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Opinion: How are you celebrating Utah’s Civic Season?

Civic Season is an opportunity to celebrate our founding and rich history and reflect on how we can continue to improve as a nation

SHARE Opinion: How are you celebrating Utah’s Civic Season?
People dressed in American Flag attire holding American Flags ride horses in a parade.

Members of the Americanas, from Rexburg, Idaho, carry American flags during the Days of ’47 Parade in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 23, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Welcome to Civic Season!

What is Civic Season, you ask? Civic Season is a national movement to commemorate and celebrate the creation and development of the United States. Diverse partners such as the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities and 100 more museums, historic sites and historic societies have come together to commemorate our country’s foundations, celebrate milestones towards our ideals, and remind us of our shared civic connections. As Gov. Spencer Cox recently announced, Utah is joining the Civic Season festivities. 

The originators of the Civic Season envisioned it running from Juneteenth (June 19) to the 4th of July, but those dates are flexible; Gov. Cox declared that Utah’s Civic Season will run through June to the end of July and include events like the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act (June 2, 1924), Juneteenth, and Pioneer Day (July 24). 

We are civic education fellows at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies. Our work is mandated by the Utah Legislature, which recognizes the importance of civics education in our schools, universities and communities. Two recent studies — of Utah adults and Utah civics teachers — reaffirm that, while efforts are noble, Utahns (like most Americans) have fallen behind in our civic understanding.  

Each member of our team has unique political views but a deep love for our country. One grew up an “army brat” proud to win an essay contest about the Statue of Liberty. Another taught high school history and government, as well as English learners, for 30 years. And the third, Canadian by birth, is a scholar of American constitutional and political thought. We will celebrate this civic season in different ways, but each of us deeply respect our country.

Civics Season is unique because it invites us to both uphold the civic traditions we have long cherished, while recognizing new achievements and new stories. As civics fellows, we call this our “both” approach to civics education: we both honor the ways in which our country’s Founding and history have been extraordinary — and address the ways in which we have fallen short and need to do better.

There are activities of all types planned for every corner of our nation. In Boston, a group called Revolutionary Spaces is hosting a history slam. If you find yourself in Philadelphia, you can attend the Flag Fest at the Betsy Ross House. Other activities include learning about the women’s suffrage movement in Louisville, Kentucky, attending a Civic Season picnic at the Wyoming State Museum, or listening to a conversation about African Americans in railroad history at the California State Railroad Museum.

In Utah, Provo’s long-running Freedom Festival, a precursor of Civic Season, has events throughout the year, Better Days and the Salt Lake City government will host a Martha Hughes Cannon sendoff celebration, and the Mormon Women for Ethical Government is encouraging its members to take small steps to increase civic connections with family, community, country and more.

As educators, parents and community leaders celebrate this Civics Season, let us remember, and teach the next generation, that being a good citizen is about more than knowing, and even celebrating, important facts and dates. Good civics education must include civic skills and dispositions. We have to care deeply about these events and understand why they matter. We also need the skills to engage meaningfully in civic life. 

As Abraham Lincoln observed at Gettysburg, it is insufficient for us to simply commemorate the past; rather, we must be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us,” that “unfinished work” which others have “so nobly advanced.” 

So let’s celebrate — with our hearts in the past and our eyes to the future.

Lisa R. Halverson, Glori H. Smith and Robert J. Burton are civics education fellows at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies.