Civics Deserves a Google Search Too

May 07, 2020

I picked up an article from the BBC the other morning. During the COVID-19 health crisis, while parents are homeschooling kids at home, it turns out we don’t remember as much from our own education as we need to. Mom, what’s an adverb? I can’t add these fractions? How do I calculate volume? As in-person classroom instruction wanes and teachers send work for students to complete at home, Google has become a parent’s best friend. 

While I don’t have school-aged children yet and have my own Google searches on breastfeeding tips for moms and how to establish a sleep schedule, I know the pain of trying to remember learning that hasn’t proven to be “useful” in my career and that I haven’t practiced since K-12 school. I taught English for seven years to high school and middle school students. One year, my middle school asked me to teach math during our Enrichment block. It was a joke. I was just as confused as the kids. I now tutor a seventh-grader once a week through a community-based program near where I live. Every time she pulls out math or science homework, I immediately run to Google and Kahn Academy for help. 

All this is to say, I get it, and there’s no judgment here. Parents shouldn’t be expected to remember every part of speech and every rule to the Pythagorean theorem. But do you know what subject was missing from the BBC’s list of parent Google searches and anecdotes? Civics. That’s right, not a single mention of “How do I vote?” or “How does a bill become a law?” being searched. And here’s my thought as to why. Civics has long been the stepchild of education, pushed aside for more math and reading instruction. A student is lucky to get a year of civics in middle or high school, and yet it’s a subject that we see play out before our eyes every day. While calculators can do the math for us and Grammarly and spellcheck can fix our English mistakes, leaving that learning largely unpracticed in adulthood, no one’s come up with technology yet that can do civics for us. And I don’t think any of us wants automated voting bots and robotic congressmen passing bills. Do you?

The COVID-19 health crisis is a civic moment. We’re in the middle of an election year and states are considering how people will vote come November. Congress just passed the CARES Act and while many of us are still waiting on our $1,200 stimulus checks, did you watch the process of how that bill became a law? No doubt in the last month and a half you’ve seen the president and your state governor on TV and in press conferences more than you ever have. It’s a firsthand look at what the executive actually does and the powers they have, especially in times of emergency. What about the recent protests for restrictions to be lifted? A classic case of rights and responsibilities — when personal freedoms meet the common good.

But the real question is, are we talking about it at home with our kids? And more importantly, are our kids even learning how their government works? Probably not. Recent scores released from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam show that civic knowledge hasn’t improved much since 1998. In fact, national scores dropped a percentage point from 2014 to 2018. There’s no wonder that a constant question these days is “Can the president do that?” (Perhaps, if we had more emphasis on civics education, we all would know.) 

So what? This isn’t a call for more civics education, though I definitely think that should happen. It’s a call to all the newly initiated homeschooling parents out there. Are you talking civics with your kids? I guarantee you it’s the one subject you’re familiar with that you haven’t forgotten, and it has everyday life applications. Did you forget how to vote? No. To pay your taxes? No. Fill out your census form this year? I certainly hope not. And even if you did forget some of these things or if the processes and concepts are a little fuzzy, dusting off this everyday civic knowledge right alongside your kids has monumental benefits. 

At iCivics, our mission is making sure every child has a high-quality civic education. How do we do it? By using video games (and a bunch of other useful resources). Helping your child learn new skills doesn’t have to be a mad and nervous dash to Google search, hoping you’ll find a page and tutorial that you too can understand. It can be fun! Why not play an iCivics game together? You and your kids can try your hand at running a presidential campaign in Win the White House. After all, it’s a process that they’re already seeing play out this year. Wondering how local governments tackle a crisis? Play Counties Work and learn right alongside your child some of the local government departments that provide us with daily services and help in times of need. 

And, parents, we didn’t leave you to figure out how to talk civics at home all by yourself. We’ve packaged our games into Weekly Planners to make at-home civic learning pretty seamless for you. Each planner focuses on one game and one civic topic. Each day, you and your child learn a little more about that topic while having fun playing a great game. If you’ve forgotten your civics along the way, don’t worry, we included an easy one-page “Civics Rewind” fact sheet with each planner to ensure you stay one step ahead of any question your kid throws your way. We also included built-in discussion opportunities because, remember, your child looks up to you. If you’re engaged and showing them how civics is cool, they’ll start to recognize how useful and present the subject is too. 

Using this time to talk civics at home could have the biggest payoff for your kid. One more well-informed active citizen is exactly what our country needs right now. For more resources that you can use at home with your kids in iCivics' Remote Learning Toolkit for Families.

Written by Taylor Davis 
Taylor is iCivics’ Senior Curriculum Developer. She supports iCivics through curriculum and outreach efforts. She began her career in education as a middle and high school English teacher.  She has a particular interest in helping students realize that education, in all forms, opens doors. Taylor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Teaching degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. You can follow her on Twitter at @TDavis0410.