jump to navigation

Isn’t This Stuff Taught In School? (Stanford Magazine) March 8, 2022

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Illustration of people holding up letters that spell out civics

Isn’t This Stuff Taught in School?

By Rebecca Beyer

WHEN IT COMES TO K-12 civic education in the United States, by almost any measure, the system is failing. A 2018 Education Week survey found that only eight states require a yearlong civics course in high school—and 15 states don’t require one at all.

It’s not because students are gaining that knowledge earlier. On the most recent national assessment, only 24 percent of eighth graders were proficient in the subject. One obvious problem: Half of the students tested hadn’t taken a civics-focused class.

Civics is the study of how our government was formed, how it functions, and what roles individuals play in that process—and currently, its teaching is a hodgepodge. With federal legislation that would authorize billions in grants for civics education stalled, nonprofit organizations and academic researchers are trying to fill the gap. And their efforts are gaining traction.

“On my good days, I’m very optimistic,” says Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics, a nonprofit civic education provider founded in 2009 by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, ’50, JD ’52. “This is a unifying idea for all Americans to get behind.”

David Davenport, ’72, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, agrees. In 2020, Davenport authored a report for the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation called “Commonsense Solutions to Our Civics Crisis.” In addition to more funding, testing and teacher training, Davenport recommends the so-called layer cake approach to civics, which begins introducing children to age-appropriate ideas in elementary school. “If you wait for a single, one-semester course in high school, kids don’t have any context,” Davenport says. “They’ll show up at class with nothing.”

One resource for middle and high school teachers is iCivics, which aims to cultivate an appreciation for civic engagement among young people. The organization provides hundreds of free curricular resources—including 14 nonpartisan educational video games, such as Argument Wars (in which players argue real Supreme Court cases), Counties Work (which asks players to manage a county and get reelected) and Do I Have a Right? (which tests players’ knowledge of the Constitution). According to assessments that iCivics embedded in two of its election-related games in 2021, students’ knowledge of civic content improved by 26 percent after playing the games. Perhaps as notable: There was a 38 percent jump in student interest in learning about topics like the Electoral College or participating in voting.

Anyone can access iCivics content on their own at any time—and more than 145,000 teachers and 9 million students in all 50 states do each year. But iCivics has also worked through the Educating for American Democracy initiative to design a roadmap for effective civics education, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education. “The American democratic system is not an intuitive system—it needs to be taught,” Dubé says. “Our goal is to rebuild a healthy American democracy and to reimagine civic education to do that.”

For Stanford Graduate School of Education professor Sam Wineburg, PhD ’89, that work begins where American democracy has faced the greatest challenge in recent years: the internet.

In 2014, the Stanford History Education Group that Wineburg leads started the Civic Online Reasoning (COR) program, which provides free lessons designed to help students evaluate information they find online. “We are in an incredibly polarized time, and what’s feeding that is the spread of misinformation,” he says. “If we want to be informed citizens, the way we do that in the 21st century is we go online. We don’t go to the public library to learn about the efficacy of a soda tax or whether we should ban private prisons; we google it.”

In fact, Google is one of COR’s key partners. Last year, the search engine—based in part on research by Wineburg and Michael Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public—began including an icon designed to help users in the United States assess the credibility of search results. The feature, which appears as a three-dot menu next to your search results, encourages COR skills such as lateral reading (checking what reputable websites say about a source) and click restraint (intentionally skipping over the first search results, which are often advertisements). Wineburg says the feature is a “small nudge to see if we can make things a little better.”

The primary focus of COR, like iCivics, is to make materials teachers can use in the classroom. Its curriculum—based on the work of professional fact-checkers—includes nearly 30 lesson plans that cover using Wikipedia, evaluating claims on social media and identifying trustworthy evidence, among other topics. “You can preach to teachers until you’re blue in the face,” Wineburg says. “We need materials. We need concrete things. That’s where my efforts are.”

Rebecca Beyer is a Boston-based journalist. Email her at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.


Retirement 2022 January 10, 2022

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

I will be retiring from full-time employment and the Hoover Institution this summer. In order to complete two additional books before then, I’ve decided I need to retire now from writing regular columns for the Washington Examiner. So you won’t be seeing much from daviddavenport.com, though if I continue to do some writing, I will still post here, at least for another year til I see how retirement goes.

Conservatives Must Grow Their Tent (Washington Examiner) December 20, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Conservatives have a shrinking tent problem. Rather than growing their movement with addition, or even multiplication, they seem determined to shrink it by division and subtraction. If they want to be relevant, they will need to relearn important lessons from William F. Buckley in the 1960s and President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and figure out how to build a bigger tent.

The foundational premise for growing a tent is to recognize how many different kinds of conservatives might, if welcomed, choose to camp there. In fact, the number of adjectives that go with the noun “conservative” is almost mind-boggling. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, Christian conservatives, crunchy conservatives, neocons, paleocons, libertarians, traditionalists, and on we could go. If conservatism is about conserving something, these are all things that one conservative or another would like to protect.

The problem is that today’s conservatives would rather be part of a smaller group with which they agree entirely than a larger extended family that is related but not identical. If you don’t believe in limiting abortion, for example, then some Christian and social conservatives will reject you. If you believe the 2020 election was stolen, or not, that puts up more barriers. Are masks an appropriate requirement in a public health crisis or an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom? Be careful, conservatives, your answer to that question could also put you outside the tent.

The failure of conservatives to accommodate a bigger tent affects the Republican Party and risks its future electoral success. While Republicanism and conservatism are not identical twins, they are at least cousins, and what one does often affects the other. In February, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the Republican Party should be “a very big tent,” one with room for both anti-Trump Rep. Liz Cheney and pro-Trump Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. But later McCarthy moved away from his support of Cheney. If the Republican Party will still be fully devoted to former President Donald Trump, and leave no room for other conservatives, it may face further losses such as it suffered at the polls in 2020.

Conservatives should revisit two times in their history when they built and occupied a big tent. Buckley built the first big tent with his National Review journal, making space for the varieties of conservatism. In fact, his editor Frank Meyer called the approach “fusionism,” a philosophy holding that liberty and virtue, or free markets and traditional values, were not in conflict and should live comfortably together. This is precisely the kind of conversation conservatives should be having instead of debating the 2020 election results.

Reagan is the second conservative who managed a big tent. But as the late Bob Dole pointed out, many of the Nixon-era and Reagan-era conservatives would not be welcome in the tent (or in the Republican Party) now. In those days, some conservatives accepted abortion and some did not, a tolerant range of views that would be widely rejected by many conservatives today. Reagan was a pragmatist who accepted tax and debt increases as necessary from time to time. He even managed to reach a large number of working-class “Reagan Democrats.”

Conservatives need a big tent revival. Rather than purging their movement of people with whom they disagree, they need to relearn the lessons of Buckley and Reagan and build a bigger tent. The alternative is irrelevance.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


A Common Sense Solution to our Civics Crisis (Hoover PolicyEd short video) December 14, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Bob Dole’s Lessons For Washington From The Plains (Washington Examiner) December 10, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

As former Sen. Bob Dole is laid to rest on Friday, let us not lay to rest important lessons we should draw from his life and leadership. Many of these are lessons I learned growing up, as he did, in the plains state of Kansas. But they are also things I observed working as an intern in his Senate office and keeping up with him over the years.

Raised in the small town of Russell, Kansas, where former Sen. Arlen Specter and billionaire Philip Anschutz were also reared, Dole was truly a Kansas conservative. Unfortunately, that political species is nearly extinct, emphasizing a pragmatic and values-centered conservatism, not the narrow political ideology many on the Right embrace today. It was how political philosopher Willmoore Kendall described his fellow Oklahomans: conservative “in their hips.” It was a Dwight D. Eisenhower (from Abilene, Kansas) conservatism that focused on virtues such as modesty, responsibility, and duty.

A pragmatic conservative such as Dole wanted the government to work for the people. He wasn’t eager to grow the government or its role in people’s lives, but he also wasn’t the anti-government leader we often see in the Republican Party today. In the wake of COVID-19, when nothing seems to work anymore, wouldn’t we like to see political leaders committed to making the government work for us? Trying to balance the budget, making sure Social Security did not go bankrupt, ensuring veterans and others who deserved government help actually received it — these were pragmatic conservative priorities of Bob Dole we could use today.

Although he wasn’t much for marketing labels, Dole was the original compassionate conservative, a term later credited to George W. Bush. Grievously injured in World War II, Dole was in a full-body cast, spent three years on his back in recovery, and was forever hampered by disability. No doubt this helped him see the needs of others, and most of his signature legislative accomplishments reflect that care and concern — from the Americans With Disabilities Act to food and nutrition assistance, veterans benefits, and saving Social Security. Dole believed there was a role for the government for those with special needs.

Much has been said about his now rare bipartisanship, which is also true. Most of his major legislative accomplishments were made with rivals from the other party — Sens. Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Tom Daschle, and others. Sadly, it’s difficult to imagine that sort of bipartisanship today, and that alone is an important Dole legacy.

But there are two other commitments that made his bipartisanship so effective and so absent in today’s Washington leadership. Dole believed in the importance and dignity of the Senate itself as an institution. And he believed in governing, in working together with others to meet the needs of the people.

Sadly, our senators today largely believe in their party affiliation more strongly than the institution they serve. They spend their time raising money, giving speeches, and even casting votes not to govern but to make political statements and be reelected. The U.S. Senate, once called the world’s greatest deliberative body, hardly deliberates anymore. It is now a political platform for its members, not a real seat for governing.

Dole was from America’s “greatest generation,” cut from a different cloth. But there is no reason his lessons of pragmatic conservatism — making government work for the needy, seeking bipartisanship, and respecting institution and governance — couldn’t come to the fore again. That would be the best way to honor Sen. Dole.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Interview About (my former boss) Bob Dole (John Batchelor Show) December 8, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed
David Davenport, Sally Davenport, and Bob Dole, 1985 — Calisphere

Congress Finally Seeks Limit to Presidential War and Emergency Powers (Washington Examiner) November 19, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Amid bills to forestall a government shutdown or default, plus trillions for infrastructure and social programs, you would be excused if you overlooked an important amendment put before Congress this week. Three senators from different parties introduced an amendment to the National Security Powers Act to trim a president’s power to declare wars and national emergencies.

After lengthy wars and 30 national emergencies hanging over our heads for decades, we should welcome the amendment from Sens. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat; Mike Lee, a Utah Republican; and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.

National emergencies may come and go, but, unfortunately, the emergency powers they trigger remain. We currently live under some 30 states of national emergency declared by presidents as far back as Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. This amendment would limit presidential emergencies to 30 days, by which time Congress must approve the declaration for up to one year or it expires.

A declaration of national emergency, along with executive orders, is a tool presidents have used far too often to expand their power. Do we really want presidents from the 1990s, for example, unilaterally setting current policy on everything from nuclear proliferation and narcotics trafficking to rules concerning Belarus, Iran, Sudan, and other nations? All this with essentially no congressional oversight, review, or sunsetting? I think not.

Over time, presidents have also managed to strengthen their constitutional authority as commander in chief to overtake the congressional power to declare war. The most recent stretch of such authority was the continuing expansion of the Authorization of Military Force passed in the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001 to cover all kinds of new enemies and expanded conflicts without further congressional review.

The Lee Amendment would also address this presidential overreach, limiting a president’s ability to engage in “hostilities” from 60 to 20 days, sunsetting all existing AUMFs while requiring increased standards for new ones, and sunsetting them after two years. Think how differently the Iraq and Afghanistan wars might have gone had this kind of review been required.

As important as these changes are, it will still require courage in Congress to use them. For example, when Congress failed to step up and debate U.S. military involvement in Syria in 2014, one congressman said several members would rather the president “bomb the place and tell us about it later” rather than force a tough vote in an election year. But the new rules should at least demand that the debate take place.

One of the problems with our democracy is that power in Washington has been traveling one way down Pennsylvania Avenue from Congress to the White House. Although the House of Representatives has the spending power, the president’s Office of Management and Budget largely sets the plan. Congress has the power to declare war but too often has let the president declare “hostilities” or hurtle through the loopholes in a broad Authorization of Military Force. National emergencies come and go, but emergency powers remain in effect.

This bipartisan amendment is not only important in addressing war and national emergency powers but is a vital step toward rebalancing power in Washington. It is high time that we wean our presidents away from unilateral power and restore power to the people through Congress.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Dads On Duty In Louisiana Show Rugged Individualism Still Works (Washington Examiner) October 28, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

When there’s violence in your school, who you gonna call? If it’s bad enough, as it was at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, you call the police.

After three days of violence last month, 23 students had been arrested with 14 placed in handcuffs. Several students were expelled in the wake of brawling fights. But then someone came up with a better solution. Who better to take care of our children than us?

Some fathers of the high school students decided to take action. We now have Dads on Duty, 40 fathers who show up every day to greet the children, walk the halls, keep the peace, and set a different tone with their friendly dad jokes and tough love. And guess what? No further violence at that school.

We live in a time when we have come to believe it takes the government to solve every social problem. But key parts of our society have long been individualism and volunteerism. People like the dads see a problem in their community and, instead of waiting for the police or a government agency to solve it, they step up and handle it themselves. In the process, as volunteers, they are able to play a different role and set a more positive tone than regulators can do.

In the 1928 presidential campaign, Herbert Hoover called this American rugged individualism. Hoover returned from years working in business and food relief in Europe shocked that America seemed to be moving toward some of the totalitarianism — socialism, fascism, communism — that was sweeping Europe. He knew what made America special is individualism coupled with equality of opportunity: people having the freedom and taking the initiative to solve problems and live their lives on their own without the government always telling them what to do.

In his classic 1835 book Democracy in America, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noticed something similar: the inclination of Americans to volunteer and associate in groups to solve problems and improve life. Tocqueville thought Americans were the best at this he had ever seen.

Somehow, we have begun to lose that spirit. Instead of volunteering and stepping up, people step back and wait for the government to fill every void. Some argue that only the government can offer fair solutions to our problems. But the dads say otherwise. They offer a positive presence, with their jokes and love, that the police cannot. When so many children lack a father figure at home, these dads fill an important gap.

It makes me wonder whether President Joe Biden isn’t heading in the wrong direction with his proposals for mandatory government-run preschools and the huge growth of government in dozens of areas. Big government leaves less and less room for individual and community efforts. It saps the spirit out of American individualism. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that most people think it’s time for the government to get out of the way, tax less, and do less. That makes good sense to me.

So, salute the dads who stopped the bullying and the fighting. They can’t solve every problem, but they point the way toward a much-needed revival of rugged individualism and volunteer community efforts.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Biden’s Big Government Window Has Closed (Washington Examiner) October 20, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

President Joe Biden’s mantra has been “go big or go home.” Biden has proposed spending trillions of dollars on COVID relief, infrastructure, and new social programs. On the heels of the pandemic, it appeared that Biden and his fellow Democrats had a window of opportunity to dramatically expand the size and role of the federal government. They saw a chance to cut a 21st century New Deal.

Not so fast. A recent Gallup Poll shows that, at least for the public, the big government window is now closed. As far as the public is concerned, it’s time for the government to recede from its emergency footing and return to a more limited and traditional role.

Gallup has been studying public support for a wider government role in solving problems since 1992. Only twice has 50% or more respondents supported more government: following 9/11 and in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Otherwise the public prefers smaller government, playing a more limited role in their lives.

From polling done in September, Gallup learned that the blip of support for a larger government role in 2020 is gone. Now 52% of people say the government is doing too many things, a result consistent with polling over the last thirty years. Respondents also say they would prefer lower taxes even if that means fewer government services. Fifty-four percent said the government has too much power.

Of course, government rarely gives up power. When President Bill Clinton said that “the era of big government is over,” very little changed. Government grows consistently in size and spending regardless of which party is in power.

Nevertheless, there are clear messages here. One is that the people believe the emergency government needs to be over and things should return to normal in Washington. Governments love to declare emergencies and grow their power, but they find it more difficult to return to normal.

This polling also undercuts Biden’s assumed mandate for the big ticket progressive measures he has proposed. Democratic moderates such as Sen. Joe Manchin are opposing the huge spending proposals, struggling against progressives. The people are on the moderate, even conservative, side of that question.

Rarely does a president have the power and support for revolutionary changes in the government. Perhaps only Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt had that kind of mandate for change because of the Civil War and the Great Depression, respectively. The pandemic, however, has not created the common sense that the government needs revolutionary growth.

It’s time for Biden to shift gears away from a massive expansion of government to incremental change. Perhaps more support is needed for preschool, for example, but there is no need for big government to operate a mandatory preschool.

To the disappointment of progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the people do not want a bigger and more powerful government running their lives.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Civics Education Offers a Map to Escape Our Partisan Maze (Washington Examiner) October 5, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Congress is struggling to raise the debt ceiling to pay for money that has already been spent. Despite a lack of evidence to support claims of election rigging, there are still heated arguments over the last presidential election. Red wars against blue, Republicans against Democrats, Democratic progressives against party moderates, and Republican Trumpists against traditional conservatives.

For years, we have bemoaned the loss of a center politically. Everyone seems to be left or right, with no one left in what used to be called “the vital center.” But I am concerned about the loss of an even deeper center: the loss of knowledge, respect, and commitment to our democratic system itself.

The Pew Research Center, which has been studying trust issues since 1958, has found that only about a quarter of Americans trust their government. Among younger people, it is even worse. A 2019 Pew poll reported that among those ages 18-29, low trust characterized 48%, more than double that of citizens over 65.

I submit that a large part of our democracy’s partisanship and dysfunction is that we have put the wrong thing at the center. Our government and politics are now driven almost entirely by the two major political parties and their leadership. Unfortunately, their top priority — sometimes it seems like their only priority — is not to find the best policy to serve the public but simply to win. The tools of winning — harsh rhetoric, blocking votes, filibusters, and fundraising — have driven out tools of governing such as deliberation, compromise, and bipartisanship.

But strengthening civics education would be a road toward improving the performance of our democracy. Civic knowledge, respect, and action should replace partisan political parties at the center of the system.

Perhaps you are not aware of the precipitous decline of civic education. National testing shows that only 24% of 8th graders are “proficient” or better in civics, and a meager 15% in U.S. history. Two-thirds of American citizens cannot pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship process, something immigrants pass at greater than a 90% rate. Young people especially cannot name the three branches of government, or rights contained in the First Amendment, or whether Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court. Students are not being taught basic civics.

The root cause of this deficiency is that we no longer emphasize civics. Instead of teaching several courses in civics, as was the case a few decades ago, most states only require a single one-semester course in high school. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has pushed civics to the edge of the curriculum. In fact, the federal government now spends $54 per student per year on STEM education and only 5 cents on civics.

Sure, it’s important to prepare children for jobs, but what about the job of running our republic? Indeed, how can we expect children to trust something they don’t even know or understand?

Returning civics to the core of K-12 education could be a big step toward gluing our republic back together. People can debate and disagree within a system they know and know to care for.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner: