Students aren’t citizenship-ready

Preparation for active citizenship — an understanding of the nation’s founding principles and documents, the structure of government, and the ability to analyze and think critically about politics and power — isn’t on the education agenda, complains Diana Jean Schemo on Remapping Debate. Education advocates want students to be “college- and career-ready,” but not necessarily “citizenship-ready.”

Broadly speaking, preparation for active citizenship really connotes two related areas: civics and citizenship education. Civics, said Mary McFarland, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies . . . teaches (students) about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Federalist papers, among other key documents. Civics explores the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and the role of a free press. It explains the tension between state and federal law, the role of judicial precedent and what kinds of issues might turn up at the ballot box.

. . . (Citizen education teaches students)  to distinguish between fact and opinion and between fact and fictions masquerading as facts. Citizen education teaches students to evaluate the strength of arguments on a given issue, to separate reason from emotion, and to challenge assumptions.

But civics remains a stepchild, Schemo writes. In the U.S. Department of Education,  “civics falls not under the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, but under the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.” It’s seen as a way to “build character” and improve the school climate, not as training for citizens of a democracy.

Citizen education went awry in Cincinnati when Hughes High School students of voting age were bused to a polling place and handed Democratic sample ballots only.

Mark Stepaniak, an attorney representing CPS, admits students were taken on school time in donated church vans to vote last week and were given sample ballots listing only Democrat candidates. But the ballots weren’t handed out by a school employee. They were handed out, Stepaniak said, by Gwen Robinson, a former CPS principal.

A Republican candidate and an anti-tax coalition filed suit but appear ready to settle for an agreement to ban electioneering at school-related events.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    In Michigan, HS graduation requires a semester of American Government. Unfortunately, the school can’t afford to not graduate the kids who slack their way through the semester, so it has to be dumbed down, as is the fate of all requirements.
    The problem with teaching a government class is that you can teach what we used to call the “wire diagrams”, with boxes of agencies and legislatures and judicial benches and lines connecting them without actually readying the kids for citizenship.
    To teach citizenship, you need to teach the history of political issues and human behavior. For example, if somebody is taxed at 90% marginal rate, is he likely to work as hard in December as he did in March? How much money do the “rich” actually have?
    What is the history of command economies?
    As one economist said, “to spend is to tax”. Is that taught?
    What would happen to an Am Gov teacher who had a sign in his classroom, “The only money the government has is the money it takes from you?” Right. He’d be fired.
    “You’re selling your votes and being paid WITH YOUR OWN MONEY, chumps!” Mm. Probably not.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Most students aren’t prepared for active citizenship?

    Quel surprise. Most adults aren’t ready for active citizenship. And that’s just the way people like it.

    Most people don’t really want to live in a world where everyone is educated to be an active citizen: the redistributionist, authoritarian, rent-seeking, oblivious-to-jurisdiction government and its associated sectors would collapse overnight were that ever to be achieved.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Sort of what I was getting at.
    Problem is, even educating youngsters isn’t going to change the idea that wishing will make it so, that intentions matter and pointing to results is mean, that resources are infiinite and pointing out that they aren’t is mean, that demonizing various groups for political purposes is perfectly okay, and…so on.
    These attitudes are inculcated outside of school as well. Hard to expect an AmGov class to change them. In fact, even the attempt would be…mean.

  4. You’re both exactly right. But it is sad to hear how lacking (and often, *completely* lacking) most Americans of all ages are in their knowledge of Geography, U.S. History, World History, U.S. Government, and basic Economics. Have you seen those National Geographic and National Constitution Center polls…? Pathetic.

    But then again, I guess that’s always been the way the world is… back in Ancient Egypt it was true, today it’s true, and I’m sure that it’ll be true when we have Federation starships exploring our Galaxy. In any Human society, 80% of the population just won’t know what’s going on, won’t want to know, and won’t care, and the other 20% will know what’s going on and run the world (and provide the ‘bread and circuises’ to keep the other 80% fat and happy).