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Jeffrey Sikkenga is executive director of the Ashbrook Center, whose mission is to educate students, teachers, and citizens in the history and founding principles of America and the habits of reflection and choice necessary to sustain the republic. Jeff is also a professor of political science at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, and has been a senior fellow in the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy at the University of Virginia, a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution, and a distinguished visiting professor at the School of Public Policy of Pepperdine University. He is the coauthor or coeditor of several books, including History of American Political Thought, and has published articles in newspapers across the country and in a number of scholarly journals, including the American Journal of Political Science, Political Theory, and History of Political Thought.

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A Republic if we Can Teach it

America faces a crisis in civic education that imperils the long-term health of our country. Too many Americans—especially young people—do not have the knowledge of our history and principles necessary to sustain our republic.

Recent national test results reveal the sad state of civic education in our schools. The 2022 report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only 22 percent of eighth graders tested were “proficient” or better in their knowledge of civics, and proficiency in US history dropped to an anemic 13 percent. The Annenberg Policy Center reported in 2019 that only 39 percent of Americans could name the three branches of government, while its 2017 study showed that 37 percent could not name a single right in the First Amendment. How can we “keep” a republic, as Benjamin Franklin put it, if we don’t know what a republic is?

At a deeper level, the crisis is not simply about facts and information. If the next generations of Americans do not come to understand that our history and principles are good and that they merit their affection, our experiment in self-government could fail. Action is needed now to reverse the trend.

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