If we want our country to continue to be a representative democracy that works – and I hope we all do – as citizens we need to know more than a little about how it functions. Some of us have worried in recent years that young people are not learning enough about civics in school.
The Civic Trust of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has stepped up to contribute with a new program called the National Civics Bee.
The program, a contest for middle school students, is in the second year of its pilot phase, and New Mexico is one of the pilot states. The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce (formerly Association of Commerce and Industry) is the host, with cooperation from the Rio Rancho school district.
The state final was August 19. First place winner was Auburn Eichers, Lincoln Middle School in Rio Rancho, followed by Victoria Miller, C.V. Koogler Middle School in Aztec, sdd11econd; and Esha Shivashankar, Mountain View Middle School, Roswell, third. Cash prizes were $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third place.
Regional competitions had taken place, with several districts participating. The 10 finalists were from Rio Rancho, Aztec, Roswell, Santa Fe, Farmington and Albuquerque.
The contest format was that each competitor wrote a 500-word essay about something they wanted to change or solve in their own community. Locally recruited judges read the student essays in advance and prepared follow-up questions, which the student had to answer in person.
Eichers impressed the judges with her essay on justice for sexual violence. Other topics by the finalists included safer communities, bullying, improvements to parks, homelessness and pollution.
I liked that the essays focused on local topics. Students could study an issue that they may have seen personally and observe the role of public institutions in solving community problems.
In the other part of the contest, students answered short multiple-choice questions about civics topics. All the students answered the same questions at the same time using tablets rather than speaking out loud. These questions focused on national matters, such as basic constitutional principles.
In promoting this event, the U.S. Chamber noted that “only 51% of Americans were able to name all three branches of government, 52% of Americans can’t name a Supreme Court Justice, and a Woodrow Wilson Foundation study found that the majority of Americans would fail a U.S. citizenship test.”
I was pleased that this event was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation with state and local chambers of commerce, organizations that nobody can reasonably call radical.