(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — A movie playing at Union Station in Kansas City for the next three weeks is part of an effort to reverse a decline in basic civics knowledge in the U.S.
The 40-minute, giant-screen historical drama called “We the People” premiered Thursday. Filmmakers Aimee Larrabee and John Altman said they want the movie to launch discussions in classrooms about the founding principles of the country.
In conjunction with the documentary, the nonprofit organization Remnant Trust is displaying collections of historic publications, including early printings of the Constitution, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and works by Frederick Douglass.
Fourteen constitutional scholars met with Larrabee and Altman for two days to discuss what should be in the movie, The Kansas City Star reported. It took Larrabee and Altman more than 10 years to make the movie.
“We wanted it to be accurate,” Larrabee said. “We wanted it to be inspiring, engaging and nonpartisan. . We wanted to celebrate the essence of who we are.”
Statistics show an alarming drop in Americans’ civic awareness. Surveys by the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics at the University of Pennsylvania in the past decade found only one in three Americans can name all three branches of government and nearly a third thought a U.S. Supreme Court ruling could be appealed.
Budget problems at public schools have caused cutbacks in history and civics education. At times in the past decade, both Missouri and Kansas stopped testing students in history or social studies and are now two of just 21 states that tested social studies in 2012, down from 34 in 2001.
Current civics education “is dreadful,” said Ted McConnell of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. “We are failing to impart the necessary civic knowledge and civic skills we all need to be informed citizens.”
The documentary tries to enliven the ideological conflicts and the political struggle in the nation’s founding. It also follows the nation’s path with the question: “Who are we?” It takes viewers through slavery, the removal of American Indians, immigration, equality for women and civil rights.