Civics education hasn’t failed us; well-educated politicians have

Some prominent people continue to blame an alleged failure of civics education in our schools for the partisan gridlock and turmoil that is increasingly paralyzing our federal government and spreading to many states, including Texas, as well.

The latest to raise the issue is Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, CIA director and president of Texas A&M University. In a recent virtual conference and a follow-up interview with Politico, Gates suggested that if students learn more about how our system of government was designed to work, maybe they, as voters, will be less partisan and elected officials will rediscover the necessity of compromise.

“It seems to me that unless people understand how our system of government works – and the role of the Congress, and the role of the president – we can go astray,” Gates said.

The main problem, however, is not in our educational system. The biggest danger to our democracy right now is being orchestrated by well-educated politicians who know very well how our system of government is supposed to work but are undermining it by convincing misinformed and ill-informed voters that they can’t trust our elections. Faith in elections is the backbone of our democracy, but to them, the health of our democracy is less important than their own ideological or partisan advantage and their own political careers.

After Donald Trump started the big lie that Joe Biden had “stolen” last year’s election, Trump’s enablers – including some Texans in high office – immediately started helping him give credence to the lie in the minds of his angry followers.

Only hours after the deadly Capitol riot, 17 of the 25 Texas Republicans in Congress voted against certifying the election results that legitimately put Biden in the White House. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried to delay the certification by calling for an “emergency audit” of elections results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. All these votes and delaying actions served to entrench Trump’s lie even deeper, feeding the conspiracy theorists and right-wing commentators, even after numerous judges and Trump’s own attorney general had attested to the validity of the election.

Cruz, incidentally, graduated cum laude from Princeton with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He has had plenty of instruction in U.S. civics.

Perpetuating Trump’s lie even more, another well-educated Texan, Gov. Greg Abbott, recently signed a so-called “election integrity” law that was designed to make it more difficult for many of his political opponents to vote. And redistricting maps being advanced by Abbott’s well-educated allies in the Legislature will deprive millions of Texans of color of the level of political influence to which they are entitled because of their population growth as counted in the recent federal census.

This will undermine democracy even more, and it has nothing to do with how many civics classes anyone took in school.

Robert Gates: How civics education became a national security issue

Clay Robison


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