As California’s students, teachers, and administrators settle into a new school year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the purposes of public education. Of course, we want our students to learn and grow in a variety of ways—from mastering key skills in math and writing, to learning critical thinking, to expanding their abilities through social and emotional learning. Science, history, music, art, sports—all play an important role in helping children grow into informed, productive, well-rounded adults. But there’s one area of study that’s particularly close to my heart, and it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves: civic education.
Today’s schoolchildren are tomorrow’s voters, leaders, and problem solvers. It’s essential for them to understand how our government works, how to engage in the political process, and what their rights and responsibilities are as members of a democratic society. They must also grapple with how to effect change and how to engage—in a collegial and civil manner—those who have a different point of view.
Civics teaches collaboration—an indispensable skill in a democracy—as well as critical thinking. And it provides fundamental knowledge about the world around us, helping students understand how to engage constructively with key systems that shape our experience—the law, the policymaking process, elections—and how to improve the lives of all. This is especially important in California, where voters regularly make major policy decisions through the initiative process.
For all of these reasons, I founded a civic education initiative when I ran the third branch of government—the judicial branch—as the Chief Justice of California. I’m proud to say that the Power of Democracy is still going strong, ten years later and with a new chief justice.
Today, I think of my work at PPIC—a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank—as another critical form of civic education. Even as our experts dig deep into some of the knottiest problems of the day, we strive to make our work broadly accessible to a wide audience of engaged—or in the case of students, learning-to-be-engaged—Californians.
For example, based on rigorous research and empirical data, PPIC produces fact sheets and short explainers that provide straightforward, objective information on a broad range of basic topics, from California’s population, to its economy, to its voters and political parties. The PPIC Statewide Survey tracks Californians’ opinions on timely political and social issues. Our peer-reviewed work helps inform and improve public policy for all Californians.
We’re also blogging, producing videos, and engaging extensively on social media. And our events—in person and online—bring another form of information to the public; for example, my ongoing series of conversations with state leaders—including California’s state senate leadership, our attorney general, and education policy experts—provide a direct view into the goals and priorities of those shaping the future of our state.
My vision—with your help, partnership, and support—is to nurture and expand PPIC’s reach, not only to make our current resources more available for students but also to expand our offerings with a more intentional, targeted approach toward California’s young people. Stay tuned for more news on the development of civic education efforts at PPIC. Meanwhile, make sure you’re signed up for our event announcements, blog posts, publications, and monthly bulletin. In fact, put us on your reading list!