come together on – at both the state and federal level.

At the federal level, I am working to move forward my USA Civics Act to prepare the civics educators of today and tomorrow.

But much of this work also must happen at the state level. It’s inexcusable that Oregon remains one of the 11 states that lacks a civics graduation requirement for high school students. As a result, only 24% of students met the proficiency standard in civics. This needs to change.

Yesterday, I met with a number of local leaders about civics education. What Parkrose High School student Josedavid Muñoz-Ronquillo said during our discussion was spot-on: “If it is the role of schools to prepare students for the outside world, then civics education should be a part of what we are learning. I believe it is our civic duty to understand the power of our shared government.”

This year, the state’s legislatures have that opportunity. The Civics Education Act, which is being considered this week, is a common-sense measure that guarantees every Oregon high school student receives one semester of civics education before graduation. The legislation is in the home stretch, and I sincerely hope that the state legislature will take the step to make sure we equip our young people to be guardians of democracy.

As we saw on January 6, it’s more important now than ever.