Thoughts on Civics Education

Throughout December, I will be writing about my experience teaching civics education to community members.  In 2016, I researched, designed, and wrote a four-part lecture series that I called “American Government Primer.”  My aim was to give people a big picture understanding of their government.  I wanted to give them a framework for evaluating the government as a system and for contextualizing what they saw and heard on the news.  Finally, I wanted community members to feel more empowered and confident in dealing with their government. 

I taught the four-part lecture series through my local library district.  In February 2017, I taught it at the Crested Butte library and in March, I taught it at the Gunnison library.  The course was completely free to the public, and every attendee received a free pocket Constitution that they could keep.  Although I encouraged people to attend the whole series, I understand that people are busy and so told people to come whenever they could.  

The course was so well attended and positively received that the library asked me to teach it again.  I’ll be teaching “American Government Primer” at the Crested Butte library January 3, 10, 17, and 31 at 6 pm (wine and beer provided).  I am also going to use videoconferencing to connect with library districts throughout Colorado to share these lectures with a wider audience.  Access to justice in rural Colorado is very important to me, and sharing this knowledge with people in more remote parts of the state is a great way to serve this cause.  Here’s the link to the library event page.

American Government Primer covered three main topics: (i)the relationship between the federal and the state governments, (ii) the relationship between the branches of the federal government, and (iii) the relationship between the government and individuals.  For the first topic, federalism, we covered enumerated powers and police powers, the 10th Amendment, the supremacy clause and preemption.  For the second topic, separation of powers and checks and balances, we covered each branch of the government.  For the legislative branch, we discussed its structure and organization, the legislative path, Congress’ enumerated powers, including the necessary and proper clause, tax and spend clause, commerce clause, and the post-Civil War Amendments.  For the judicial branch, we discussed its structure and organization, federal jurisdiction, composition of the Supreme Court, and judicial limitations such as standing, ripeness, and mootness.  For the executive branch, we discussed the President’s inherent powers and those granted by Congress, the Electoral College, foreign policy, and limitations on the President, such as impeachment and civil suits.  We also discussed the creation of administrative agencies, rulemaking, and adjudication.  For the final topic, individual rights, we discussed the source and meaning of due process.  With respect to fundamental rights, we discussed the Bill of Rights, incorporation, the state actor requirement, and how new rights are recognized.  Finally, we discussed equal protection and the different levels of scrutiny applied to equal protection challenges.

In the next post, I will talk about why I think civics education is so important and why lawyers are so suited to teaching community-based civics education.