Note: This book was first published in 1992, but it contains important civic lessons that are still relevant today.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5— When it comes to civic responsibility, Ralph Nader would like students to follow his lead.
The nation’s schools, the consumer advocate says, should adopt a radical new approach to teaching civics courses, aimed at making students understand what they can do to make a difference.
For a lesson he can draw from his own life, as the man who inspired the consumer movement with his attack on General Motors over the safety of the Corvair automobile in the 1960’s. And for a textbook he can point to a new book on civics education released this week by his Center for Responsive Law, titled “Civics for Democracy: A Journey for Teachers and Students.” Encouraging Change
The book, written by Katherine Isaac, encourages students to be agents of change and lays out a variety of ways they can do so, from using the court system to insuring that laws are enforced to working to bring about new laws.
Mr. Nader said current civics courses are boring, abstract and remote and fail to give students any type of experience in community involvement. Children should be taught that they can effect change, Mr. Nader said.
” ‘Civics for Democracy’ calls for providing students with practical experience in participating in their own community’s affairs,” Mr. Nader said. “The book is an attempt to give some vibrant history of what citizen action has accomplished and to give examples of what students are doing and have done.”
Ms. Isaac said that existing civics courses merely teach students to abide by the law and to do volunteer or service work. “Voting, paying taxes, and sitting on juries are the only things mentioned under involvement in current civics texts,” Ms. Isaac said. She said she hoped the book would replace traditional civics texts and be used for after-school activities like clubs. But so far, no school has agreed to incorporate it into its curriculum.
Is the book another way to further the liberal agenda of Mr. Nader’s group? Certainly not, Mr. Nader responds. “I don’t think it’s one-sided,” he said. “No matter what your ideology, the book teaches skills that can be used by all.”
The 390-page book is based on three-years of research on the nation’s schools and communities, the author says. It includes brief histories of the labor, civil rights, women’s rights, consumer rights and environmental movements.
Much of the book is devoted to detailed descriptions of techniques traditionally used by people seeking change. Ms. Isaac describes how individuals can take action by distributing pamphlets, writing petitions, approaching news organizations and government officials and boycotting products or businesses. Non-violent Disobedience
The process of obtaining information from the Federal Government through the Freedom of Information Act is illustrated with samples of such requests. There are instructions on forming citizens groups and conducting nonviolent civil disobedience.
Lobbying local and Federal lawmakers is described under a section titled “Writing a Bill and Finding a Sponsor.” The book also describes how to use the court system to insure that existing laws are enforced or to seek compensation for injury.
Students are encouraged to “blow the whistle” on waste, fraud and abuse in their schools or other organizations with which they are associated.
The book outlines 10 projects that students can undertake in their own communities. For example, they can profile elected officials based on voting records and campaign finances or survey local toy stores to insure that the merchandise meets Federal or state safety standards. They are then urged to release the results to local voters.