Secretary of State
Southern States Set Goals for Increasing Civic Engagement
(Louisville, KY) Every week, Jay Leno takes to the street to ask citizens important questions of the day such as the basic knowledge of how their government works. In many cases, the result is frightening. All too often, Leno has to ask a large number of individuals in order to get a correct response to basic questions that most Americans should have learned in their middle and high school years. Unfortunately, more and more anecdotal evidence and research points to a severe crisis in civic education and civic engagement among American citizens, particularly among America’s youth.
Experts on civic education and civic engagement from a consortium of thirteen southern states gathered in Louisville, Kentucky this week for the inaugural Southern Conference on Civic Education and Engagement. The Kentucky Workgroup on Civic Literacy and Engagement, chaired by Secretary of State Trey Grayson, took the lead in planning the inaugural conference and served as hosts for the conference—the first of its kind in the nation.
“Kentucky serves as a leader in the effort to restore a civics focus to classroom learning,” stated Grayson. “It seemed only fitting that we take this effort to the next level and coordinate with other states with similar backgrounds and demographics.”
The thirteen states, recognizing the added value of cooperation, met last year during the third Congressional Conference on Civic Education and formed the Southern Coalition for Civic Education and Engagement. Leaders from the states developed plans to create a listserv, professional development exchanges, and a monthly newsletter. In addition to these projects, the idea for a Southern Conference on Civic Education and Engagement was born.
Participants in the conference, including the Congressional Conference on Civic Engagement state facilitators, elected officials, and many law-related education professionals, developed goals for the coalition and a strategic plan for the viability of the coalition and its efforts. Participants had the opportunity to exchange ideas, share resources, and develop mutually supportive plans and materials.
The Coalition set four broad goals in the coming years: 1) review civic education policies in member states, 2) promote policy that supports collaborative civic education efforts, 3) create professional development opportunities for teachers, and 4) develop marketing strategies for civic education.
Many Louisville residents took note of the importance of the work the coalition was doing. “We need to focus more on teaching our kids what they need to do to become effective citizens,” noted Highlands resident Daphne Miller, 33. “I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I am not familiar enough with government and its processes.”
David Hortiz, 66, from Okolona, had similar thoughts. “It’s scary that we have people out there who either do not vote or vote but have very little understanding of whom they are voting for.”
Conference participant Drew Trimble, 19, a freshman at the University of Kentucky and a Johnson County native, called upon policy makers to take immediate steps to address the issue. “This problem only worsens over time. We must realize that citizenship is something that must be taught, and, in many instances, students no longer receive this kind of education in the classroom or at home. We have to do our part to change this situation.”
The participants heard from numerous leaders from Kentucky and around the nation including Senator Mitch McConnell, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, State Senator Jack Westwood, Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, University of Louisville President James Ramsey, Northern Kentucky University President Jim Votruba, and Ted McConnell, Director of the Campaign to Improve Civic Education at the Center for Civic Education.
“This conference set out bold plans to increase the cooperation of southern states in order to reach our primary goal: to restore the civic mission of school,” remarked Ted McConnell. “I could not be more pleased with the outcomes and the participation of these remarkable leaders.”
The Kentucky Workgroup on Civic Literacy has been noted nationally for its effort to increase awareness of civic issues, known as the Civic Literacy Initiative of Kentucky (CLIK).
In the upcoming weeks, the Workgroup will release a report with its recommendations entitled: Rediscovering Democracy: An Agenda for Action. The recommendations of the CLIK were derived from 11 regional meetings and two statewide summits held over the last year and a half. Among the participants were students, P-16 educators, college administrators, elected officials, administrators and staff of local government agencies, education organization representatives, non-education non-profit representatives, as well as members of the general public and media.
The CLIK issued an initial report, Rediscovering Democracy: A Report on the Kentucky Summit on Civic Literacy, after its initial statewide summit.
For more information, please visit the CLIK’s website at: http://civicsky.nku.edu <http://civicsky.nku.edu/> .
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