Carolina Journal News Reports
FAYETTEVILLE — Cumberland County officials and community leaders are challenging the state’s adults to do a better job instilling teenagers with the knowledge and skills necessary to become effective participants in public-policy debates and civic activities. The recommendations were made in response to a recent statewide survey showing an acute lack of understanding of government and politics among North Carolina’s youth.
“There’s not been enough emphasis on civic responsibility,” said Fayetteville Mayor Marshall Pitts after welcoming nearly 50 people to the city for a North Carolina Civic Education Consortium forum to discuss ways to address deficiencies uncovered by the group’s research. “Adults haven’t done a good job of talking to kids and getting them prepared,” he said.
Pitts said he hopes the NCCEC forum energizes the community about the instrumental role each person can and should play in society. The Fayetteville meeting was one of eight held around the state to gather citizen reaction and ideas. Sessions in Cullowhee, Hendersonville, and Asheville each attracted 60 people. Forum recommendations will be presented to policymakers in December.
Pitts said he was disappointed in the survey results, which revealed that nine out of 10 teens (13-to-17-year-olds) were unable to name both of North Carolina’s U.S. senators. Forty-four percent didn’t know the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights.
Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, expressed concern that only three of 10 teens were able to correctly identify the General Assembly as the lawmaking body in our state. “Basic fundamental concepts haven’t been made,” he said. “The survey overall establishes we have a lot of work to do in civic knowledge and fully participating students.”
During a forum brainstorming session in which attendees separated into small groups, Glazier recommended the state implement same-day voter registration to encourage turnout. He also endorsed Erin Slatter’s suggestion that public officials and students shadow one another at school and the office, noting that he recently visited several schools as part of his effort to be a role model and explain his duties in the legislature.
Slatter, a 10th-grade student at Terry Sanford High School, said her idea would offer a window on the challenges each group faces and spur innovative solutions. She attended the Fayetteville forum with more than a dozen Sanford High classmates who are enrolled in Advanced Placement Government.
While Glazier and Slatter developed ideas with their group, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall served as a sounding board for another cadre of attendees who expressed concern about trusting government and a desire to understand the nuts and bolts of policy decision-making. Marshall, who grew up in neighboring Harnett County, has been involved in voting and civic issues as a member of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
She is especially interested in addressing why 18-to-24-year-olds don’t vote in greater numbers, and said the NASS “New Millennium Young Voters Project” has helped her understand the challenges revealed in the NCCEC survey. “I’ve learned young people aren’t failing the system; it’s the other way around,” she said as she prepared to give closing remarks.
Marshall said that some responsibility for the “sad” survey results could be traced to the lack of emphasis on civics education in the classroom. Civics competes with science and technology for time and attention, she said. What’s more, teachers tend to focus only on what will be tested, shying away from the more in-depth discussions Marshall believes are important.
She also wishes schools encouraged partisan debate to help students understand all sides of an issue. “In so many schools, they don’t talk about issues from a Democrat or Republican perspective. They’re afraid to really talk about issues,” she said.
Marshall’s concerns appear to be supported by the findings of a separate study by the Thomas Fordham Foundation, a school-reform organization. Fordham’s research tagged North Carolina with an “F” for its history curriculum, along with 22 other states. The report describes North Carolina’s social studies standard course of study as “a blueprint for historical ignorance and civic disaffection.” State leaders challenge the assessment.
The NCCEC survey can be found here. More coverage of the Fordham report on North Carolina's history curriculum can be found here and here.
Donna Martinez is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.