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Civic Education to Save the Republic (Forbes.com) November 13, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Education, Op/Eds.
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If the American republic is in trouble, better civic education is the answer.  That is the conclusion reached by a number of papers and studies in recent years, including “The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution” presented to the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit a few weeks ago.

Consider a few compelling data points:

  • In the last National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, only 18% of 8th graders were “proficient” or above in history, and only 23% in government.  A mere 1-2% were “advanced.”  By the way, if you believe students learn what is tested, those exams are no longer given in the 4th and 12th grades, only in the 8th

 

  • Xavier University found that one-third of Americans could not pass the civics portion of the American citizenship test, whereas immigrants pass at a 97.5% rate.

 

  • A poll of 18-34 year-olds found that 77% could not name a senator from their home state. And don’t remind me about those who think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.

While civic ignorance is itself a major problem, its effect is compounded when it is applied to particular issues of the day.  For example, a You.gov poll found that those under 30 preferred socialism over capitalism 43%-30%.  Similarly, a Reason-Rupe poll of 18-24 year olds showed that 58% supported socialism.  But when Reason-Rupe asked a follow-up question whether governments or markets should manage the economy, young people said markets by a 2-1 margin.  Essentially, they do not understand what socialism is.

The same ignorance is manifest in a recent study about free speech and the First Amendment by Hoover Institution and Brookings Institution fellow John Villasenor.   Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment, say 44% of college students, with 51% saying it’s ok to disrupt an offensive speech with which you disagree, and 19% saying it’s fine to use violence for that purpose.  Another 62% of college students mistakenly believe the First Amendment requires a controversial speaker on one side to be balanced by a speaker on the other side.  Wow.

Part of the problem is that civics and history are not required by most of our colleges and universities, so those going into the teaching profession are not well prepared themselves.  Moreover, these days the emphasis in colleges and schools is on “civic engagement”—getting involved—rather than civic education or knowledge.  One would think the latter should precede the former.  The recent and heavy emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has been important, but it has also crowded out courses and investments in civics and history.

A few states are awakening to the problem and beginning to address it.  Florida now requires a middle school course in civics with follow-on testing with good results.  Illinois mandates a high school civics course with teacher development to support it.  The Ashbrook Center in Ohio has gone national with its programs to retrain history and civics teachers to teach using primary documents, rather than relying exclusively on typically boring and frequently biased textbooks.  There are several points of light, but not nearly enough.

A statement attributed to Abraham Lincoln delivers a frightening prospect:  “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”  If you are concerned about the direction of America, it is time to do something about the study of civics, which is the real long-term solution.

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2017/11/13/civic-education-to-save-the-republic/#6f8830c359e8

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