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Many of us of a “certain” age remember civics classes from our middle and high school years. They were rarely exciting but provided basics on our government’s functioning and the rights and privileges of American citizenship. At least 26 states, including West Virginia, currently have some required civics classes. Yet, some recent political comments and actions, especially by those involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, suggest that the information provided in civics classes might help America’s young people better understand their government’s structure and functioning.

West Virginia, a state that too often receives negative comments from people who have never set foot here, was unfortunately front and center with adverse publicity resulting from two West Virginians involved in the Washington insurrection. Former Wayne County Delegate Derrick Evans posted social media photos of his activities. Less than a month earlier, he had been sworn into the West Virginia Legislature where he should have taken an oath that he would support the constitution of our state and also, therefore, our nation. Anyone holding that position needs a solid understanding of Americans’ rights of assembly, free speech, free press and more.

Equally sad is the situation of Hurricane, West Virginia, resident Gracyn Dawn Courtright, a University of Kentucky senior majoring in mathematical economics. A contact of Ms. Courtright is reported to have accused her of treason, and Ms. Courtright’s reply indicated, “she did not know what treason is and just thought it was cool.” Ms. Courtright’s Instagram account reportedly had a statement “Infamy is just as good as fame. Either way I end more known XOXO.” Civics instruction could help with her first comment, but the latter one is a sad reflection of today’s social media.

A Pennsylvania woman is alleged to have stolen House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s computer and was planning to give it to the Russians. Other than breaking a multitude of laws, the idea of a protester advocating American patriotism by abetting a communist regime is mind-boggling.

Civics classes, which must be taught without political bias, won’t eliminate extremist views on the left or right. They won’t stop race riots stemming from long-standing prejudicial treatment, white supremacists who feel threatened by societal changes or even West Coast rioters with vague political complaints.

But they can help more young Americans understand the background of the Electoral College, the relationship of states to the federal government, how a bill becomes a law and the responsibilities of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The Annenberg Public Policy Center notes that only 26% of Americans can name all three.

Famed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Democracy always has been messy and turbulent. Even the show “Hamilton” illustrates this. Civics classes won’t solve the extreme political divide in our country, but it might at least help young people better understand our nation’s government and how it affects our lives.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page. Her email is dwmufson


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