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Richard Dreyfuss Says Presidential Debates Reflect ‘Civics Crisis’

The Encinitas resident received an award Thursday in La Jolla from the National Conflict Resolution Center

The Encinitas resident and Oscar-winning actor received an award Thursday in La Jolla from the National Conflict Resolution Center for his efforts to reinstate civics in public education.

Richard Dreyfuss, best known for memorable roles in films like "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "The Goodbye Girl," is up to something entirely different. Instead of the next big role, he's now thinking about civics and wondering why there isn't more of it in education.

Dreyfuss claims that we're not teaching our youth how to be good citizens, and as a result, we're doing them a great disservice.

"We have created a generation of disarmed young people," Dreyfuss said. "Not only do they not know how to run the country, they don’t know how to run their industries. They don’t know how to point out what is right and wrong."

The 68-year-old Dreyfuss lives in Encinitas. He is the recipient of a Peacemakers Award from the National Conflict Resolution Center, which held its 28th Annual Peacemakers Awards dinner Thursday in La Jolla. The dinner honors those who have contributed to conflict resolution nationally and locally.

In 2008, Dreyfuss started a nonprofit called The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative, which gives teachers tools to integrate civics and critical thinking into curricula. He believes there's too much focus on math and science in schools and not enough on civics and the humanities. Academic success, he adds, should not be the end goal.

"Intellectual agility, mobility of mind, that does not mean 4.0," Dreyfuss said. "The goal of public education should not be everyone gets straight A's. It should be intellectual agility."

Dreyfuss believes that kind of idea-oriented intellect is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

"They created that document expecting everyone to get some kind of basic rudimentary education, which would include reason, logic, debate, opposition and always, civility, " Dreyfuss said. "If you lose civility, you lose the oxygen that is required by a democracy."

Political discussions are not new for the actor, who seems willing and able to expound on any topic. His parents were both political, so debating issues at the family dinner table was commonplace. His mother was a socialist, who apparently had a sense of humor. When Dreyfuss asked her why she was a socialist instead of a communist, she replied "better doughnuts." He was quickly invited to attend leftist meetings with his parents and other adults.

Dreyfuss sees a direct connection between the tenor and content of the current political climate, most notably in the presidential primary debates, and what he calls the "civics crisis" in this country.

"It's almost as if the Republicans and the Democrats have decided to show us by example what the problem is," Dreyfuss said.

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