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The Seeds of Civic Ignorance and Disrespect Reap a Harvest of Misunderstanding and Violence (Washington Examiner) January 13, 2021

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The United States suffers from a pandemic of civic ignorance and a deep deficit of civic respect. Only one in three Americans can pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test. A mere 24% of eighth-graders test “proficient” or better in civics and government, while a pitifully low 15% are proficient in U.S. history.

The recent assault on our nation’s capital and the subsequent response should be a wake-up call to the profound consequences of civic ignorance and disrespect.

The assault itself, an act of deep disrespect never seen before, was based on the deeply flawed premise that Congress or the vice president could and should change the outcome of the 2020 presidential electoral vote. The fact is that the meeting in Washington on Jan. 6 was not a session of the so-called Electoral College. In fact, what we call the Electoral College does not exist as a formal body or hold meetings, and it is not even mentioned in the Constitution.

Instead, the civic facts are that our presidential election is really 51 separate elections run by the states and the District of Columbia under the Constitution. These elections choose electors in each state who, in turn, vote for their candidate. Those results are then sent to Congress, and it meets, as it did on Jan. 6, to receive the votes and certify the outcome.

What an act of civic disrespect, then, when protesters scaled the walls of the Capitol and barged into chambers and offices to protest electoral votes that are not even under the control of Congress. If people want to violate the law and risk arrest to make a statement, it behooves them to at least understand whose work they are protesting.

Now the people want Congress to “do something” about removing President Trump from office before his term ends next week, and the first idea brought forward is to use the 25th Amendment. Neither the people nor even members of Congress seem to understand that the amendment is focused on presidential “disability,” not disagreement or lack of trust. The three times it has been invoked involved medical procedures that “disabled” a president, as intended.

If not the 25th Amendment, people want impeachment, apparently without understanding that it is a two-step, lengthy process that would run well beyond the remainder of Trump’s term. Yes, the House can “impeach” by taking a simple vote, but a full trial in the Senate will take weeks, after awaiting the end of the current Senate recess next week. Impeachment is about removing people from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, not just making a political statement after the fact.

This unfortunate chapter in our current history is riddled with civic ignorance and misunderstanding, from citizens and leaders alike. It would be nice if we could send members of Congress to a civics or constitutional law class before they serve. In fact, a colleague has told me he will introduce a ballot proposition in his state to require that political candidates pass a civics test before they qualify to run for office. His intentions are good, but I doubt his measure will be enacted.

What we can do is redouble our efforts toward better civic education in our schools so young people will develop a better understanding of how our republic works before they are in charge of running it. We need a full year of civic education to be required in every state (only nine states require that now). We need to resume teaching civics in elementary and middle schools, from which it has largely disappeared. We need to spend more than 5 cents per student per year on civic education when we are spending $54 per student annually on STEM education.

Yes, our present circumstance is a problem of hyperpartisanship and division. Yet have allowed this to occur because of the failure of civic education. We desperately need to develop, as President Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address, “an informed patriotism” among our people.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The Best Path Forward Is Bipartisan Statesmanship, Not The 25th Amendment Or Impeachment (Washington Examiner) January 8, 2021

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Americans are bandwagon people, jumping quickly from one opinion to another. Once we jump, we want to fire up the engines and go full speed ahead.

Now, in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, many want to impeach the president right now, or use the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove him from office less than two weeks before his scheduled departure.

The fact is that our Founders designed an ocean liner government, not a speedboat. The government is intentionally designed not to take sudden turns or execute instant changes of course. The republic was constructed with all manner of filters, checks and balances, and separations of power, requiring time and deliberation to change course. Our Founders urged that we follow “the cool, deliberate sense of the community” over time, not the passions and factions of the moment.

Impeaching a president requires not just a vote of the House to impeach but a subsequent trial in the Senate. The most recent impeachment trial, of President Trump himself, took approximately three weeks to complete. At five weeks, former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial was even longer.

The notion that a president would be impeached, prepare, and stand for a full trial in less than two weeks (with both chambers on recess and out of town, no less) is simply not realistic. Our system was not built for that kind of speed. It was built for deliberation.

Use of the 25th Amendment is also problematic. It is really designed for a president who is disabled, not one we no longer trust. All three times it has been used involved medical procedures for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Like impeachment, it is also a complicated process that will take time, requiring first a declaration by the vice president, supported by the majority of the Cabinet, that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Does not liking or trusting how he is discharging them render him “unable?” I doubt it.

Then, the president could dispute the declaration, causing Congress to reconvene and decide the matter (requiring a two-thirds majority vote to find him “disabled”) within 21 days. By then, of course, Biden will be president.

Removing the president promptly, then, is highly unlikely through the push of a constitutional button. But there is another alternative, one that the Founders also contemplated: We will need statesmen and leaders to help guide us through the next two weeks.

We will need Vice President Mike Pence, who stood up and told the president he could not change the electoral vote, and who apparently also called for the National Guard to help quell the riots, to step up. It will mandate that members of Congress worry less about how they look to Trump’s political constituencies and care more about how they lead the republic. It will call for more from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, and less from the intemperate Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

In our time, we think any problem should be fixed immediately, like that truck I saw hauling sod down the freeway with its sign reading, “Instant grassification.” But a democratic republic is a slow, careful, deliberative, sometimes messy business. However, it does respond to the voice of the people, more often through leadership than through structural processes.

We will be healthier in the long run if we survive the next two weeks through greater bipartisanship and leadership rather than through more Senate trials or divisive impeachment and 25th Amendment votes. Let the rational voices stirred by the mob this week, and the steadier leadership we have seen from some of our leaders, see us through.

It’s not only the best way. Given the limited time for the alternatives, it is the only way we will make it.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Wanted: The Third Coming Of Modern Conservatism (Washington Examiner) December 16, 2020

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If “conservatism” is a political noun, it is always in the company of varied adjectives. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, neoconservatives, social conservatives, reform conservatives, and on we could go. George W. Bush, apparently thinking it was not enough to be just a conservative, campaigned as a “compassionate conservative.” John McCain was a “maverick conservative.”

Yes, one of conservatism’s problems is that it is not a single ideology, able to stand on its own and collect supporters. Rather, it is more in the nature of a tent (sometimes a big tent, other times smaller) with a variety of conservatives jostling for primacy. Especially difficult to reconcile are the liberty conservatives, who believe individual freedom is the bedrock of the conservative philosophy, and the virtue conservatives, who are committed to getting people to do not what they want, but what they ought. Libertarians would be prime examples of the former, with the religious right standing for the latter.

Twice in its history, modern American conservatives have managed to come together and have a real impact. The first was in the 1950s and 1960s when a new publication, National Review, edited by William F. Buckley, managed to speak for most conservatives, fueling conservatism’s rise as a political movement. National Review editor Frank Meyer called it “fusion” conservatism, actively seeking to bring the several strands together. All this was greatly aided by the threat of communism, against which conservatives were eager to unite.

The second coming of modern American conservatism arose in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Reagan, the great communicator and eternal optimist, managed not only to join the various branches of conservatism but also make it appealing to a majority of the country. For the first time, conservatism was not just a viable philosophy and political movement, but a tent big enough and with sufficient comforts to be a home for a majority of the country. Reagan’s optimism about America and its freedoms, and his attacks on big government, came to be accepted by working men and women and by the silent majority.

Since Reagan, it has been a bit of a drought for modern American conservatism. When George H.W. Bush spoke of a “kinder, gentler” conservatism, and George W. Bush of “compassionate conservatism,” those seemed to many conservatives to be hedging their principles, not unifying the movement. President Trump’s disruptive style has not only challenged norms of politics broadly, but also the principles of conservatism. National security conservatives and neoconservatives are nervous as troops leave important outposts in the war on terror. Fiscal conservatives are uncomfortable with abandoning free trade in favor of aggressive tariffs and the dramatic rise of the national debt.

It is time, then, for the third coming, a new rising, of modern American conservatism. But it won’t be easy. The monolithic communist threat that once brought conservatives together has been replaced by a myriad of international challenges. Moreover, there is no obvious Reagan on the horizon, ready to ride into the picture to galvanize his forces.

So, where might conservatives turn? They must again become a movement of ideas, not merely one of disruption. It was a conservative, Richard Weaver, who penned the book Ideas Have Consequences in 1948, and this must again become the conservative mantra. They need to return to notions of free trade and lowering the federal debt. Instead of anti-communism, conservatives should seek to sharpen America’s understanding of the dangers presented by China and articulate a strong response.

They actually have a few political advantages to work from. For one thing, President Joe Biden will seek to build out the welfare state and the federal role in people’s lives, and that gives conservatives a natural focal point to push back against. Conservative control of the Supreme Court will provide some leadership on key issues, especially freedom of religion and social matters.

Basically, conservatives and Republicans need to turn away from governing by disruption to governing by leadership and ideas. That would be a welcome change in our politics and might lead them back to the more unified and mainstream place they held in earlier times.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Californians Frustrated By State Coronavirus Rules Should Look In The Mirror (Washington Examiner) December 10, 2020

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The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has taken on new meaning in California, as most of the state has come under a new three-week “stay-at-home” order to slow the rapidly growing spread of COVID-19. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steele complains that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order is “not based on science or any clear standards.” The sheriff of Riverside County calls the new mandate “ridiculous” and says his department will not enforce it. Many have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Newsom dining at the swank French Laundry restaurant with friends while ordering everyone else to stay home.

But hold on here. Is the problem really the governor and his sweeping new order? Or is it the people of California who would not follow previous guidelines and now must face the music? My verdict is the latter.

There has been too little discussion of the underlying issues of individual freedom versus state mandates in the COVID-19 crisis. On one hand, living in a free country means our first impulse should be to give people good information and guidelines but leave them free to make their own decisions. On the other hand, the government bears responsibility for making certain that the hospital and medical systems can handle the flood of cases coming their way. It is on this latter basis that the governor has taken stronger measures, mandating a stay-at-home order in regions where the available ICU bed capacity in hospitals has dropped below 15%. Preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed by sick patients is clearly within the state’s health and safety power.

Let’s be honest here. We came to this point because people were not willing to follow guidelines and take responsible voluntary action. Despite warnings not to travel and gather during the Thanksgiving holidays, millions did, and we now face the consequences: the biggest COVID-19 surge since July. Political leaders such as Newsom didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’d like to exert more power and control.” Instead, they were left to respond to the irresponsibility of their own people.

As the old car repair commercial put it, “You can pay me now (preventive maintenance), or you can pay me later (expensive repairs).” Californians would not pay the price of voluntarily staying away from travel and crowds, so now, they pay the higher price of staying home involuntarily for Christmas.

I grant that emergency action is often used too readily by leaders, noting especially how presidents employ hundreds of executive orders to do their bidding. I also understand that governments often do not give up their emergency powers when the crisis has passed. You and I currently live under some 30 states of national emergency declared as far back as the Carter administration and never removed from the books. That is shameful government overreach that ought to be stopped.

But a stay-at-home order based on hospital capacity after voluntary efforts failed to stem the crisis is exactly what government can and should do. A tailored order based on the ICU capacity of hospitals in specific regions of the state further limits the government reach.

When you see people not wearing masks and refusing to distance properly, they are exercising their freedom, yes. But just as the freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins, your freedom not to follow voluntary COVID-19 protocols risks others, not just yourself. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected speech when it risks the lives and safety of others. That is where we are with COVID-19.

So, Californians, complain about your governor if you want, but you would do better to look in the mirror. The rest of you, beware the words of Jimmy Carter: “Whatever starts in California, unfortunately, has an inclination to spread.”

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


If Trumpism Survives Trump, It Will Be A Political Coalition, Not An Ideology (Washington Examiner) November 30, 2020

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One of the big questions on the table today is whether Trumpism will survive President Trump’s time in the White House. The short answer is: maybe as a political force, but not as an ideology. In fact, when it comes to Trumpism as a set of policies or beliefs, I am inclined to quote Gertrude Stein, who said of her childhood home in Oakland, California, “There is no there there.”

First, we must admit that there has been surprising political power to Trumpism. It came out of nowhere to take over the Republican Party and win the presidency in 2016, and it rallied over 73 million voters in defeat four years later.

However, as its name implies, Trumpism centers around a person, not a set of ideas. This came home to rest clearly when the Republican Party decided not to bother with a platform in 2020 but just ran back the same one from 2016. We have no new ideas, it effectively admitted. Our platform is whatever Trump thinks when he wakes up and starts tweeting every day. Devoid of a political philosophy, it changes regularly.

The defeat of Trump leaves the field wide open for conservatives to redefine, or at least restate, their principles. Do they believe in smaller government or reducing the federal debt, as they have claimed in the past, or are they prepared to spend and grow the debt as Trump did even before the coronavirus hit? Do they stand behind national security commitments with our allies in the Middle East, or will they continue to bring home troops and stand down as Trump has done? Do they embrace free trade as they did for decades, or are they now committed to tariffs, a la Trump?

Conservatism has not been tried and found wanting in the Trump years. It has barely been tried at all. Admittedly, conservatism is a big tent with lots of factions: national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, Right-leaning libertarians, the religious Right, and more. It could be a fruitful time for conservatives to debate the big ideas of their movement and set a new course for the Republican Party.

Trumpism, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. It is not so much a philosophy as it is a man who, on any given day, is full of opinions and, especially, grievances. And it is especially the grievances that have connected, in a populist sense, with a lot of people in the country who are also unhappy. He wanted to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and many people rallied to that. He was tired of America being taken advantage of in trade deals and by our allies in NATO, and he wanted to stop that. To Trump, a platform is not a set of policies or ideas. It’s something you stand on to rally, tweet, and try to connect with people who are stirred up by the same things that bother you.

Trumpism in the future, then, will not solve any problems or define any new directions for Republicans. It is a political coalition of people with shared frustrations. It requires a person to lead it and, therefore, can survive in only two ways: Either Trump himself runs again for president in 2024 or in some active way holds his coalition together, or another politician recreates himself as the second coming of Trump. A few possibilities come to mind: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Pompeo.

This is the fork in the road facing Republicans. Either they spend the next couple of years productively discussing and figuring out what they stand for again, or they simply roll over into a new phase of Trumpism. One would hope that redefining conservatism for the 21st century would rule the day, but the temptation to politics over policy, to winning over doing the right thing, is always powerful.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


America Has A Civic Education Problem–Here’s How To Fix It (The Hill) November 16, 2020

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Passing important bills in Congress with bipartisan support seems like ancient history. The last major policy bill on which a president of one party and leaders of the other party collaborated was probably the No Child Left Behind Act, an education bill passed and signed into law nearly 20 years ago.   

Now, there is another education bill everyone can and should get behind. The Educating for Democracy Act, introduced in September on Constitution Day with bipartisan support, would finally do something about our chronic civic education crisis.   

The data about the civic education problem is certainly not fake news. Test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Assessment (NAEP) earlier this year showed that only 24 percent of America’s 8th graders are “proficient” or better in government and civics, with a shocking 15 percent proficient in U.S. history. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rightly called the results “stark and inexcusable,” but such low scores have been excused by inaction for years. A 2018 study showed that only one in three Americans could pass the civics portion of the national citizenship test.  Students apparently believe Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court and that climate change was started by the Cold War.   

Sadly, everyone from the federal government to the schools has abandoned civic education in recent decades. Instead, our attention goes to reading and the new priority for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. By one estimate, the federal government now spends $54 per student annually on STEM and a meager five cents per student on civics. Schools used to require several courses in civics but, by now, the typical civics curriculum is a one-semester course in high school and virtually nothing in the elementary or middle school grades.   

I recently completed a study for the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation on the commonsense steps needed to right the civics ship, and it points to many of the provisions contained in the new Educating for Democracy bill. For starters, the federal government needs to begin funding civic education again, having dropped its support from nearly $150 million 10 years ago to about $5 million a year today. This bill would allocate $1 billion per year over the next five years largely to states and providers of civic education.   

Another commitment in the bill is to undertake adequate testing of civic education progress in the schools. We live in a testing culture in reading, math and science, but the NAEP test on government and civics is only given periodically and to 8th graders only. As the bill calls for, we need to be testing at least once in the elementary (4th grade), middle school (8th grade) and high school (12th grade) years. This encourages layer cake learning — setting a foundation of civic learning in the youngest grades that is built on every year through high school.   

The bill rightly acknowledges the priority of teacher training. There is not enough targeted training for civics teachers in their own schooling, and then on-the-job training is woefully deficient. If teachers do not have deep knowledge and a love for the subject matter, they will never reach their students. A few states, notably Florida, have developed teacher training models around newly implemented courses and goals for civic education.  

The federal government can only go so far in education, however, since K-12 education is still primarily a state and local matter. Therefore, it is left to the states to undertake the single most important effort to improve civic education: require it in the curriculum. As a report from the Education Commission of the States noted in 2017, most states require only a single one-semester course in civics, which “contrasts with course requirements in the 1960s, when three required courses in civics and government were common and civics were woven throughout the K-12 curriculum.” We cannot rest until civics is taught in elementary and middle schools, with a year-long course required in high school and a comprehensive test before graduation. States have a long way to go to get there. 

Our democracy has faced quite a stress test in 2020 and has shown vulnerabilities. In order to build greater resilience for the future, the answer is a renewed commitment to civic education, beginning with the bipartisan passage of the Educating for Democracy Act.  

To read the op/ed at The Hill:


David Davenport and Sen. Orrin Hatch On Solutions For Our Civic Education Crisis (Hoover.org) November 11, 2020

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In the following Hoover Q&A, former Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Hoover Institution Research Fellow David Davenport discuss “Commonsense Solutions to Our Civics Crisis,”  a newly released Hatch Center special report authored by Davenport.

Hatch and Davenport argue that American educators and policy makers have incorrectly responded to foreign competition by overemphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at the expense of civic education. They also underscore the importance of civics in nurturing the formation of American citizenship, closing the deficit of trust between government and the people, and strengthening the resilience of democratic institutions.

Why did the Hatch Center commission this report about America’s civic education crisis?

Hatch: The Hatch Center—the policy arm of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation —is a national think tank focused on promoting civility and solutions. Part and parcel of that effort is reinvigorating civics teaching. From our research, we knew that the seeds of division and dysfunction now undermining American society were sown—at least in part—by decades of neglect in the area of civic education. To reinvigorate our democracy, we need to re-center civics at the heart of our education system. That’s why in the spring of this year, we reached out to Hoover’s David Davenport to join us in writing this special report on our nation’s civics crisis.  

Why do you believe that the current state of American democracy is anemic?

Hatch: Anemic describes a state of fatigue brought on by lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.  And American democracy—just like the human body—requires a steady supply of oxygen in the bloodstream to function properly. But right now, the body politic is oxygen starved.

Civic learning breathes life into our democracy, and currently we’re not getting enough of it. We’re carrying out all the rituals of a modern democracy—elections, inaugurations, televised debates, and the like. But our bloodstream isn’t carrying the oxygen we need to survive. We are encouraging people to organize, vote, and even run for office, but many of those same people lack the civic knowledge they need to sustain our democracy over the long term. The results are weak and dysfunctional institutions, chronic gridlock, and growing fatigue over the state of our politics. That’s why I describe the state of our democracy as anemic.

Did the Founding Fathers have a vision for how Americans would learn about their country?

Davenport: Yes, the founders had in mind that the primary purpose of school was to educate Americans about citizenship. There are quotations from the founders, which I include in my paper, explaining that the preservation of a free republic depended on a virtuous and educated citizenry, and the place that that was going to happen was in the schoolhouse. We have given up on that idea today and have been reduced into thinking that school exists just to teach us math, reading, and science in particular.

What are the roots of the current crisis in civic education?

Davenport: I think the crisis arose from otherwise good intentions. Our education policy strategy has been directed toward maintaining international competitiveness and has caused us to change the balance of our curriculum. When Sputnik was launched in the 1950s, we were horrified that we had a science and technology deficit relative to Russia. In the early 1980s, there was a major report issued by the US National Commission on Excellence in Education called “A Nation at Risk” that described how we were far behind other countries in math and also to some degree in reading. That report moved us down the road to more standardized testing and spending substantial school time preparing for and administering those tests. Now we’ve decided to spend billions of dollars to focus teaching on STEM, based on the belief that it is the only way the United States can be globally competitive in the future.

Every decade or two we seem to discover some global threat that alarms us, and so we change curriculum dramatically in order to overcome that perceived challenge.

As a result of the weight we give to STEM, courses in American history and US government have paid the price. By now, we have almost no civics in elementary or middle school. In most states, high school students spend on average one semester in class learning civics.

Hatch: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment in time when American civic education took a turn for the worse. It’s easy, however, to identify certain trends that have led to the decline of civics instruction over the years. One trend is the “Zinnification” of American history teaching starting in the 1980s. This refers to the politicization of civics through partisan texts such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. These “textbooks” recast the American story as one long history of injustice and oppression. The New York Times 1619 Project is just one more addition to the literature.

While it’s important to give students a holistic understanding of our nation’s history, it’s counterproductive to instill in them a distaste for the American founding and a cynical view of our history. Rather, civic education should help students understand just how exceptional (and fragile) the American experiment is. And it should weigh our country’s flaws against her many strengths.

Was there some golden age of civic education that we should aspire to again? In the early days of American public education, our schools were rightly centered on forming democratic citizens. We need to get back to that. We need to restore civics as the primary purpose of a liberal education. But the curriculum needs to be updated for the modern era. That means no biased or boring textbooks but hands-on instruction through primary documents by teachers who are well trained in history and civics.  

Another trend—and one with unintended consequences—is the rise of STEM. Now first, let me be clear: STEM education is vital to American innovation and economic competitiveness. That’s why I was a strong advocate for STEM throughout my Senate tenure. I worry, however, that in pushing STEM, our country has lost sight of civics. This would explain why federal funding for STEM soars to new heights while funding for civics has bottomed out.

Consider that the federal government spends annually $54 per student to further STEM learning and a mere $0.05 per student for civics. To correct this disparity, we don’t call for a decrease in spending on STEM—because again, STEM is essential. But we do call for a 100-fold increase in federal funding for civic education, which is arguably just as important to our nation’s future.

What proper balance needs to be sought in allocating student time to both American civics and STEM?

Davenport: I’m not enough of a K–12 education expert to be the one designing the curriculum. I think the problem has been that civics has really had no major defenders when it has come to curricular decisions and time allocation. I think the gold standard would be for some emphasis on civic education in elementary school and an entire year in high school, capped by a standardized test. It’s never easy to squeeze in courses or additional time on any subject, but I’m not calling for a major rewriting of school curriculum.

In your article you cite E.D. Hirsch’s book Knowledge Matters. Hirsch argues that “schools have mistakenly moved toward teaching reading by means of skills such as identifying the main idea or making inferences.” Why is this a mistake?

Davenport: I reference Knowledge Matters in my paper, along with The Knowledge Gap, by Natalie Wexler. In their view, the crisis in education is not limited to civics. Again, the high-stakes testing culture in our schools puts a premium on students’ ability to be able to pick out topic sentences and make inferences. Learning has become less about the content of history and literature.

I think it was Hirsch who said, you can make inferences just as well from reading “Tyler Makes Pancakes” as from a biography about Abraham Lincoln.

We have dumbed down the knowledge part of the curriculum in order to cater to students’ interests, and then we’ve made the objective to learn about broad skills like reading. You could learn those same skills reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and, frankly, that’s what we used to do when I was in school. The development of reading and critical thinking skills was an incidental part of reading that sort of literature. We also need to teach civic knowledge so that people become responsible citizens. 

What are the consequences of the decline in civic education?

Davenport: The year 2020 has created a real stress test for American democracy, and we’re realizing that if we’re going to have a strong, resilient democracy, people need to better understand how our system of government works. They have to understand the roles of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the presidency. They have to understand that in a democracy there needs to be a fundamental right to free speech and an ability to argue issues openly without jumping to conclusions or canceling them from the conversation.

I think in all sorts of ways our democracy is hitting a point where the lack of civic education is beginning to be a serious problem. The good news is that we are actually in the midst of an awakening. I have seen recently in both liberal and conservative circles a call for increased teaching about the US Constitution and preparing people to be better citizens. That is maybe one silver lining out of the dark cloud of 2020.

You write that the decline in civic education has contributed to a deficit in America’s trust towards government and that this “mistrust seems highest when young people fail to understand government systems and come to view them as just politics.” Conversely, could it be said that education leads to less apathy and fosters more skepticism from the general public about the behavior and decisions of our leaders and processes?

Davenport: The theory that I came across in my research was, if a person understood how government is supposed to work and could see how far we are from that ideal, it may actually reduce his or her trust in government. However, the predominant view is, as I quote one expert in my paper, “How can you trust what you don’t understand?”

Students are quick to write things off these days as, “Well, that’s just politics.” Politics is actually the framework in which a lot of the arguments about American values and the direction of the country takes place. It is also where decisions about government are made. We must strengthen that arena and learn how to responsibly and coherently apply our fundamental rights to free speech. We also have to call on leaders in our three branches of government to fulfill their duties under the US Constitution, not to govern as they wish.

How should civic education be shaped to strengthen democracy?

Hatch: The primary purpose of civic education is to form responsible democratic citizens capable of stewarding the American experiment and handing it off to the next generation. But today’s youth won’t appreciate our democracy—or even see that it’s worth preserving—if they don’t respect our history.

That’s why the proper teaching of history is essential to civic education. I touched on this subject earlier, but it’s worth re-emphasizing: we need to reject reductionist versions of history that focus myopically on America’s sins instead of her virtues. It’s important for students to see both. But it’s just as important for students to grasp how exceptional our experiment in self-government is. Set against the backdrop of human history, this country is a miraculous anomaly. By appreciating America’s strengths and its remarkable history, students will better understand how to take care of our democracy, and ultimately, how to pass it on better than they found it.

You argue that the growing interest in socialism, especially among young people, is a current and classic case of civic ignorance. What evidence points to this argument?

Davenport: The day this really hit me was when I read a survey by Reason magazine a few years ago. It showed an astonishing number of young people who were expressing interest in and openness to socialism. However, when I read through the full set of questions, their views about socialism varied.  One question asked, “Would you rather companies’ behavior be regulated by the government or by the market?” Overwhelmingly, these young people did not want the government to be running companies that offer products and services they use and enjoy. Therein lies the contradiction: “We want a free market to be governing the business environment but we also want socialism.”

This caused me to think, when these young people say they want socialism, do they even have a proper understanding of what socialism means? I know the definition has broadened some, but what you discover is that what young people are more interested in is free stuff from the government. They want the government to provide a free education, forgiveness of student loans, and help in finding jobs. I note in the paper that in 2016 the prime minister of Denmark responded to claims by young people in America that his country was socialist.  He said, “Wait, we’re not a socialist country. We’re a market economy but with a high welfare component.” You can’t blame these young people entirely, because this obvious error is indicative of the failure of our educational system.

What role do you think government should play in strengthening civic education?

Davenport: Education is still primarily a state and local matter. That’s eroded some in recent years, especially with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, although we’ve not renewed that law and have moved back toward a greater emphasis on state and local government oversight of education. To me the real action needs to be at the state, local, and even school levels. That doesn’t mean the federal government doesn’t have a role to play. Ten years ago, the federal government was appropriating $150 million into civic education. Now it’s closer to $5 million. I call for an increase in that spending and especially for grants to states and for teacher training.

The federal government also is in charge of testing. The federal testing regime currently tests in reading, math, and science. However, it only tests civics in the eighth grade. This is a statement at the federal level about what’s important and what’s not important. Regular testing needs to be extended in civic education. We need leaders in Washington to say to the country on a bipartisan basis: “Look, this civic education business is really important, and we want to increase its testing and funding.”

Hatch: The Hatch Center’s report offers Congress a policy blueprint for fixing civic education. It starts with increasing federal funding for civics by 100-fold. This includes a commitment of more than $500 million to improve teacher development in civic education, coupled with grants of $1 million a year or more from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Congress can also improve the quality of civic education by mandating testing in US history and government for grades 4, 8, and 12, and requiring states to report these results nationally. But at a certain level, Congress can only do so much; it’s up to the states to be wise stewards of federal resources and to use them to improve teaching and testing across all grade levels.

You write that there needs to be a “layer cake” approach to curriculum changes in civic education. What do you mean by that?

Davenport: I think that one of the things that I experienced in my education was building knowledge and skill competencies in different fields while graduating in successive grades.

Students will learn about some components of American history in the first grade, but that will prepare them to learn more by the fifth grade. In the paper, I refer to it as building a layer cake, where every year educators provide students with some additional knowledge that is age appropriate, so that by the time students get to the one civics course presently required in high school, there is a solid foundation from which they can build. If students do not learn anything about civics until high school, they will be set up for failure. They won’t be able to understand political language, civics issues, and the role and structure of government.

Can you talk about how teachers can be better trained on subject matter?

Davenport: Training for civics teachers should be the same as for people in any profession. Training should take place at the university level when they pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Secondly there’s on-the-job training, what is often referred to as teacher development.

Teachers are frequently just a few pages ahead of the students in the textbook and trying to keep up. In such circumstances, it is difficult to engage or inspire enthusiasm in students.

I think we need stronger state requirements in terms of teacher certification in civics. Second, I believe the more immediate need, and one that’s more easily fulfilled, is training teachers once they are in the classroom. My favorite method of training is working with teachers on how to engage students in primary documents. I think that’s one of the really powerful tools for teaching history and civics. Again, that should be done in teacher development once they’re already in the classroom.

Why do you feel the use of primary documents is important in supplementing civic education?

Davenport: One of our problems as a society but certainly also in civic education is that we are studying history wearing 21st-century glasses. In other words, rather than reading about the debates over the Constitution, slavery, or other big issues in American history, we instead look at them through modern lenses. We criticize decisions of our past leaders and we judge them based on our standards and understandings of today. That’s not really studying history. That’s basically just politicizing and taking a very shallow view of history. Studying primary documents allows students to leave their 21st-century glasses behind, fly back into history, and immerse themselves in the debates, writings, and speeches of the day.

I believe this method of teaching creates a lot more enthusiasm in students. For example, once they understand the Great Depression and the issues that Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were debating, they’ll have a much better understanding of economic issues today.

You discuss action civics, the notion of getting students out of the classroom to work on community service projects as a means of applied learning. You argue that this teaching method doesn’t adequately prepare students with a historical framework for understanding present-day issues. How should civics curriculums be designed to help students apply knowledge to real life circumstances?

Davenport: I am not opposed to the concept of action civics. I’m only opposed if it becomes either a substitute for civic knowledge or if educators try to put it ahead of developing civic knowledge. I actually think that getting out, visiting your state capitol, and understanding how bills work is a valuable part of civics education. A lot of people are debating this topic as if it is an either-or problem. We need both civic knowledge and civic engagement for young people, but students need the knowledge first so that the engagement is meaningful.

To read at the Hoover.org website:


Politics Needs Less of the “Just Win, Baby” Mentality (Washington Examiner) November 10, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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Naturally, we seek balance in our personal lives. We realize our checkbooks must balance (eventually). We seek to figure out some kind of work-life balance.

We have completely lost that sense in the nation’s political life. America is dizzy and out of balance. Instead of compromise, which used to be the political tool of choice, politicians of both sides now seek only to win. We no longer put difficult questions on the table in Congress for debate, compromise, and amendment, but instead we legislate by party-line votes.

Obamacare was passed on a party-line vote of only Democrats. Tax reform in 2017 was enacted by a party-line vote of Republicans. Supreme Court justices are increasingly supported only by the votes of whatever party is in power.

Politicians no longer seek the will of the people or even the best policy solutions. Now, the guiding principle is like that of former Raiders owner Al Davis: “Just win, baby.”

The tools of winning in government are executive orders, where the president does not even consult Congress; party-line votes, where one party does not consult the other; and win-at-all-costs court decisions, where no one is consulted except a few lawyers in black robes.

We will see more of this in the first week of the Joe Biden presidency, since he has already promised a flurry of executive orders to cancel Trump’s policies on immigration, climate change, and civil rights. In a revolving door of executive orders, President Obama became frustrated with gridlock in Congress and issued an average of 35 orders per year, which Trump then undid. Trump has issued an average of more than 48 orders per year as of this writing. No wonder we are dizzy.

Yes, the president and the courts are deciding too many important policy issues unilaterally, but much of that is because Congress has given up legislating. We probably have to go back some 20 years to the No Child Left Behind education law to find major bipartisan legislation involving both the president and Congress. If Biden really wants to restore some balance, he ought to present big issues to Congress, not just issue executive orders. Of course, that also requires Congress to consider them seriously, not just refuse to debate, amend, and compromise.

Not only do we need greater balance among our institutions but on the issues as well. Let’s take the coronavirus, for example. On one hand, some say it is overwhelmingly a health crisis and that we should follow the mandates of science. Others say, no, it is really a crisis of freedom and economic survival, which science does not take into account.

What we really need is to balance this issue, seeking constantly to find the optimal combination of science on one hand and economics and freedom on the other. Great leaders find that managing dilemmas is the most important work they do because both horns of a dilemma possess some truth that must be acknowledged. Wouldn’t we love to see a president who does not just turn things over to scientists or economists but who steps up and seeks to manage this crisis with due attention to each?

Democracy is a series of processes: voting, legislating, debating, compromising, checking, and balancing. It is not just a series of wins sought and gained at all costs. If we do not learn to pay attention to how we manage the republic, as well as what outcomes we want, the democracy will pay — indeed already is paying — a huge price.

Among other things, 2020 has been a huge stress test for our democracy. It has passed but barely. We must seek greater balance in our body politic if we are to build the resilience the republic needs to survive and ultimately thrive. We need some leaders who are willing to take the high road and not settle for the low road of “just win, baby.”

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


The Civics Education Crisis Can Be Fixed Without Congressional Gridlock (Washington Examiner) October 28, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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In a heated presidential campaign year, two dates in history have illustrated our deep national divide. The New York Times spoke for liberal America when it declared last year that the real founding of the country was in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived on its shores. In short, the 1619 Project argued that what was distinctive and problematic about America was its economic system of capitalism and the original sin of slavery that established it.

President Trump responded for many conservatives last month when he proposed the creation of a 1776 commission, underscoring that the real founding of the country came with the Declaration of Independence and, a decade later, the Constitution. What makes America distinctive, in this view, is political freedom guaranteed by a unique constitutional system.

While this is an important debate, two other numbers speak more clearly and less divisively about today’s most serious problem with U.S. history: Twenty-four and 15. Those are the percentages of eighth graders who scored “proficient” or better in government/civics (24%) and U.S. history (15%) in National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores announced earlier this year. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rightly called these scores “stark and inexcusable.”

Sam Cooke’s 1960 song lyric is now literally true of America’s children: “Don’t know much about history.” We fail to appreciate the profound effect civic ignorance has on the body politic. Only about 60% bother to vote, described by Founding Father Thomas Paine as “the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Only 55% voted in 2016, even fewer (40%-50%) when there is no race for the presidency. Data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that U.S. voting rates are only rated 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic states. Young people’s trust in government has plummeted, with only 27% expressing trust in elected officials. Indeed, only 17% trust the government “to do what is right most of the time.” As one expert said, “How can you trust what you do not understand?”

At other times in our recent history, failures in our educational system led to alarm and action. The Soviets’ launch of Sputnik, the first satellite in space, in 1957, led to calls for improvement in science and technology education. A discouraging national report on the state of education generally, “A Nation at Risk,” launched a series of reading and math initiatives in the 1980s and beyond. Despite failing test scores and reduced curriculum offerings in civics education, however, little or nothing has been done.

In a recent article published by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, I have proposed a series of steps to reverse our civics decline. Happily, we do not have to wait for the gridlock and hyperpartisanship in Washington to go away in order to fix this because there are many important goals to be addressed at other levels, especially in the states and schools.

The main point is that we need to make civic education a national priority with extra emphasis everywhere. The federal government needs to restore and increase funding for civics that it practically eliminated in 2010. In fact, by one estimate, the federal government now spends $54 per schoolchild on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and a meager 5 cents per student on civics.

States that required multiple courses in civics and government in the 1960s in most cases now mandate only a single semester in civics education, with almost no attention to it in elementary and middle school. Studies show that teachers are often ill-prepared themselves to teach civics education. Is it any wonder that students in Rhode Island have sued their state for poor civics education?

Civics have taken a back seat in our schools to reading, math, and especially STEM. But can saving our democracy be any less important than getting good jobs in technology? That is what is at stake if we do not make a national commitment to strengthening civics education.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


California Prop. 18–Should Seventeen Year Olds Be Allowed To Vote? (Eureka) October 27, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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California’s Proposition 18 on this year’s ballot is like those television commercials that may be clever but where, in the end, you fail to see the point or even remember the product being advertised. It would amend the California constitution to allow seventeen-year-olds who would turn eighteen by the time of the next general election to vote in primaries or special elections.

The key question is: Why?

The last time we changed the voting age nationally came with the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution back in 1971. With the Vietnam War in full swing, the case was that it was unfair to send eighteen-year-olds into the military to die in war and not give them a say in choosing their leaders. It passed unanimously in the US Senate, along with an overwhelming majority in the House, and was ratified by the states in record time (just one hundred days). It was obviously an idea whose time had come.

It is difficult to find a similarly compelling case for allowing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote, as some have proposed. The movement to change the voting age again gained traction when students protested campus shootings in 2018. The discovery of political interest and energy in high schools triggered a national movement to lower the voting age around the country.

States and Cities, Not National

Passing a constitutional amendment requires clearing a high bar: a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify. In these days of hyperpartisanship, that bar seems nearly impossible to reach, so proponents of lowering the voting age have instead focused their attention on state and municipal action. Under Article I, Section 4 of the US Constitution, we have fifty-one separate state elections (including the District of Columbia), with each state setting its own standards and local governments generally running their own elections. It is a slow process—but short of an unlikely constitutional amendment or judicial mandate, separate initiatives in states and municipalities are the only way to lower the voting age.

A small handful of municipalities have taken the lead in allowing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote in their local elections. Four cities in Maryland allow sixteen-year-olds to vote in local elections and Berkeley, California, permits sixteen-year-olds to vote in school board elections only. Of course, local issues are not usually of greatest interest to voters, so the stakes and results in these early experiments are low. One study in Maryland shows some higher percentages of turnout among younger cohorts but still very little effect overall. San Francisco has the matter on its 2020 election ballot, potentially making it the first major city to move to a lower voting age requirement. (Proposition F, if approved, would amend the San Francisco city charter to grant sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who are US citizens and residents of San Francisco the right to vote in municipal and school board elections.)

Although there are campaigns to lower the voting age at the state level, states have largely taken smaller, incremental steps. Several states—at the moment, eighteen—have allowed seventeen-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn eighteen by the time of the general election. On the more aggressive side, legislation has been introduced in a few states to allow all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to vote, but no such measure has yet been adopted. A less aggressive alternative, in place in a number of states, would allow high school students to begin a voter preregistration process as part of their civics education, but it would not become effective until they turn eighteen.

California’s Proposal for Seventeen-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary Elections

California’s Proposition 18, then, would allow seventeen-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they would turn eighteen by the time of the general election. Although this may seem like a modest proposal, a recent study from the respected Public Policy Institute of California shows that it could have significant political effects.

According to the PPIC study, some two hundred thousand potential voters could have become eligible if such a policy had been in place in the elections of 2016 and 2018. Even though younger voters do not historically turn out to vote in large numbers, primary elections often turn on relatively small margins, the study points out. Consequently, PPIC estimates that a total of thirty-three races may have been affected by such an amendment. That’s a change worthy of further study.

The case for making this change is that voters in the general election (having turned eighteen) should have an opportunity to help shape the choices in the primary elections. Further, as proponents announce in the ballot argument in favor of the proposition, California is “behind the curve,” with so many other states allowing this. In the end, the case for all the youth-voting proposals is that we want to boost youth participation in our democracy.

Younger cohorts (age eighteen to twenty-nine) are notoriously bad about turning out to vote, so it’s difficult to see how adding one more even younger tranche of voters helps the turnout problem. The argument proponents have made elsewhere is that one problem with youths voting is that they may be in college or starting a new job, moving around with no fixed residence. Starting the voting habit while still living at home will help, they say.

Against this unproven case for turnout is an array of questions about whether seventeen-year-olds are really good candidates to vote. The fact of the matter is that many important privileges in our society have moved toward increasing the age of responsibility, not diminishing it, in part because we are learning that the brain is continuing to develop important reasoning functions in the late teens and even twenties. The drinking age has gone up nearly everywhere, along with the age for driving without some kind of supervision and accompaniment. Serving in the military (without parental consent) or on a jury is limited to those eighteen and older, as is obtaining a credit card on your own. It is difficult to see why voting should be taken less seriously than those responsibilities.

Further, the current state of civics education in the schools suggests that voting at sixteen and seventeen is too early. With civics education all but gone from elementary and middle school curriculum, about all that is left is a single one-semester course in high school. Shouldn’t students at least take and digest that course before being turned loose to join the electorate? Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores show that only 24 percent of American eighth grade students (the only grade tested) are “proficient” or above in US history and a pitiful 15 percent in government and civics. High school should be a time for learning the responsibilities of citizenship and voting, not being thrown into the fray. We ought not to put the cart of civic engagement before the horse of civics education.

Finally, as opponents of the measure note on the ballot argument, is it really proper for young people, who pay little or no taxes, to be voting on bond and taxation measures that overwhelmingly apply to others?

Again, civic opportunities should be tied to responsibilities in a way that just does not happen at age sixteen or seventeen. Beyond that, this measure, like others of its kind, carries political consequences as well. With young people generally more liberal in their outlook, Democrats are enthused about such measures, but not Republicans. Indeed, one could make a case that this is one more election “reform” that is designed, as such reforms often are, to deliver political outcomes.

Unlike the case for eighteen-year-olds to vote in an earlier day, the case to go even lower to sixteen or seventeen is much weaker. A far better approach, if we want to increase voting interest among the young, is to allow them to begin the voter registration process in school, but not have it take effect until they turn eighteen. That would address the only part of the case that makes any sense without altering longstanding and proper connections between age and civic responsibility.

To view the article at Eureka: