When tolerance and respect for others are forgotten, Americans are at risk of losing the civic virtues that undergird their very rights, a longtime political observer warns in the current issue of the Virginia News Letter, published online by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
As the nation faces complex issues such as health care reform, a citizenry that is poorly informed about the processes of democracy is a key contributor to this risk, writes political analyst Bob Gibson, executive director of U.Va.’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.
Surveys show that Virginia, with a rapidly changing demographic make-up and many foreign-born residents, is typical of the declining awareness of how government works. Many students can’t name the three branches of government -- executive, legislative and judicial -- or explain such concepts as separation of powers and check and balances.
Improving civic education in schools and communities is a necessary first step. Lively discussions and debates about rights can often make it a strong exercise for students, Gibson writes. With news media losing readership and viewership and cutting balanced news coverage, “a toxic recipe exists for citizens who know little about government and politics,” adds Gibson, a member of the Virginia Commission on Civics Education charged by the General Assembly to educate the public that democracy requires reasoned debate and good faith negotiation.