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The Flurry Of Civic Education Bills In State State Legislatures Is Not The Real Solution (Washington Examiner) August 3, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

To read the headlines, you would think all state legislatures are doing is passing voting rights laws. But look again and you’ll find that some 34 states have been considering 88 bills concerning civic education.

On one hand, you might be encouraged to know that states are working to improve civic education. After all, the most recently reported national tests show that only 24% of 8th graders are proficient or better in civics and government, with a meager 15% proficient in U.S. history. The federal government has largely abandoned civics, spending $54 per student per year on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and only 5 cents on civics. Certainly, somebody needs to do something.

The problem is that the state legislatures are stirred up over the wrong things. What we need is to require and teach more civics. Instead of just a single course in high school, which is the low bar set in most states, we need civics to be taught from kindergarten throughout the grades, building a layer cake of civic knowledge, culminating with a full-year course in high school. Yet only a few states are moving in that direction.

Rhode Island has finally decided to require some teaching of civics. New Jersey recently added a requirement to teach a civics course in middle school as well as high school. Florida, long a leader in civic education, now requires it be taught in all grades. These are examples of what states should do: Set higher bars for civics requirements in their schools. Following on such increased requirements, states should also assure that proper teacher training is available to teach the new civics curriculum.

But the rest of the bills have very little to do with improving civic education at all. Instead, most of the bills are arguments over the content of American history, especially the founding. According to Education Week, legislators have introduced bills in 20 states to restrict teaching about racism, with eight states having passed such bills. These bills are attempts to weed the U.S. history garden of progressive initiatives such as the 1619 Project (about slavery) and critical race theory (about systemic racism). These may be arguments worth having. But they are not about improving civic education, and they do not belong in state legislatures.

Proponents of the 1619 Project and critical race theory are not attempting to improve civic education, but rather to make political points using U.S. history and civics. Others, such as a recent Roadmap Project in civics, seek to fix America by means of civics, not improve the teaching of civics per se. As Shawn Healy, an executive with iCivics, put it: “Things are not going well in our democracy, and civics can heal some of these divides.” Not likely with 24% proficiency.

What America needs most in civic education is to require more of it to be taught from grades K-12. Let scholars have their debates about racism and slavery. But legislatures should not be passing bills about the content of history; rather, they should be requiring more teaching of history and civics.

There are a lot of bad ideas out there about the teaching of history and civics. Action civics — requiring students to get out in the community and serve or protest — would put the cart of civic engagement before the horse of civic knowledge. The latest — called “lived civics” — would start with where students live, not with the knowledge they need to learn. Good civics is the same as other school subjects: knowledge. It’s not about experience; it’s not about how you feel. It’s what you need to know to understand our country and its systems, so we raise up good citizens.

State legislatures have a vital role to play in the teaching of civics. But it’s not redefining civics and history; it’s about requiring that more civic knowledge be taught in their schools.

To read the article at the Washington Examiner:


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