I went canvassing recently to survey people about their thoughts on the latest Supreme Court nomination… and no one was familiar.
Sometimes when I ask people close to me about voting they tell me they don’t feel informed enough to participate.
We learn the basics in school, but to be real I was better at pneumonic devices than actually absorbing knowledge from my K12 government lessons, and by the time I got to grad school I needed a refresher. I know I’m not the only one. For one, my professor begrudgingly delivered several such refreshers in her 5000 level health policy class. But besides my anecdotes, there is plenty of evidence that we are slacking in civics know-how:
- When the Annenberg Public Policy Center asked Americans about their civic knowledge last year, 33 percent could not name any of the three branches of government.
- 40% of respondents in this year’s State of the First Amendment Survey could not name a single freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
- And we’ve all seen the cringey man-on-the street pop quiz videos which I won’t share here because they’re mean spirited and you get the point.
It’s intimidating to be put on the spot without confidence that you know your stuff–but we shouldn’t let shame or pride get in the way of getting back to basics so we can reinforce the foundation necessary to engage in our communities and in civic life.
Here are some resources to consider for yourself or share with someone else:
Of course, there’s a TED series for that. Specifically TED-Ed’s Government Declassified videos. These shorts cover big events through history, an intro to the United States Federal Reserve, and dozens of other civics lessons. 🏆 Most are animated but there are a few with people talking to a web cam or delivering the classic TED monologue from that infamous red dot carpet.
The TED series has some info-tainment mixed in (e.g. Black Friday: an accident of history). Indiana University’s Center on Representative Government has a collection of ~1 minute videos called Facts of Congress of more educationally focused topics like “Committees” “Key Congressional Leaders” and “House and Senate”. They speak to younger viewers but IMO are not annoying for grown folks to watch.
They do have one on How a Bill Becomes a Law but we all know it could never hold a candle to Schoolhouse Rock’s:
Harvard offers free, self paced courses on U.S. Government on the edX platform. You can take a course or complete the entire series:
- American Government: Constitutional Foundations
- U.S. Political Institutions: Congress, Presidency, Courts, and Bureaucracy
- Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media
- U.S. Public Policy: Social, Economic, and Foreign Policies
You’ll see prices listed for the program or individual courses but that’s completely optional, for if you want the verification for completing the coursework.
Knowledge is power, and there’s no shame in getting back to basics. Play a video when you’re doing the dishes or brushing your teeth, or complete an open course over coffee on the weekends. Bonus points if you replace these exercises with a less healthy habit like mindlessly scrolling through Instagram! Get a refresher in Civics 101 and have the confidence you need to go out and engage with your neighbors, your friends and your elected officials.