Why Study Civics?

A parent recently shared with me that her family has been studying American history this year and has enjoyed learning about the Pilgrims, the battles of the American Revolution, and other stories of our nation’s Founding Fathers and their incredible faith.

However, her family is dismayed by the accounts of atrocities in our history. This, coupled with discouragement over current events, makes her wonder, “How do I continue to teach my children both the good and the bad in the history of America, but not have the bad overwhelm them? How do I give them hope for their future and a positive attitude that they can be the ones to stand up for good in this country?”

What a great question.

We can focus on the purposes for and principles on which our country was founded.

No country is without blemish, as all are populated by imperfect people—but what has set the United States apart these many years is its founding heritage and the way that legacy creates freedom to effect positive change. The key to conveying this truth to your children is a combination of history andcivics studies.

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What IS Civics?

Civics is the branch of political science that deals with duties and rights of citizenship; academically, it often includes government studies, so students can learn how our political and economic systems are supposed to work and what their rights and responsibilities are as citizens.

Some of you live in states whose home education statutes specifically require studies of civics and/or government, and you wonder what resources you could use; others may simply be looking for a starting point to educate your children (or possibly yourselves) in the basics of state, local, and federal government.

Inge Cannon of EdPlus.com reminds us that the prophet Isaiah described the three-branch structure of government long before Christ was born: “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” Isaiah 33:22 (KJV). The Bible was the standard for civil law from the Mayflower Compact through the constitutions of all 50 states.

Maybe you had — as I did — a marginal education in civics and government; I don’t recall ever being exposed to any original documents, or more than a cursory introduction to how our government’s political or economic systems should function. So where do you begin?

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Civics for Primary Students

For primary students, it is usually most effective to introduce government in the context of early American history, using biographies, autobiographies, and original documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, examining these documents in a context of biblical principles or foundational references. As your students understand the colonists’ grievances and their struggle to obtain liberty, they can more rationally observe the current operations of our governmental system.

By reading and discussing the Declaration of Independence first, students can gain an understanding of why the founding fathers chose to risk their lives by defying the king and army of Great Britain. In For You They Signed, Marilyn Boyer chronicles the lives and character of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and offers a year’s worth of family devotional character studies; the companion Family Activity Guide includes coloring pages to include even young ones in this family study.

A study of the history of various patriotic holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day can be a fun way to kick off your studies! I Love America, Volumes 1 and 2, written and illustrated by Julianne S. Kimber, is a hands-on curriculum for ages 4-7 and is suitable for home or group/co-op use.

If you have several children, you may wish to cover as much of civics in a multi-level approach as possible, teaching to the level of your oldest student and modifying assignments for the others; they will get off the “mental bus” at their own “mental bus stop.”

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Civics for Middle School

By middle school, you might consider an introduction to The Federalist Papers (originally titled The Federalist), a series of essays-turned-newspaper-editorials by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison that remain to this day a primary source of interpretation of our constitution.

The Library of Congress website offers lesson plans and themed activities designed specifically for younger students, utilizing primary documents.

The books in the Uncle Eric series by Richard Maybury are written from a fictional uncle to his inquisitive nephew and include titles such as: Whatever Happened to Justice?;  Are You Liberal? Conservative? or Confused?; and Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? These books are a great civics and economics introduction for this age group.

Alpha Omega’s The U.S. Government supplemental history resource book gives your children a close-up look at the inner workings of our government in action, including the Constitution, the justice system, the Congress, the elective process, military, and more. They also offer a Switched-On Schoolhouse computer-based study on state government and history for each state.

Generation Joshua offers civics courses online geared to students ages 11+, through distance learning, online programs, camps and intensives, and often presents interactive events for young people at state homeschool conferences.

Also, some state organizations offer resources relevant to their own state’s government and history.

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Hands-on Experience

In an interview on teaching citizenship to children, constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, co-founder of HSLDA and chairman and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom (and author of the Constitutional Law textbook and the Constitutional Literacy DVD series), suggests,

“Take your children on field trips to government offices so that they can see first-hand what functions each level of government performs.

Visit court trials at different levels. Watch your city council in operation. Visit your state legislature. And if possible, watch Congress in action. The practical lessons your children will receive from such excursions will far outweigh any textbook instruction–especially if you follow it up with thoughtful discussion.

The more our children know about their government, the more they will be able to change the way our government operates, to make it more efficient, and to hold their representatives responsible for their actions.”

As your children grow, you’ll have opportunities to show them how they can impact the culture, the government, and their local community through involvement and service.

Hope for the Future

Joel Grewe, Generation Joshua’s director, admirably sums up their mission: “Generation Joshua wants America to be a beacon of biblical hope to the world around us.  We seek to inspire every one of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and for His glory.”

In his article “Teaching Government Right,” Dr. Arthur Robinson comments, “The last and best hope for the long-term preservation of American freedom and the remarkable legacy of the constitutional republic created by our Founding Fathers is in the education of young Americans to think and learn for themselves the truth about government as it ought to be.”

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Additional Resources:

Character Concepts features lots of biographies and other governmental studies, including Noah Webster’s advice to the Young and Moral Catechism, plus lots of audio workshops.

Take Your Hat Off When the Flag Goes By  is a child’s musical introduction to the Constitution, geared for ages 3-8.

Amanda Bennett’s government unit study is divided into upper and lower levels beginning at about grade 4, but could be modified for a younger student.

The Teaching Home e-newsletter offers several online issues packed with resources, links, and teaching tips–their archived Constitution Week edition is an informational start.

The Land of Fair Play is now in its third edition.  This updated introduction to civics presents middle schoolers with an overview of Christian duties of citizenship, the relationship between local, state, and national government, and much more. Although it is designed for 7th grade and above, it could be used in a read-aloud-and-discuss setting for upper elementary, depending on the student’s ability/interest. (I was fascinated that the original was written long enough ago to refer to The Great War, instead of—as we now call it—World War I!)

The KONOS Unit Study Guide, Volume II (green book) has an entire unit on the character trait of wisdom, and two of the four sub-units are on government and presidents/electoral process–with more than six pages of suggested resource titles selected for K-8th grades. A few of the most highly recommended include The Story of the Power of Congress by Conrad Stern, The Constitution by Warren Coleman, and American Freedom and the Bill of Rights by William Wise.

Alpha Omega’s The U.S. Government supplemental history resource book gives your children a close-up look at the inner workings of our government in action, including the Constitution, the justice system, the Congress, the elective process, military, and more. They also offer a Switched-On Schoolhouse computer-based study on state government and history for each state.

The Childhood of Famous Americans series (children’s book series found in many public libraries)

The Light and the Glory for Children by Peter Marshall

From Sea to Shining Sea for Children by Peter Marshall

The Principle Approach to home education

All-American History

Diana Waring’s History Revealed series

God Has Big Plans for You, Esther! By Kay Arthur and Janna Arndt (Discover 4 Yourself inductive Bible study series; ages 9–12). Readers ages 9 to 12 join young investigators Max, Molly, and Sam for a great adventure in Washington D.C. While they explore the exciting dynamics of the Capitol, they uncover an amazing Bible story of a young girl named Esther whom God used to change the course of her nation.

Uncle Sam and You: From Notgrass Publishing, a one-year civics and government course for students in grades 5–8. Daily lessons about the foundations of American government, the elections process, and how federal, state, and local governments work.

Constitutional Literacy DVD program by Dr. Michael Farris (for advanced middle school through adult — great for parents!)

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