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Actor calls on schools to help restore civility through civics studies

By Paul Courson, CNN
  • Actor Dreyfuss is pushing for civics and civility to be taught in schools again
  • The lack of such classes is "weakening us," says the star of "American Graffiti" and "Jaws"
  • "It would cost us nothing to bring civics back," he says

Washington (CNN) -- Veteran actor Richard Dreyfuss believes the decline in respectful political discussion is a long-term problem that must be addressed as early as grade school.

Declaring the need for a national curriculum to train young people how to someday run the government, Dreyfuss said Tuesday that the lack of classes on civility and civics is "vividly weakening us and turning our family into hate-fulled people."

In a climate of toxic exchanges among rival political and public policy figures, Dreyfuss says classrooms are not teaching the next generation the skills of "dissent, debate, civility, and opposing views." He told reporters "those are the tools that are necessary for all subjects taught in school, and specifically in civics, which is the basis of our country."

Dreyfuss, known for hit movies including 1973's "American Graffiti" and "Jaws" two years later, recently has begun a mission to improve academic standards with an eye on teaching the fundamentals of government.

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During a Tuesday news conference at the National Press Club, Dreyfuss aired a litany of problems facing the United States, and said young people will not be ready to take charge in years to come.

"There is a 100 percent unease about the future, and that's because we're standing on sand. It would cost us nothing to bring civics back," he said.

Dreyfuss was reluctant when asked by a reporter to say whether his plan would have prevented the deadly shootings in Tuscon, Arizona, that wounded a sitting member of Congress. But he said restoring the study of civics among school children could change the way people think about confrontation.

"You have to give it time, you have to expect that it not be perfect 'next Tuesday,' but if you give it time, and you give it excellence in teaching and excellence in the experience of learning -- which is quite possible -- then yes, it will change and then we won't even consider acts of violence like this."