CJ Pearson

The lack of civics education in our country is a threat to the future of our democracy, and we’re going in the wrong direction. Consider that over one in three Americans could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center. This lack of familiarity with our country’s foundational principles is directly correlated with the lack of education in schools across America– but even so, this issue never seems on the top of the list when it comes to legislative action.

InsiderAdvantage recently reported on a new proposal by the University System of Georgia and its chief academic officer, Dr. Tristan Denley, to modify the core curriculum for college students in Georgia. His proposal would reduce the number of core courses needed for graduation, and the American government course requirement could end.

In this course, students examine the U.S. Constitution and become the educated citizens needed for the survival of our freedom and democracy. It is the only required course in the state’s university system to do so. Currently, students’ only civics requirements are an American history and the American government course – each covering widely different topics. This new proposal would allow students to take only one.

This trend is not isolated to secondary education. The de-emphasis of civics extends to high school curriculum as well. Just nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of civics education in order to graduate high school. Currently in Georgia, the graduation requirement for high school students is just one semester of a government course compared to four years of math, science and literature classes. I do not diminish the importance for that coursework even as I urge a stronger effort to educate the next generation of American leaders on topics such as our system of checks and balances, the origins of our freedoms and federalism.

The lack of civics education in both public and private school instruction has not gone without consequence. Only 25 percent of students in the United States reach the proficient standard on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s Civics Assessment, and only 36 percent of American citizens polled could achieve a passing score on the U.S. Citizenship Test. We can’t expect students to become good citizens without this knowledge.

Many of our leaders see the need. In fact, when the University System of Georgia proposed taking away these requirements, the state House Higher Education Committee pushed back on the proposal. Our elected leaders see the need. We must match our understanding of the problem with a will to bring change.

That’s why I started Last Hope USA.

Last Hope is a nonprofit committed to empowering youth by furthering civics education in schools and promoting civic participation opportunities for students. Our mission is to

restore and further civics education in schools and help construct a more-informed generation. We focus on four core methods: education, engagement, advocacy and service.

Our organization lobbies for legislation to implement the completion of a mandatory civics education course as a requirement for high school graduation in all 50 states, and develops curriculum for students, parents and teachers. Last Hope also works to prepare an environment that encourages students to get involved by forming Civics Club chapters in high schools and colleges nationwide and offering community service events to encourage localism and develop informed servant leaders.

My hope, as president and founder of Last Hope, is to bring these ideals nationwide by working with leaders at the state level to set a standard for civics education across our country. After having productive discussions with both Govs. Brian Kemp and Greg Abbott of Texas, we are on the right track for change. But more must be done. We need support from legislators, families, students and activists to bring the worthy concern needed to this issue.

This is our chance to make a difference in civics education across America. Every student deserves to have a fundamental understanding of civics and the way our government operates. Together we can protect the civics education in our country and save the future of our democracy.

CJ Pearson is president and CEO of Last Hope USA and a high school senior in Evans, Ga.


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