Do American kids need more civics classes?

A new survey finds that only a third of Americans could pass the U.S. Citizenship test. It’s a dismal testament to the abject failure of the country’s education system. And a looming threat to the nation’s future.

The survey, conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, found that only 36% of Americans would pass the citizenship test given to immigrants. And this is on a test that only requires applicants to get 60% of the questions right.

Fewer than one quarter, for example, knew why the colonists fought the British. More than half don’t know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. Fully 60% don’t know which countries the U.S. fought in World War II.

More troubling, the survey found that younger people are far more ignorant about the most basic facts of U.S. history and civics. A pathetically low 19% of those under age 45 passed the test.
—Investors.com, October, 2018

“Serious reinvestment in excellence in civic and history education for all learners K-12 is not for the faint of heart, but neither is it a challenge we can fail to face. The survival of our constitutional democracy is at stake.”

The Educating for American Democracy initiative, a call to action to invest in strengthening history and civic learning, and to ensure that civic learning opportunities are delivered equitably throughout the country, March of 2021

Undoubtedly America suffers from a major crisis of civics ignorance, right? Right.

And it should be addressed, right? Right.

And it needs to be fixed, right? Right again.

But how?

I read a lot, and one of my go-to websites almost daily is Stateline, a part of The Pew Charitable Trusts that says “it is a global nongovernmental organization that seeks to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life.”

I find the site does a fairly decent job on publishing in-depth pieces that generally (not always) are quite objective.

Stateline this week ran a lengthy article reporting many states are re-emphasizing civics in the classroom.

After waiting two hours for her chance to speak, high school student Samantha Oliver chimed in to the Delaware House Education Committee hearing last week with a succinct message: Young people should be active participants in our democracy.

“It is a necessity that we, the next generation, learn how to use our voices for good, for change, effectively and earnestly,” said Oliver, a junior at the Sussex Academy of Arts, on the Zoom call. “We will be the ones to lead the charge of our country for the years to come.”

She was speaking in favor of a measure that would give sixth- through 12th-grade students one excused absence per year from school to participate in a civic activity such as attending a rally or visiting the state Capitol. If the bill passes, Delaware will become the only state in the country to offer this opportunity to students.

Lawmakers in at least 34 states debated 88 bills this session that seek to bolster civics education for public school students. Measures range from mandating civics education for middle and high school students to incentivizing civics activities outside the classroom.

Sounds reasonable given the grim status of civics. Or is it?

As you might expect the article provides all kinds of reasons why greater focus on civics and other ideas are terrific. But buried in the story is the other perspective, and some, not as much, was offered.

Some conservatives worry investments in civics education will open the doors to teaching critical race theory, an academic field that examines racism in systems.

While civics courses are good in theory, curriculum mandates can be hijacked by people with “woke” biases, wrote Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a D.C.-based conservative think tank, in an email.

“Through a combination of teacher bias, peer pressure, and the work of the politically biased nonprofits that work with schools on this issue, students often get pushed into political action that they may not fully embrace or understand,” he wrote.

Several Republican-controlled states, including Idaho, Iowa and Tennessee, have enacted measures this session that would ban materials that discuss the racist roots of America’s founding, including the “1619 Project” by The New York Times.

On the federal level, a bipartisan bill­ would invest $1 billion a year for six years in civics and history education, with money heading to states for education programs, to nonprofits for civics programs for underserved communities and to higher education programs for training educators. It would be up to school districts and schools to craft the curricula.

But many conservatives oppose the bill because they think it would be used to push critical race theory. One right-leaning group, the National Association of Scholars, urged Republican lead sponsors Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole to withdraw their support. They have refused.

After the public comment concluded for the Delaware bill that would give students an excused absence for a civic-related activity, Republican state Rep. Richard Collins criticized the bill.

“Our kids, they go to school to learn,” he said, exasperated. “It really does bother me. They need to learn before they become activists, so they have informed opinions.

“I’m sorry, I just cannot support this bill.”

As they say in politics, the devil is in the details.

Read the entire article here.

One thought on “Do American kids need more civics classes?

  1. Pingback: My Most Popular Blogs (05/24/21) | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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