Richard Dreyfuss, the Oscar-winning actor, is concerned about America. He believes most Americans don’t really undestand the news stories they see on the front page, and most younger members of Congress don’t comprehend the Constitution because of a basic problem with American education: most schools no longer teach civics.
He told Larry King in an interview on “Politicking” last week that he wants young people to understand that they have the right to question policies of their elected leaders, all the way up to the President. He calls himself a “centrist,” not married to a political party. He is, above all, worried about America’s future if the young don’t understand and use the power provided citizens under the Bill of Rights, learn the workings of their government, and make politicians accountable.
“You’ve got to get ‘em when they’re young,” he told King of the nation’s students; you can’t wait until they’re 19 and skeptical of the political process. So he wants the civic education to begin as early as kindergarten and to progress through grade 12 in high school.
Because an actor’s nature is not to sit around and complain, but to ACT (he recently filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company regarding audits of two films), Dreyfuss has taken action on the civics question. He has formed The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative: Prioritizing Civics Education. He states his mission bluntly on its home page: “To teach our kids how to run our country, before they are called upon to run our country…if we don’t, someone else will run our country.”
The website offers the initiative’s definition of civic education:
The Civic Education we strive to implement is the teaching of American history, government, and civic values through the prism of the Enlightenment Era, which introduced protection of the individual, the people of a nation being the highest political power, due process of law, equality of rights and opportunity, rights of freedom of expression and worship, that were revolutionary in history.
Civic values such as civility, clarity of thought, and the importance of dissent are not inherited at birth. The ideas must be taught, and the younger the better. In light of the changing demands on the education system due to an increasing focus on Science, Math and other academics, civics has seen its allocation of time greatly diminished resulting in younger generations having little connection to our founding documents and political system.
Curriculum enhancement in the schools is the first of two steps to the initiative. The second involves the civics discussion club to serve the general public in gatherings perhaps twice a month:
The Civics Discussion Club will establish a platform for individuals to come together for open discussion about topics of interest, such as current events or the history of this country. The Discussion Club will be facilitated by individuals with vast historical knowledge and a deep passion for civic education. Facilitators might be leaders in the corporate sector, lawyers, academia, school teachers – anyone with a deep interest in civic education. Club participants might include students of all ages, teachers, neighbors – people with disparate points of view. All citizens that want to participate in discussion about America are welcome.
According to the news reports on the initiative’s website, Dreyfuss has been pushing his civics idea since 2007. He’s enlisted corporate, community, and education folks on his board of directors. They’re listed here.
He also provides videos about the initiative on its website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. The initiative’s home page also encourages visitors to “Sign the Preamble,” meaning to the U.S. Constitution: a dedicated actor’s way to immediately get you civically involved: “Remind lawmakers that the Preamble is one of the most important documents to consider when drafting legislation and policy,” the signature page states, providing space for your email address, first and last name.
It wasn’t clear from his King interview or the website whether Dreyfuss’s efforts so far have resulted in schools actually implementing his civics initiative. But his successful acting career indicates he won’t stop pursuing his dream until this story has a happy ending. Which would no doubt have the spirits of the Founding Fathers smiling.