In Building better citizens, Holly Korbey argues that civics education—educating students about basic factual knowledge and how to be an effective citizen—has never been more important as more and more people can’t distinguish between real and fake news. As Korbey aptly notes, “With so much misinformation flooding the internet, it suddenly feels like we are debating the very existence of scientific truth itself.” Basically, in order to have a democracy we need to be able to agree on the same set of facts, and in health and science at present that seems more important than ever. What follows is a brief interview with Korbey about what civics education is, why it has been neglected, and how can improve health and science literacy.
How do you define civics education and why is it so important?
Civics education, quite literally, is learning how to be a citizen. In the book, I take a look at what means—what you need to know to be an effective citizen in the 21st century. That includes learning about history and geography and how our government is set up, which is what traditionalists would call the basics of civics. But I argue that there’s more to it than that to live in our 24/7, globalized, multiracial and multicultural, completely digital America. To be a responsible citizen today, you also have to know how to find reliable sources of news, how to determine fact from fiction, and how to talk and listen to others you may disagree with in our incredibly polarized political climate. It’s not a case of either/or, you have to have both.
The reason it’s important, essential is the word I would use, is because in a democracy the power rests with the people. The president, Congress, ultimately they’re not the “deciders” – the people are. And as Sandra Day O’Connor has famously said, Americans aren’t born knowing how to live in a democracy. Each generation must be taught history and the Constitution, as well as the rights and responsibility they have to decide the fate of the nation.
Why has civics education largely been neglected?
Civics ed began being neglected in the second half of the 20th century—before that it was the original mission for starting the public schools! But several things happened: the launch of Sputnik and the space race created a sense that schools weren’t focusing enough on STEM subjects. Schools’ missions really changed from training young citizens to enter democracy to preparing students for college and career. And then the school