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posted: 3/18/2014 5:01 AM

Civic education crucial to improve our politics

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  • Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan

By Jim Ryan

In April 2012, I wrote that civic education in Illinois schools is an important part of our state's solution to the pathetic condition of Illinois government. To promote the idea of a statewide commitment to civic education, I discussed its importance with Senate President John Cullerton, who responded very favorably. The Center for Civic Leadership of Benedictine University, which I direct, then joined with the Citizen Advocacy Center of Elmhurst to convince other legislative leaders in Illinois of the urgency of this issue.

In order to diminish the ability of candidates and campaigns to deceive Illinois voters with cash and 30-second sound bites, Illinois needs a more politically educated electorate. The joint effort of these two groups was an outline for legislation that was eventually put into bill form by the Legislative Reference Bureau. The bill was passed by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Quinn on Aug. 9 as Public Act 98-0301.

The law as signed required the appointment of a task force composed of legislators, educators and civic-minded professionals and charged with the following tasks:

1. To analyze the current state of civic education in the state.

2. To analyze current civic education laws in other jurisdictions, both mandated and permissive.

3. To identify best practices in civic education in other jurisdictions.

4. To make recommendations to the General Assembly focused on substantially increasing civic literacy and the capacity of youth to obtain the requisite knowledge, skills and practices to be civically informed members of the public.

5. To make the funding recommendations if the task force's recommendations to the General Assembly would require fiscal commitment.

The task force convened for the first time on Feb. 21 and before the conclusion of its first meeting decided to consider holding statewide public hearings to understand better the scope of the problem and how to best address it.

Changing the political culture of Illinois is no small undertaking. It is, however, the only long-term way to do so effectively. With education, Illinois citizens will begin to see the government as a means to achieve collective good and not as just another way to achieve individual goals. I believe Illinois has made a very important step in that direction.

• A former Illinois attorney general, Jim Ryan now teaches government at Benedictine University.

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