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SALT LAKE CITY — Civic knowledge is alarmingly low in Utah and across the country. Only nine states require a full year of civics or government studies, and 10 states have no requirement at all.
Utah students must pass a basic civics test to receive a high school diploma, but Utah adults earned a letter grade D on civics knowledge, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Department of History and Political Science and Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University.
A second survey looked at how Utah's kindergarten through high school senior educators teach civics.
"For the last 50 years, we have really emphasized STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Social studies have become a little bit of the ugly stepchild," said Lisa Halverson, civics education fellow at the Center for Constitutional Studies at UVU.
"We discovered that teachers are committed but they lack resources."
A heated political climate is also having an impact on teachers. Halverson said teachers made comments in the survey that they try to teach the basic standards, but even that can sometimes be controversial. Both surveys were part of the new Civic Thought & Leadership Initiative at UVU's Center for Constitutional Studies. The legislature created the initiative in 2021 to help solve the problem of the swift decline in civility and civic awareness.
"We believe that civics education isn't just the factual knowledge, but also the civics skills, the civic dispositions," Halverson said.
Early initiative efforts with K-12 civics teachers are already producing positive results. So far nearly 200 civics educators have attended. These teachers represent around 20,000 students influenced in one semester.
The goal is to expand those efforts to reach the general public.
"I think what will really save us is when we the people understand the basic principles and ideas that animate our constitutional system, that we take the time to listen carefully and think about what's going on in politics, rather than just focusing on the headlines and that we actually participate meaningfully in civic life," said Robert Burton, civic education fellow with the Center for Constitutional Studies.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators reintroduced a bill to improve American students' understanding of civics and history. It would direct $1 billion in federal investment across five years to school districts, nonprofits and education centers to develop curricula and opportunities throughout K-12 education.
According to The Bipartisan Policy Center, while the federal government invests five cents per K-12 student — $4 million total — in civic education, around $54 per K-12 student is invested to support STEM teaching.