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Porter: Educate yourself for civics' sake

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 9:33 p.m. CST

Civilization. Being civil. Civic duty. All of those things have a commonality other than the letter sequence “c-i-v-i.” Unfortunately, civility and civic duty aren’t as common as they used to be.

I suppose you can be a good citizen without performing a civic duty. If you don’t steal from others and you pay your taxes, that’s being a good citizen. But civic duty requires more. Voting is the most basic civic duty. Participating in community organizations, showing up for jury duty and standing and taking your hat off during the national anthem are all elements of civic duty. But I think democracy, our American civilization, requires more.

I think we have a duty to educate ourselves and to try to understand civic issues without partisanship. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to be a Republican or a Democrat or to promote a political agenda, but if your information diet is fed by a single ideology, then you have assigned your personal responsibility to someone else. That begs the question: Who is manipulating you?

Holding a strong, political belief without being able to articulate why you think that way indicates you have weeds growing in the gray garden inside your head. I don’t blame the media for this. I blame you. Letting someone else do your thinking for you is on you.

Conservatives can blame the liberal media, and liberals can blame Fox News. Maybe we’ve become so disenchanted with politics that we have just given up on trying to sort it all out, so we vote with our party if we vote at all.

Or, maybe our education system has not prepared us to be discerning consumers of information. Perhaps we lack the tools to sort it all out. After all, Illinois does not have a civics education requirement in our schools. The schools teach U.S. history and social studies, but civics is more than that.

On Feb. 21, a governor’s task force on civic education met for the first time to look at how civics is taught in other states and how it might be taught here. As scary as it may seem to many of you, I was appointed as the media representative on the task force, which includes educators and legislators.

My goal for the task force is to ensure that civic education leads to civic engagement. While we need a broad policy that preserves local discretion for schools, I think we need specific tools that schools can use to boost civic engagement, and we need to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of civic education.

This may seem like a ho-hum topic to some folks, as there are far more pressing issues for legislators, such as pension reform, spending issues, tax relief and basic services for roads, police and fire protection and job growth. But we are never going to develop the best solutions to our problems if our young people do not become civic-minded and engaged adults.

• David Porter can be reached at If you have thoughts about civic education, please share them with me.

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