Actor Richard Dreyfuss, famous for roles in movies like “Jaws” and “American Graffiti,” sat with Glenn Beck on his podcast to discuss his retirement from acting and his new passion: promoting teaching civics in schools. Although Dreyfuss “retired” from film acting in 2004, he has continued to appear in various roles throughout his 75 years. After his initial retirement in 2004, he spent 4 years in Oxford studying civics. In an interview with Steve Farber, he revealed financial needs had brought him back to acting throughout the years. “I was in Oxford for four years. You can’t do both [acting and Oxford] … I had left. I met, fell in love and married. I did not invite my wife into a life that was in desperate need of anything. I thought I was loaded, but there was a crisis in the family, and I was no longer loaded. I had to start again. It was the only way I knew how to make a living. It was to do that,” he said.
His real passion, however, has been promoting the teaching of civics in schools. In 2006, he started The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative. Its mission is to “revive the teaching of civics in American public education to empower future generations with the critical-thinking skills they need to fulfill the vast potential of American citizenship.” In his interview with Glenn Beck, Dreyfuss spoke about his new passion. “I gave up something I loved and had loved since I was nine years old, only for something else I loved as much,” he said. For him, the purpose of focusing on civics was “saving my country.” “I firmly believe that if we don’t revive the study of civics, we will be dead before 2050. We’ll have the same name, and it will be a nightmare,” he warned Beck.
Dreyfuss, who describes himself as “pre-partisan” and left the Democrat party in 2004, has spent decades warning about the lack of civics education and the loss of discourse and debate in American politics. In a recent interview with Megyn Kelly, he lamented that “No one is teaching the Bill of Rights and that, ultimately, is the society’s picture of proper behavior. No one is teaching that, and no one is calling for it. That is the worst decision a society can come to.” Dreyfuss’s warnings are not idle words either. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans could name all three branches of government. Only 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficiency level for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam. The Brookings Institute has also pushed for more civics education in schools, noting that “schools can and should play an important role in catalyzing increased civic engagement… Schools can also directly provide opportunities for civic engagement as a local institution that can connect young and old people alike across the community. To do this, civic learning needs to be part and parcel of the current movement across many schools in America to equip young people with 21st-century skills.”