It’s time to teach civics

It’s now or never for civic education, argues Robert Pondiscio, who’s taught civics at a Democracy Prep high school in New York City.

In an informal study of the mission statements of the 100 largest U.S. school systems, he found 60 percent didn’t mention civics or citizenship. Not one used the word “America,” “American,” “patriotic” or “patriotism.” Twenty-eight districts used “global” in phrases such as “global society,” “global economy” or “global citizens.”

Image result for letter from a birmingham jail

College Board’s redesigned framework for Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics requires students to read “19 Supreme Court cases and nine foundational documents, from Federalist No. 10 to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Pondiscio writes. That requires a high level of literacy.

Serious civic education also requires teachers who can teach well and fairly, he writes. “Fears of teacher bias are not misplaced and surely make district officials gun-shy about any political course content, but that squeamishness is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

Teachers are promoting anti-Trump hysteria, charges Larry Sand on Union Watch.  United Educators of San Francisco issued a “Lesson Plan on the 2016 Election” as a guide for teachers. It includes:

DO NOT: Tell them that we have LOST and that we have to accept this.  We do not have to accept ANYTHING except that we must and will fight for justice against an unjust system and against unjust people.

If Clinton was your choice, “you did lose and you do have to accept it,” Sand points out.

So, who’s going to teach civics and government?

Playing ‘President’

Kids have been playing a civics video game called Win the White House, reports Shumita Basu for WYNC. The free, online game was developed by iCivics, which was founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The game, which lets students run their own presidential campaign, was played 2.2 million times in the month of October alone.

What’s next from iCivics? Executive Command lets kids (and perhaps some adults) simulate what to do with the presidency once it’s won.

Teaching anti-Trump hysteria

Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

The election of Donald Trump should be used to teach civics and history — not scare students or “suggest that only a Democratic victory would have aligned with the nation’s values,” write Rick Hess and Checker Finn in U.S. News. Teachers should keep their bias out of the classroom.

They’re not Trump fans, but they think it’s foolish to see the election only “through the prism of racism and xenophobia.”

If Hillary Clinton had won, some students would have felt “unsafe” on campus, write Hess and Finn. Their list includes:

  • Evangelicals and Catholics whose religious schools and colleges are threatened by federal authorities for non-compliance with directives related to gender and sexual identity.
  • College students muzzled by progressive speech codes or sanctioned by “bias response teams” for posting Trump signs or celebrating America as a “melting pot,” and well aware that a Clinton administration would embrace such restrictions.
  • College students fearful of being falsely convicted by kangaroo campus courts and publicly pilloried or expelled under the Obama administration’s Star Chamber approach to sexual harassment, which has compelled universities to abandon the basic tenets of due process.

If Clinton had won, would educators have canceled classes to comfort Trump supporters? Would anti-Clinton students carrying “not my president” signs be consoled — or mocked as sore losers?

Hess and Finn conclude: “For those who supported Donald Trump because they think the nation’s elites hold them in contempt and have declared war on their values, we fear that the nation’s educators have done little this past week to disprove the point.”


Oh, in a column on how universities are “othering” Trump supporters, Glenn Reynolds links to a great rant by “Jonathan Pie” on how to persuade people to change their minds. Calling them racists isn’t the most effective strategy.

‘Ignorant armies clash’

Image result for republic if you can keep it
Progressive education bears some of the blame for the rise of Donald Trump, argues Sol Stern in the Daily Beast.

He starts by quoting the conclusion of Dover Beach, an 1861 poem by Matthew Arnold, who was Britain’s chief school inspector, as well as a poet and cultural critic.

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Arnold “scorned the individualistic, child centered, and haphazard pedagogy prevalent in British schools at the time,” writes Stern.  He “proposed that government schools be required to teach a core curriculum of liberal, humanistic studies similar to the French schools he had come to admire.”

The primary aim of education in an industrial democracy, Arnold believed, was to introduce all children—rich and poor alike —to the achievements of western civilization and culture, which he famously defined as “the best which has been said and thought.”

A half century ago, U.S. “progressives” began “stripping away any semblance of a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum,” writes Stern. That has disrupted “the transmission of civic values and traditions from one generation to the next.”

“History” classes focus on “hot-topic social issues” rather than reading historical texts or remembering historical dates, figures or events, writes Esther Cepeda, a teacher and parent.

. . . most students on the last NAEP civics test could not correctly answer questions about checks and balances or understand the policy implications of a trend using a graph. And they’re supposed to someday understand the implications of our current reality-TV presidential election?

“There’s a lot of overtly anti-American ‘American History’ instruction going on in public schools,” she concludes.

E pluribus oops

It’s time to restore the “civic mission” of schools, writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio. Reclaiming the “melting pot” metaphor is a first step, he argues. To truly “welcome and celebrate diversity,” we’ll need to  focus children “on what makes us one country and one people.”


He cites social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of the clash between “nationalists” and “globalists.”

“Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue,” Haidt writes. “They think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving.” Globalists see all that as “mere racism.”

He cites Karen Stenner, an Australian political scientist who sees intolerance as a response to “the perception that ‘we’ are coming apart.” Celebrating “our sameness” the best way to build tolerance of differences, she argues.

 “Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions (for authoritarianism) than the likes of ‘multicultural education,’ bilingual policies, and non-assimilation.”

That brings Pondiscio to the schools, which used to tell American children about the melting pot,  E pluribus unum and “Bring me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

“Gradually, the term fell into disrepute, giving way to metaphors of quilts, mosaics, and kaleidoscopes,” he writes. (“Melting pot” is now considered a microaggression on some campuses.)

Pondiscio dreams of a “civic education renaissance” that would “cultivate in our children a sense of attachment to the nation and its civic ideals.”

In Germany, officials are calling for mandatory classes on Islam in schools in response to an axe attack on train passengers by a 17-year-old Afghan refugee/ISIS “soldier.”

Via The Impotents.

What every American should know

As part of Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program, you can list the top 10 things that every American should know.

Eric Liu kicked this off last year with an Atlantic piece on cultural literacy for a diverse America. “It’s not enough for the United States to be a neutral zone where a million little niches of identity might flourish,” he wrote. “In order to make our diversity a true asset, Americans need those niches to be able to share a vocabulary.”

Norman Rockwell's America

Norman Rockwell’s America

His list: Whiteness, the Federalist Papers, the Almighty Dollar, Organized labor, Reconstruction, Nativism, the American Dream, the Reagan Revolution, DARPA, A sucker born every minute.

Robert Pondiscio starts his top 10 list with “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

He adds: “To form a more perfect Union,” E Pluribus Unum, “a government of laws and not of men,” “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” “Self-Reliance,” “The chief business of the American people is business,” American exceptionalism,  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and Franklin’s “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Blame Woodrow Wilson for social studies

Woodrow Wilson, now reviled as a racist, bears an even heavier burden of shame, writes Bill Evers in National Review. He’s responsible for replacing history, geography and civics with “the abomination we call social studies.”

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

The Wilson administration’s U.S. Bureau of Education puts its clout behind a 1916 federal report on social studies, issuing the report as a bulletin and promoting textbooks using the new approach.

“Social studies” should not focus on chronology or the workings of government, the report said. Instead, teachers should focus on “concrete problems” that are “of vital importance to society.”

That sounds familiar.

History should be studied if it’s “practical or functional,” social studies enthusiasts believed. “Ancient Athens was studied not as part of the political and intellectual development of Western civilization, but rather in connection with the contemporary problems of city planning,” writes Evers.

The “key note of modern education” is “social efficiency,” the report concluded. Social studies was to train students to “take a job based on the service the job ‘rendered’ to ‘the community’,” rather than personal preferences.

Instead of recommending that students study the social sciences in order to form an independent mind knowledgeable about the past, the 1916 social-studies report effectively encouraged students to conform and adjust to prevailing views. Ever since this paradigm change, social studies has been bedeviled by fads, fashions, and indoctrination in the name of relevance.

Many Americans “don’t know what happened or when” in history, Evers concludes. They don’t understand “federalism or our system of checks and balances.”

I wonder how many could tell Woodrow Wilson from Flip Wilson.

Those who don’t know history …

Ninety-eight percent of high school seniors couldn’t explain Brown v. Board of Education on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, according to the Boston-based Pioneer Institute. States should require students to pass a U.S. history exam “with a strong focus on the founding documents” to earn a high school diploma, argues a new Pioneer report.

States, perhaps with federal help, would have to set aside funding for high-quality training in “the teaching of rigorous academic content,” the report adds. “Administrators should focus their hiring on teachers with strong content knowledge,” rather than familiarity with “the latest pedagogical techniques.”

Trendy education ideas, such as “21st century skills” and “authentic learning,” focus on showing students “how the issue they are studying either reflects or will impact the life they live now,” the authors write.

The idea that the purpose of education, let alone history education, is to remove a student from the here and now and to get them to understand ideas and worlds beyond their immediate interests is anathema to proponents of today’s trendy reform ideas.

“The stories of the past – be it about the rise and fall of Napoleon, the march of Alexander the Great across Asia, or the rise and ideas of businessmen such as John D. Rockefeller – are intrinsically fascinating,” they write, not just “for what lessons their stories can offer us today.”

Is your school’s namesake worthy?

Florida has more schools named for manatees than for George Washington.

Some want to rename the nearly 200 K-12 schools named for Confederate leaders, writes Robert Pondiscio. As a teacher of civics and history, he sees a teachable moment.

So here’s a challenge for every school in this country named after a president, military figure, athlete, civic leader or any prominent person: Commit the coming school year to a close examination of the life and work of your school’s namesake.

. . . Let (students) debate, defend or challenge the merits of their namesake – but from a position of deep, informed conviction.

. . . Agree that the current name must stand until or unless an alternative person – not a street, natural feature or other bland, inoffensive name like Valley View High – is chosen if the current honoree fails to pass muster.

It’s increasingly rare for public schools to be named for people, according to a 2007 paper by Jay Greene and colleagues.  It’s easier and safer to choose a name from nature. That’s why Florida has 11 schools named for manatees and only five for George Washington. Arizona has as many public schools are named for the roadrunner as for Thomas Jefferson.

“Unfortunately, such caution betrays public education’s civic mission,” Greene and his colleagues wrote. “To teach civics effectively, we have to affirm that democracy and liberty are superior to other systems of government and that the history of democratic societies – shaped by the leadership of people whose names we should know – reinforces this point.

Is there anyone we can agree to honor?

History, civics, geography: Huh?

www.usnewsMost eighth graders don’t know much about U.S. history, civics and geography reports the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Only 18 percent tested as proficient or better in history, 23 percent in civics and 27 percent in geography. About half of students scored at the basic level. The rest did even worse.

The good news is that scores are no worse than in 2010, when the test was last given.

NAEP tested a representative sample of eighth graders in 2014.

Only 45 percent could interpret time differences using an atlas with time zones, notes AP.

Only about a third knew that “the government of the United States should be a democracy” is a political belief shared by most people in the U.S.

While most students said their social studies classes used textbooks, the percentage is falling. More are reading primary sources, such as letters and other historic documents, and viewing online presentations.