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Civic Education and the Future of Electoral Reform

by Forrest Barnum // Published June 19, 2009

Star of stage and screen Richard Dreyfuss and outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter may at first glance have little in common beyond distinguished pasts and the achievement of contented old age. Surprisingly, they both worry about the sorry state of the nation's civics curriculum. Each year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute publishes a survey of American civic knowledge. Generally, it reveals bad news, citizens and office holders from all walks of life know little about the workings of government or democratic processes. Improving civic knowledge is a key component of FairVote's work, our excellent Learning Democracy Program promotes engagement and furthers discussions about the future of our democracy.

Given that the average citizen had trouble describing how our current system works, it is not surprising that discussions about reform are difficult. People who should know better in my opinion continue to argue in favor of an institution as patently antiquated as the Electoral College. With the discourse stalled at this low level, deep, fundamental reforms like those favored by FairVote rarely come up for discussion. Concomitantly, when they do, the dialogue is often not of the informed variety. Though a solution to the thorny problem of civic education is far from obvious, I for one will be watching how educators and policy makers grapple with this pressing issue.