Pandemic highlights the need to invest in civic education

At a time of crushing financial strain on schools, businesses, families and individuals, the need for a well-functioning government could not be greater. Nor could the need for citizens to understand how the government should function.

The July special session of the Nevada Legislature and the decision to initiate massive cuts in government spending proved particularly damaging to public higher education. However, now is not the time drain education funding.

Nevada’s K-12 and higher education institutions train the next generation of responsible and participant citizens. For example, the Nevada Center for Civic Engagement (NCCE) at UNLV is designed to “promote and support the study of history, law and civics for the development of responsible and informed citizens who are committed to democratic principles and active engagement in representative government.”

The center strives to create an informed, engaged citizenry that both understands government and its role in our society — not only in higher education but in K-12 schools across the Silver State. With programs like “We the People” and ProjectCitizen, center staff expose students to relevant content and establish a solid knowledge base for ambitious youths.

Knowledge like this is critical in the current environment.

Throughout these difficult times, citizens of the community have turned to their local and state government more than ever to resolve their concerns. But clearly, the infrastructure of both state and local government is bending — if not breaking — under the public health and economic challenges before us.

Members of the community deserve answers and explanations from the local and state government, and they can see the lack of effective leadership. In recent weeks, the federal government has been unabile to manage an unparalleled public health crisis created by COVID-19, which has led to a crippling economy prompted by the closure of nonessential business operations.

But recent events in the Legislature reinforce the idea that ignorance of government’ role in society leaves citizens without a viable option, because too few constituents participate in these processes.

UNLV remains a popular university for first-generation, lower- and middle-income students. Now is the time to instill the value of civics instruction and study.

Instructors devoted to civics are not “brainwashing” students, as some allege. Rather, students who experience a robust civics curriculum are better able to understand society and government, which encourages young people to participate in the immense role they play within our democracy.

Saha Salahi is a UNLV sophomore and an intern with Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute. She also is the 3rd Congressional District coordinator for the Nevada Center for Civic Engagement.