Lessons for Life

As the year comes to a close, I have a great aspiration for Phillips Academy: civics. If Phillips Academy is truly home to the world’s future leaders, teaching civics skills is extraordinarily fundamental. In my opinion, civics should be a required course at Phillips Academy, or at least integrated into the humanities program. Recently, many students and faculty have been reengaged in the dialogue to begin a civics course on campus. While the concept of such a course has been discussed, students are finally beginning to feel concerned by the absence of civics in the academic course of study. When consumer advocate and civics activist Ralph Nader came to the academy last month, he met with a group of politically and community-service active students. During the Q&A session Mr. Nader emphasized the importance of a civics course which informs students on citizen activism and an individual’s democratic duties. On an informational sheet that he handed out to students, Mr. Nader asked students to circle their names if they were interested in beginning civics course at Phillips Academy. Mr. Nader’s appearance on campus sparked much student curiosity and inspired many to join in the civics discourse. The textbook, “Civics for Democracy,” co-authored by Mr. Nader, examines civics for young people. Mr. Nader also wrote the pamphlet entitled “Civic Arousal,” which is a compilation of thoughtful letters written by two young citizens and Mr. Nader’s responses. Before describing how I envision a civics course on campus, it’s important to express why it’s necessary. Civics is essential because it teaches individuals the meaning of global, national, and community citizenship. Furthermore, civics courses evaluate democratic ethics and virtues. The absence of civics is not only an issue at Phillips Academy – students across the United States in both private and public schools are no longer learning about the value of civics. Robyn E. Blumner, columnist for St. Petersberg Times (Tampa Bay), titled her May 8, 2005 perspective piece “A nation of civics illiterates.” Ms. Blumner’s title speaks volumes about the current lack of civics taught in the U.S. In the article, she mentions poll numbers which suggest that more students can recognize Regis Philbin as the former host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” than the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, she states the importance of one citizen’s ability to preserve their democracy. But as Andover faculty and students look into the possibility of civics, the question arises: “What would be taught at the core of a Phillips Academy civics course?” 1) Learning about the foundations of Democratic thought from writers from the British Enlightenment such as John Locke. 2) Taking a careful examination of our historical democratic system and Constitutional leaders. First and foremost, this would discuss the characteristics of our democracy. 3) It’s equally important to examine observations of our democracy from such figures as St. John de Crevecoeur and Alexis de Tocqueville. Crevecoeur is widely known for his praise of the democratic values of a fledgling nation. Years later, Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” poses questions towards America’s democratic way. 4) After gaining an underpinning of knowledge, students could begin to learn about the most fundamental aspect of such a course: civics in action. This means learning about the meaning of being a world citizen – an individual’s personal democratic obligations: voting, activism, and the questioning of governmental authority. Such “actions” could involve writing letters to congressmen, setting up New England style town hall meetings, and organizing protests. It would be incorrect to state that the academy has not begun discussing this important matter that is civics. In fact, the Strategic Plan – an important “mission statement” of the school – already focuses on a message of the meaning and importance of global citizenship. The Community Service body has also been involved in the civics discourse. Part of their mission statement is to “motivate students to consider and act upon issues of social justice and civic responsibility and thus foster a commitment to a lifetime of effective participation in public life.” While Phillips Academy faculty and administration are looking into civics programs, it is important that interested and enthusiastic students become involved. Part of civics is to lead and propose new ideas. Many on this campus feel that idea of creating a civics skills course – teaching about our democratic obligations – is both incredibly exciting and imperative. In short, if we the students feel that this is an important course for our school, then we have power to make a difference – to make a call for civics.