When it comes to basic civics — from the Bill of Rights to how laws are made — we are becoming a nation of ninnies. 

And our education system has been doing little to get the country up to speed on how government operates. Perhaps it’s the focus on getting students to pass standardized tests on math and reading, but whatever the reason, the result is pitiful. 

In Washington state, just one week of civics instruction is required in just six of the nine years of schooling between fourth grade and graduation. And, judging by the lack of knowledge of students, it’s not taken particularly seriously. 

The results of national exams found just half of eighth-graders know why America has a Bill of Rights, only one in 10 understand the concept of checks and balances between branches of government and 75 percent of high school seniors could not name a single power granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution.

But the Seattle School District is now taking aim at this lack of knowledge and plans to do something about it. To beef up civics instruction and bring it out of history books into present-day life, Seattle teachers from all grade levels will meet next month at the King County Elections Office to begin designing new lessons, wrote Seattle Times reporter Claudia Rowe. 

“We are disgusted with the lack of attention to teaching kids how to be citizens in a democracy,” said history teacher Web Hutchins, who has been  lobbying the Seattle School Board to adopt his Civics for All curriculum. “Especially for kids in low-income schools. They turn 18, and they graduate, and they don’t vote! It’s institutionalized disenfranchisement. My hope is that this is going to change that.”

So, too, do we. And not just in Seattle. 

If Seattle’s effort does jump start the students’ civics IQ, the rest of the state would be wise to follow. 

The lack of understanding of basic rights of citizens and how government operates at the federal, state and local level is shameful. 

Hutchins’ zeal for getting Seattle’s students up to speed on basic civics is refreshing — and sorely needed in this country.


Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Doyle and Rick Eskil.