Your recent article in the DDN — “Local leaders working to boost civics education” — tells that members of the Exchange Club of Dayton are pushing for positive changes in civic education in Ohio’s schools. Ohio’s social studies standards are up for review in 2017 and an Exchange Club committee is recommending that Ohio’s civics curriculum should align with The National Standards for Civics and Government developed by the Center for Civic Education. I applaud your efforts and the efforts of the Exchange Club committee. As you write, “The solution is elusive.”
The aim of improving civics in schools is to assure that all students achieve a minimum standard of civics education. If this aim could be accomplished, public education would greatly benefit. But an aim for minimum accomplishment is insufficient for math and science education. We would consider it a very weak school that only offered a math curriculum aimed at assuring all students achieve a minimum standard in math. Strong schools seek to develop all of the math potential in students so that at least some students become leaders in math and perform at a math level much higher than the minimum.
The purpose of this note is to urge the Exchange Club committee to expand the work of the committee to include improving civics education outside of formal schooling. Such opportunity is needed to develop high achievers in civics. Youth who have a zeal for marshal arts or gymnastics find schools outside of the public structure to develop their expertise and leadership in these areas. My thought is that every community should have a “School of Civics,” independent of the public school system where youth with a zeal for deliberative democracy could provide service to their communities while developing their own expertise and leadership.
The purpose of civics education is to develop strong citizens and though formal education is needed for citizen development, in a healthy republic, strong citizens are developed by participating within an active civic community. We learn by doing, but the doing of civics is now almost extinct. “It takes a village.” It takes a community. But our bedroom geographic regions, municipalities, are not communities. We are missing a public square, a public space where people meaningfully connect with each other as members of a shared community.
This lack of community afflicts both poor and rich. I am a retired teacher (West Carrollton High School) who has done a lot of thinking and research on school structure and school improvement. In 2009, I determined to volunteer my effort and experience by seeking election to the Kettering Board of Education. I would loved to have had a meaningful dialogue with a Kettering community, but I sought for such a community in vain. In a more perfect world, there would have been an established group of civic-minded citizens who would have insisted on meaningful discussion about the future of their schools. Such a group would have included youth who would have learned civics in a real world setting. Such a group may even have been led by youth.
The Exchange Club Committee is fighting to improve civics curriculum in schools. We need to be developing high achievers in civics and to develop the leaders in civics that our republic needs, the best opportunity is through the establishment of programs and opportunities outside of the formal school structure. Youth and all of us learn by doing and what is needed are structures that will challenge and support youth in providing leadership in their local communities. What such structures might look like, I will develop in future posts and I am inviting members of the Exchange Club and other interested citizens to enter into discussion.
Unless there is a transformation in America so that citizens become strong — a great civic awakening, so that citizens are awake, prepared and engaged — our republic is doomed. We have a republic, as Benjamin Franklin noted, “If we can keep it,” and, if Franklin were here today, he would conclude that we are experiencing system failure. In order to maintain a republican system there must be eternal vigilance. There must be strong citizens. To be a strong citizen in a republic has a very different meaning than what it means to be a strong citizen in a totalitarian state.
Big money, corporate influence, rampant gerrymandering, voter suppression, fake news and unrelenting propaganda have weakened the system. But, the underlying cause of our system failure is the sad fact that our citizenry is very weak. A republic with a strong citizenry would never have permitted the corruption of money and gerrymandering to have occurred in the first place.
Our citizenry is weak because of two big changes in American life: 1) Public education has abandoned its prime responsibility to prepare youth for citizenship and 2) The civic community structure has disappeared. Unless these two big weaknesses in America are addressed, the downward spiral of our republic will continue and the trends toward oligarchy and authoritarianism we are seeing today will culminate in a shameful denouement. We need a great civic awakening, so that citizens are full participants in their republic — awake, prepared and engaged.
The new two-year budget just released by Ohio’s Governor John Kasich proposes to reduce income taxes by 17% and increase sales taxes by .5%. This tax change will result in tax cuts for the wealthy and tax increases for the poor and middle class. The State Assembly must approve a state budget by July 1.
Under Republican control, Ohio taxes have become increasingly regressive — starting with the big tax cuts in income tax that started in 2005 (See: Ohio’s 2005 Tax Reduction Law Diminished, By 21%, The Progressivity of Ohio’s Tax Code) — causing a big budget gap (argued to be $8 billion) that Kasich corrected by cutting payments to local governments. Policy Matters states: “Tax reductions over the past dozen years cost $3 billion annually in revenue, helping create a budget crunch that could have been avoided. Local governments, are working with $1.2 billion less in 2017 than seven years ago due to changes in state revenue-sharing and tax policies.”
In 2005, Ohio’s tax rate for top incomes was 7.5%. If Kasich’s proposal is approved the top rate will be 4.33%
The tax cut in 2015, cut taxes by nearly $1.9 billion. Policy Matters states: “The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the top 1 percent on average would see an annual tax cut of more than $10,000. For the middle fifth of Ohioans, the savings averages $20. And for the lowest-earning 20 percent, who made less than $20,000 in 2014, it amounted to an average tax increase of $20. Most Ohioans, in short, are getting little or nothing from these tax cuts.”
The 17% tax cut proposed by Kasish will continue the Republican policy of making Ohio’s tax system more and more regressive — the lower one’s income, the greater the proportion of income must go to state and local taxes. The chart below was prepared by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and doesn’t include the impact of the Kasich proposal.
Chart supplied by The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
David Sparks the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 43 House District, winning 39.5% of the votes, has written a thoughtful essay analyzing the race. (David won Montgomery County, but was annihilated in Preble County.) Spark’s essay is entitled, There is No Other Time But Now, and it is well worth a read. Here is my response:
David, thanks for your thoughtful analysis. You write that the results of this election should cause Democrats to do “some long overdue and deep introspection” and that Democrats should “invest in a party organizational infrastructure that ensures that there are no forgotten areas or people.” I agree.
Speaking of infrastructure, you did not include in your analysis an important point that many Democrats are not aware of. By state law, in every Ohio county there is an official organization of Democrats that consists of a legislative body, “The Central Committee,” of individuals chosen by election every four years in the spring Democratic Primary. This Central Committee, in turn, chooses officers and amends the constitution that structures the county organization when it deems amendments are necessary. Every precinct in the county may choose one member of the Central Committee.
In the last Central Committee election (2014), the MCDP leadership refused to advertise the election and the result was that county Democrats who otherwise might have become meaningfully engaged in the party organization were unaware of the opportunity. The result was that only 132 out of 360 precincts fielded even one candidate. Why the leadership refuses to work to expand the elected members of the Central Committee is a good question (see articles posted below). The Montgomery County Democratic Party, with its elected Central Committee, should be the backbone of the infrastructure that is needed, but MCDP is failing to fulfill its infrastructure role, and in fact is making only a very weak effort to do so. You write that you want “to keep this discussion disengaged from personalities.” I agree that there is no point in acrimony, but eventually a discussion about MCDP leadership by concerned Democrats will be necessary.
The current MCDP chair is Mark Owens. He works full-time as County Clerk of Courts and by all reports is good at his job. But to build MCDP into the organization that it should be, we need a full-time leader. The fact that Owens and the other county Democrats are continually reelected to their county-wide offices is a point of pride, but the perpetual reelection of this group has contributed to MCDP apathy. The work of the MCDP has pretty much boiled down to maintaining the status quo — and unfortunately the status quo far is from being strong enough to challenge U. S. Congressman Mike Turner or the Republican contingent in the county that is regularly elected to the State Assembly. My conclusion is that the MCDP needs new leadership, a new vision, a new level of energy — if the party is to build the precinct-by-precinct infrastructure needed for the party to realize its potential.
The next chance to elect a new Central Committee and to rewrite the constitution and elect new MCDP leadership will be during the Democratic Primary in 2018. Any county Democratic wanting to serve on the Central Committee will need to submit a petition by January of 2018.
The Russian Sputnik in 1957 made us realize we were in danger. The election of Trump in 2016 should cause a similar shock. Sputnik spurred the U.S. space program and forced public schools to make big improvements in STEM education. The election of Trump in a more perfect would force schools to make big improvements in civics education, but I’m not expecting Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, to make that conclusion.
I believe, over time, civics education is destined to become more important than STEM education. The coming tsunami of technology will change everything — including how we see the purpose of public education. The premise of the book I’m determined to write, “Public Education In 2047,” is that Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the coming era of intelligent machines is correct. (Kurzweil doesn’t speculate much about the social / political impact of the rise of the rise of machine intelligence so he leaves a lot to imagine.) As I connect the dots, I foresee that a civics education that prepares citizens to stand up to the machines will become the central mission of public schools. Standing up to the machines will mean that humans will need to be united in effective democratic communities. Developing the capacity to contribute to the success of a democratic community will be key to humanity using the transformative power of technology to advance the common good. Schools will be evaluated in terms of students’ progress in increasing their capacity to be effective citizens. Thinking through what such a future educational program might look like is a fun goal for my book.
Each chapter in my book will be short — an appropriate amount of material for a 75 minute discussion. Chapter 1 says that in 2035, Congress Demands That Schools Develop Human Intelligence. This Act of Congress defines “human intelligence” and calls for a transformation of American education so that it will effectively advance the development of human intelligence. In Chapter Two explains what, in 2047, it means to be an “Effective Citizen.” At that time, the rapid transformation of machines will inspire students with many reasons to heartily embrace the goal of increasing their human intelligence and in gaining the capacity to be an effective citizen. In schools there will be postings that read something like this:
An Effective Citizen
An effective citizen is: Grounded, Knowledgeable, Aware, Thoughtful, Engaged, Insightful, Practiced, Empathetic, Respectful, Effective, Persistent, and Skilled.
- Grounded in history and science
- Knowledgeable about issues
- Aware of what is happening in politics
- Insightful as to what is important
- Practiced in independent thinking
- Empathetic with competing points of view
- Respectful and civil
- Effective in communication
- Persistent in following through what is started
- Skilled at contributing to the success of a conversation