We Must Understand It to Govern It: Building An Enlightened Citizenry

enlightened citizenryAn enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.” ~Thomas Jefferson, 1817.

“Knowledge is power (scientia potestas est).” ~Francis Bacon, 1597.

While several centuries have passed since the 16th century English philosopher, statesman, and jurist Francis Bacon simply linked knowledge and power, his statement remains ever so true to this day: Knowledge is power, and education is the underlying prerequisite for political development, democracy, and social justice.

Our duty as citizens includes a need to exercise oversight over our system of government. But we must understand it to govern it. And understanding it takes more than learning how it works or its history. Education means empowerment to be involved in government and, in fact, to become the government. See “We the People”.

Thus, good citizenry starts in school and at home with building one’s sense of community. How do your schools educate on civics? Does instruction in government, social studies, and history stretch beyond the textbook to reach engaging lessons on citizenship? How might one understand rules and laws, compare individual and community responsibilities, debate ideas and issues, evaluate the perceptions, perspectives, and values of others, and so on?

Civic Knowledge and Civic Engagement

That bridge can be described as linking civic knowledge with civic engagement. By crossing such a bridge, our next generation of civic-minded youth can become the “change agents”. They must not only understand how our government and its branches work, they must become involved in the democratic process. And there are tools to help with this.

After serving 25 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 with a goal to restore civics education in our nation’s schools and increase the active participation of our citizens. Today, iCivics continues to give students a growing number of online games about different aspects of law, public policy, and government for use in the classroom or at home, and teachers the materials and support to achieve this goal through free resources include print-and-go lesson plans, interactive digital tools, and award-winning games.

Educational engagement activities such as iCivics can foster positive outcomes for a civics framework among our 21st-century youth. Through civic education and engagement, active and informed citizens better possess increased commitments to community involvement, understand how to enact change, and develop an identity able address civic discourse.

“An enlightened citizenry”, as Thomas Jefferson put it, begins with citizens being educated to effectively assess issues, form reasoned opinions, express themselves clearly, and navigate the political process.

Let’s educate and engage the next generation of citizens to keep our democratic system of self-governance working.

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Mark C. Palmer

Mark C. Palmer

As Professionalism Counsel, Mark leads professionalism programming through the statewide mentoring program, collaborating with stakeholders from Galena to Cairo. Mark also supports the development and delivery of educational programming to lawyers and in law schools. When not in the office, you will likely find Mark and his wife busy raising their twin daughters, enjoying his passion of traveling and eating around the world, and training for his next half marathon.
Mark C. Palmer

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