Teaching cit­i­zen­ship has almost dis­ap­peared from the curriculum—at all levels—in this country.”

That was one of the mes­sages Florida’s former Demo­c­ratic sen­ator and gov­ernor Bob Graham deliv­ered to roughly 60 doc­torate stu­dents of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Pro­fes­sional Studies law and policy pro­gram during a lec­ture Friday evening. Graham, a guest lec­turer for the pro­gram, bemoaned the lack of under­standing among Amer­i­cans of the impor­tance of civic engage­ment. It’s a fact he wit­nessed first­hand during his time teaching in a Florida public school and then as a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

He recounted his shock at learning how little his Har­vard stu­dents knew about civics. “They were almost illit­erate on the topic,” he said.

Graham, who was also a pres­i­den­tial nom­inee during the 2004 elec­tion, had a more pos­i­tive mes­sage, too, offering advice to stu­dents about how they could become more engaged cit­i­zens. It’s a topic he tackles in his new book, “America, the Owner’s Manual: Making Gov­ern­ment Work for You,” co-​​authored by Chris Hand, which spot­lights sto­ries of indi­vid­uals who have helped trans­form their com­mu­ni­ties through active cit­i­zenry. Graham hopes the sto­ries will inspire readers to become more involved and to under­stand that change is possible.

He also referred to his per­sonal expe­ri­ence teaching a high-​​school civics course in Miami three decades ago. The course first focused on helping stu­dents develop the skills nec­es­sary to become active par­tic­i­pants in their com­mu­ni­ties and then pro­vided the oppor­tu­nity for hands-​​on expe­ri­ence. One group of stu­dents, for example, worked with local offi­cials for 18 weeks to improve the city’s drinking water.

The young stu­dents got a taste of the pos­i­tive effect that civic engage­ment can have on a com­mu­nity, explained Graham. “What was really impor­tant was that they learned that you can fight city hall if you are pre­pared to learn and to work,” he added.

He urged Friday’s audi­ence of grad­uate stu­dents toward sim­ilar civic action—both in the United States and abroad—reminding the group that such engage­ment paves the way for pos­i­tive change at all levels, from our school sys­tems to local and national gov­ern­ments. He also praised the stu­dents for having the drive to fur­ther hone their civic skills through extended education.

All over the world, there is a recog­ni­tion that being a good cit­izen takes the devel­op­ment of learned values and atti­tudes in order to be effec­tive,” he said, adding, “I hope that my book encour­ages a new approach to teaching that is focused on par­tic­i­pa­tory civics.”

Graham is still actively involved in public ser­vice and often pro­vides advice to leaders in Wash­ington on secu­rity and inter­na­tional issues. He cur­rently serves as chairman of the Com­mis­sion on the Pre­ven­tion of the Pro­lif­er­a­tion of Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion and Ter­rorism, estab­lished by the U.S. gov­ern­ment in 2008.