Many students see citizenship as ‘stupid’

It’s not just that many U.S. students don’t know civics or U.S. history, writes Stanford Education Professor William Damon. Increasingly, they don’t care about citizenship.

“Being American is not really special,” said one high school student in a survey.  Another replied that citizenship is “stupid to me,” saying,  “I don’t want to belong to any country. It just feels like you are obligated to this country.”

Many influential educators believe “global citizenship” is the proper aim of civics instruction, not allegiance to the U.S., Damon writes.

As global citizens, it is argued, our primary identification should be with the humanity of the world, and our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice.

Devotion to one’s own nation state, commonly referred to as patriotism, is suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country right or wrong” perspective.

Schools with large immigrant populations neglect teaching students about “American identity and the American tradition,” he writes.

Educational critic Diane Ravitch observed this phenomenon when visiting a New York City school whose principal proudly spoke of the school’s efforts to celebrate the cultures of all the immigrant students. Ravitch writes, “I asked him whether the school did anything to encourage students to appreciate American culture, and he admitted with embarrassment that it did not.”

These and other American students are being urged to identify with, on the one hand, customs from the native lands they have departed and, on the other hand, with the abstract ideals of an amorphous global culture. Lost in between these romantic affiliations is an identification with the nation where these students actually will practice citizenship.

Adding to the dysfunction of this educational choice, as Ravitch writes, is the absurdity of teaching “a student whose family fled to this country from a tyrannical regime or from dire poverty to identify with that nation rather than with the one that gave the family refuge.”

Damon suggests civics instructors teach students to take pride in their country’s best traditions. In our recent history, students could learn about “the civil rights movement that extended rights to millions of citizens,” the victories over totalitarianism that “extended new freedoms to millions of subjugated people in Europe and Asia” and “the building of a middle class that offered economic freedom” to citizens and immigrants alike.

Damon is the author of Failing Liberty 101.

38% flunk citizenship questions

When the Daily Beast asked 1,000 Americans to answer questions from the U.S. citizenship exam, 38 percent failed to answer six out of 10 correctly, reports Newsweek.

According to the Beast, only 27 percent of Americans knew we fought the Cold War to turn back communism. Only 19 percent can name one power of the federal government. Only one third could name the economic system of the U.S., though it’s likely the test rejected “screwed up” as an answer.

‘How I passed my U.S. citizenship test’

Dafna Linzer passed her U.S. citizenship test, but some of the official right answers were wrong, she writes on ProPublica.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president’s Cabinet. Among the correct answers is “Vice President.” The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he’s not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments [4], such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

Question 12 asks: What is the “rule of law”?

There are four acceptable answers: “Everyone must follow the law”; “Leaders must obey the law”; “Government must obey the law”; “No one is above the law.”

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services introduced a new test, which covers history and civics, in 2008. Applicants must answer correctly six of 10 randomly selected questions (from a list of 100). They also must pass a simple reading and writing test to show English proficiency.

Question 55 “tugged at my heart,” Linzer writes: What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy? Among the correct answers: “write to a newspaper.”

At my interview, I was asked questions on presidential succession, the Cabinet, Senate terms, and the Supreme Court. I was asked to name a branch of government. (I went with the executive.)

I was asked Question 8: What did the Declaration of Independence do?

Heeding my lawyer’s advice, I went with the official answer: “declared our independence.”

A native Canadian, she read aloud: “Columbus Day is in October.” The same sentence comprised the writing test. She passed.

She affirmed that she is not a Communist, a terrorist or a member of a totalitarian party.

Although I was born in 1970, I was asked: Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did I work for or associate in any way with the Nazi government of Germany? Had I worked at a concentration camp?

She passed that one too.

On Friday, Jan. 28, accompanied by my family, I was among 160 citizens-in-waiting who filed into a 3rd floor auditorium in lower Manhattan to be sworn in as Americans. On our seats were an American flag, a copy of the Constitution, a booklet featuring the stories of prominent naturalized Americans, and a welcome letter from President Obama.

Reading the letter, I began to cry. I had spent more than one-quarter of my life hoping to become American, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the honor and the significance of the moment. The place I have called home for 12 years was finally claiming me as well.

I looked around the room and saw other fortunate souls with long journeys now behind them, quietly weeping with joy.

Great Aunt Lillian, also born in Canada, came to the U.S. as a young girl.  She delayed applying for U.S. citizenship because the courthouse in Winkler, Manitoba had burned down, destroying all the birth records. After 50 or so years in the U.S., Lillian wrote to Winkler, sorted out the missing birth certificate and applied for citizenship.  The examiner asked one question: “When was the Louisiana Purchase?”

“Oh, that was a long time ago,” Lillian said.

“That’s right!” said the examiner.

And so Great Aunt Lillian became an American.

Court upholds California’s DREAM Act

California charges in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who completed at least three years in a California high school. Monday the California Supreme Court rejected a challenge to AB540, known as the state DREAM Act, which benefits an estimated 25,000 California students. Among them is Pedro Ramirez, student body president at Fresno State, reports The Fresno State Collegian.

Ramirez came to California at the age of three with his parents. A high school valedictorian, he tried to join the military but discovered he was undocumented. As an AB 540 student, Ramirez is ineligible for federal and state aid. He turned down pay for the student government job because he’s not allowed to work in the U.S. Ramirez is majoring in agricultural economics and political science. His future is uncertain.

“I’m going to graduate soon,” he said. “What am I going to use my degree for? And in the next few weeks they will be voting on the only hope that I have.”

The lame-duck Congress will debate the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which is unlikely to pass.  The law would create a path to citizenship for undocumented students who graduate from high school and qualify for military service or college.

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.

Bricks, clicks and civics

In a post on “hybrid schools” that combine “bricks and clicks,” Larry Cuban warns that efficiency isn’t the only goal: Schools are not “information factories.”

In some ways, the new hybrid schools are fulfilling progressive educators’ dream of student-centered learning, he writes. Digital lessons are “hand-crafted to fit students for part of or most of the day,” while teachers coach students on what they’ve learned or teach a few traditional lessons. There are fewer teachers and therefore lower costs.

But techno-enthusiasts’ view of public schools is too narrow, Cuban argues.

They equate access to information with becoming educated – more of one leads to more of the other.  These very smart people ignore other crucial and purposes public schools have served historically in a democracy. . . What can be as important as students acquiring information? Try socializing the young, developing engaged citizens, moral development, and, yes, even custodial care of the young.

Schools have never been solely information factories; they have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose job is to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and  live full and worthwhile lives.

That criticism may apply to click-only education. While home-schooled children often participate in youth soccer, Little League, the church choir, art classes and other group activities, some parents may let their children grow up as loners.

However, it’s not likely that bricks-and-clicks students will go to the same building to learn but never socialize. Do students need to be grouped into classes to learn to be good citizens? Are they more likely to be independent thinkers if they’re taught in a group? What do traditional schools do to develop morals that a brick-and-click schools couldn’t or wouldn’t do?

San Jose’s Rocketship schools, charters with a hybrid model, are rated #5 and #15 in the state among schools with 70 percent or more low-income students. Students, predominantly from Mexican immigrant families, significantly exceed state performance goals. These children will be just as able to “live full and worthwhile lives” as traditionally educated children with weaker reading, writing and math skills.

The know-nothing party

To become a citizen, immigrants must answer six of 10 basic civics questions, such as: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? Who was the first president of the United States?  When the Goldwater Institute asked Arizona public high school students 10 random questions from the citizenship list, only 3.5 percent got six or more questions right, writes Matthew Ladner in a preview on Jay Greene’s blog. Half the students got only one question right.

Fifty-eight percent knew the Atlantic Ocean is off the east coast and half identified the two major political parties. However, only 29.5 percent identified the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, 25 percent identified the Bill of Rights as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and 23 percent knew Congress was made up of the House and Senate. Only 9.4 percent said the Supreme Court has nine justices.  Thomas Jefferson was named as the writer of the Declaration of Independence by a quarter of students; 14.5 percent answered that Senators are elected for six-year terms and 26 percent knew the president runs the executive branch.
Finally, only 26.5% of students correctly identified George Washington was the first President. Other guesses included John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama.

Seniors did no better than freshmen. Ethnicity made little difference.

Profound ignorance is quite equally distributed in large measure across students in the public school system.

Arizona eighth graders are supposed to be taught everything needed to ace the civics test, Ladner writes. Charter students passed at twice the rate of students in district schools; private school students were four times more likely to pass. “Still pathetic,” he writes.

Here’s part one of Freedom From Responsibility.