No matter which political party is in power, the basic mechanisms of U.S. government are consistent. However, many American adults can’t correctly identify foundational aspects of our system of government, and when it comes to civics education for kids, parents may be surprised to learn that the classroom alone is unlikely to close the gap in understanding.
The numbers confirm it.
- Only half of U.S. adults could name all three branches of government—and nearly one in four couldn’t name any of the three—in a 2020 annual survey of civics knowledge by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
- While all 50 states require some civics course work in schools, what's on offer in most states is widely seen as inadequate. Less than a dozen states require a full year of civics education or U.S. government classes before high school graduation.
- Only 25% of students reach the “proficient” standard of civics knowledge by the time of high school graduation, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Everyone deserves an equal chance to participate in the democratic process and create the country they want to see—and in order to get there, all people need to understand their rights and responsibilities and how our system of government works.
To help girls get an early start and build a solid foundation, GSUSA is offering free downloads—available to all girls, not just Girl Scouts—of its Democracy badge booklets from January 21 through February 4, 2021.
Although too many of today’s young people lack a comprehensive civics education, youth care deeply about fixing the problems they see. A recent Girl Scout Research Institute study tells us that girls especially care about creating a society that truly offers equal opportunity for all.
- Nearly 6 in 10 girls say they’re interested in being a future leader through advocacy, public service, or a career as an elected official.
- 82% want to make a positive impact on society through their future work.
- Girls who want to lead in advocacy say they care most about the environment and human rights issues/causes (e.g., girl’s and women’s issues, LGBTQ+ and racial equity, disability rights, poverty).
According to a survey conducted after the 2020 election by the nonpartisan Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement:
- 84% of people ages 18–29 believe in their power to change the country.
- 75% believe they should participate in the political decisions that shape the country.
- 80% say they have a responsibility to make things better for society
So what can you do to make sure your girl is prepared to help make her community, her country, and her world a better place?
- Take her to town or city council or school board meetings so she can see and possibly even participate in democracy in action. Does a local park hold a special place in her heart? Show up when improvements are on the agenda. Has she noticed unfair racial or gender disparities in how school policies are enforced? Support her in sharing her concerns during public comment.
- Sign her up for Girl Scouts or find other ways to get her involved in activities that support positive change in her community and give her the skills she needs to take action and advocate on issues that are important to her. With more than a century of experience, Girl Scouts provides a strong civic foundation for girls of all ages—offering badges and programs in civics and democracy.
- Encourage her to get hands-on experience. Support her run for student government or her desire to get involved in the campaign if a friend does. If she’s an artist, she can make posters. Is she a social butterfly? She might organize a campaign event.
- Set the example. Volunteer in your community. What issues do you care about?
- Be an advocate. Look into your girl’s school curriculum—if they aren’t offering adequate government and civics courses, push for change.
- Take your girl with you when you vote and talk with her about why it’s important.
A democracy that gives all an equal voice isn’t a guarantee; it’s something we have to actively work toward. We can all play our part to ensure the next generation is ready to take up the mantle.