Civics – Elective or Required ?

Do you teach civics in your homeschool? In a recent, non-scientific and totally spontaneous survey I took among homeschooling families I know, 4 out of 6 “admitted” to me that they neglected to teach civics. Honestly, I don’t even remember taking a civics class in high school, and so I consulted my good friend Mr. Webster, to see how he defined that particular subject.

The online dictionary defines “civics” as: a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/civics). Considering recent stories and headlines in the news and on TV, it would appear to me to be an important and valuable lesson to teach our children these days. And if you’re not entirely “on board” about the importance of teaching civics yet, read this article by Richard Dreyfuss (yes, the actor) on Teaching Kids to Love Democracy (http://www.edutopia.org/civics-unrest-teaching-kids-to-love-democracy).

Teaching civics doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or super-serious study, and it certainly doesn’t have to be (or should be!) something relegated to a high-school-level curriculum. But the importance of teaching our children the rights and duties of being a citizen cannot be understated!

"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”, as stated by John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address of 1961, is becoming a quaint but somewhat empty quote – when it is remembered at all by today’s youth. What is suggested in that statement is the very essence of good citizenship. Even an ancient Chinese proverb points out that the “rise and fall of a nation rests on each of its citizens”.

A recent report co-sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (http://civicmissionofschools.org/site/campaign/overview) reviewed and interpreted research on school-based civic education in the United States. This report included goals for civics education in schools, and suggested activities to increase students’ civic knowledge. Although intended for adoption in public school settings, I’ve adapted these ideas here for homeschool use:

  • Emphasize formal instruction in government, law, history and democracy
  • Discuss current events - local, national and international - and especially those events that your children perceive to be important to their lives
  • Provide opportunities for community service projects that apply formal civic learning
  • Encourage your child’s participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures through co-op activities or programs

At the end of the day, "The most important thing parents can do," says Marcie Taylor-Thoma, past president of the Council of State Social Studies Specialists (http://www.greatschools.net/students/academic-skills/the-state-of-civic-education-teaching-the-citizens-of-tomorrow.gs?content=162&page=all), "is have conversations around the dinner table with their children. Talk about the news and about the responsibilities of being a citizen."

Homeschool families have these opportunities daily! Don’t be overwhelmed with the thought of adding yet another subject to your studies. Although you might not teach civics separately, by keeping in mind the concept of civic duty, you can seamlessly integrate it into the conversations and activities you engage in during the course of life. And in the long-run, isn’t that the most effective way to teach civics? You and your children will be “walking-the-talk” of being involved and responsible citizens of the country you’re blessed to be a part of!


Pat Fenner encourages homeschoolers - both newbies and veterans - from her site "Help 4 Your Homeschool", and through mentoring and consulting. As 15 year veterans, she and her husband Paul have graduated their 2 eldest from high school, and are shooting for the same with their 3 elementary-aged children. Pat helps others look "outside the box" of standard curricula for educational resources and inspiration. For some practical and painless ways to teach civics at home, take a look at “Teaching Civics” at Help-4-your-Homeschool.com.

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