POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Civics education is about more than voter turnout, expert says

Oct 31, 2023, 2:03 PM | Updated: 2:10 pm

the front of the white house - SALT LAKE CITY -- A recent study conducted at Pennsylvania State Uni...

FILE - The White House, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent study conducted at Pennsylvania State University found that mandatory civics tests do not impact voter turnout. Rick Hess, a senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the study missed the point of civics education. 

“The reason we ask students to study civics is not so that they’ll vote,” Hess said. Civics education is incorporated into curricula so students develop an understanding of how the government works.

Hess said civics education is about much more than voting and advocacy. 

According to Hess, voter turnout in America is in a good place. Hess also said he sees plenty of activism and advocacy. 

In an essay published by Forbes, Hess elaborated. Democratic government is about more than activism and voting. 

“It’s also about respect for rules, personal responsibility, patience, and a willingness to work with those who see things differently,” Hess wrote. 

Students study civics to build an understanding of how the government works. Civics education also helps students understand their responsibilities, and how they can work together with their fellow citizens, according to Hess. 

Building interest in civics education

“It’s actually a lot easier, I think than people imagine, to get teenagers interested in this stuff,” said Hess. He said he used to teach high school civics. 

According to Hess, getting kids thinking about historical events and how they could’ve been prevented is “a really good exercise.” He said getting students to talk about what the government can do wrong can build awareness. 

Hess also suggested having students research what people want to see signed into law. 

“Have them start breaking [those ideas] down,” said Hess. He said that those types of activities are “engaging, interesting, and practical.” 

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Civics education is about more than voter turnout, expert says