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Opinion
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Guest Column
Here’s how to make the Sunshine State the civic education state | Column
What if more people who can relate to the average citizen’s problems worked in government — or at least understood it?
The U.S. Capitol Building, seat of one of the three branches of the federal government.
The U.S. Capitol Building, seat of one of the three branches of the federal government. [ KENT NISHIMURA | Los Angeles Times ]
Published Jun. 21

Legislative, judicial and executive. One in four Americans cannot name the three branches of government. As more people become politically active, I believe that increasing civic literacy has never been more critical. Social media and the information age is producing an avenue for everyday Americans to be more engaged with issues they are passionate about.

Yet, our education system has let our children down by not providing a fundamental understanding of how our government works. This has created a culture of anger, rage and distrust in our institutions. I have witnessed the powerful impact of increasing civic literacy and engagement by providing fully paid internships to low-income students from underrepresented backgrounds.

College to Congress (C2C) trains college students everyday on how our government works, and we increase government efficiency by empowering people from diverse backgrounds to pursue public service careers. I applaud Governor DeSantis’s plan to make Florida the new gold standard for civic education.

Audrey Henson
Audrey Henson [ Provided ]

Increasing civic literacy, education and engagement benefits our country. The more people understand the government’s essential functions and engage on issues relevant to their communities, the smoother our democracy runs. Without that foundation it’s easy to be angered, confused or grow frustrated; in fact, a record low 17% of Americans currently trust their government to do the right thing.

What if more people who can relate to the average citizen’s problems worked in government? If our children had a deeper understanding of the government (or could even just name the three branches), would that number go up in the future? At College to Congress, I see the ripple effect even one C2C student can have on an entire community after being more civically engaged, whether they work in their state legislature, run for office or inspire others in their hometown. That’s what I hope to see my home state become — the nation’s leader in civic education.

Civic engagement is a tenet of the American educational system that has fallen by the wayside over the last generation, and the lack of civic literacy across our country should sound alarms amongst policymakers nationwide. Thankfully, Gov. Ron DeSantis is prioritizing this issue by proposing the Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative to make Florida the nation’s leader in civic education.

Gov. DeSantis’s proposal is a common sense and feasible solution that uses federal funding to make a real difference in our youth’s understanding of their government. By elevating civics education in schools and rewarding teachers, we hope to see the positive impacts of this policy for years to come: more civically engaged students who help create a democracy more reflective of the people it serves. Our C2C alumni from Florida put their civics education into practice daily as public servants. With the governor’s critical investment, we hope to see more Floridians from underrepresented backgrounds become public service leaders.

Given that an estimated 60% of all rural youth and 30% of urban and suburban youth live in civic deserts (places where there are few to no opportunities for people to meet, discuss issues or address problems), the time to act is now before it is too late and another generation goes by without receiving a proper education. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to fixing this problem. Still, Gov. DeSantis is taking the necessary and appropriate steps to lead the country towards promoting civic literary education in classrooms across Florida and hopefully America. I wholeheartedly support him and am proud to work in cohesion with his efforts at College to Congress to make Florida the national leader in civics education.

Audrey Henson is a Florida native and Gulfport, Florida resident and the founder and CEO of College to Congress, a non-profit that creates pathways for high-achieving, low-income college juniors, seniors and recent graduates to intern in Congress.