Teacher assigns ‘oppo’ research for Obama

Eighth graders at a Virginia public school were told to research the weaknesses of Republican presidential candidates, write a paper on how to exploit the weaknesses and identify who to send the paper to in the Obama campaign.

“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.

Michael Denman divided his honors civics class into four groups, all assigned to do “oppo” research on Republicans. After parents complained, the principal told the teacher he should have let students research a candidate from either party, a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman said.

Duh.

Allegedly, the teacher never told students to send their research to the Obama campaign, but why assign two students in each group to figure out the name of the right “oppo” person?

 

Educating citizens, not just workers

Pressured to prepare students for the workforce, America’s colleges have forgotten their civic and democratic mission, argues a new report: Colleges must educate citizens, not just workers.

Civics teachers dispatched to D.C.

With Congress deadlocked on raising the debt ceiling, “a special team of 40 eighth-grade civics teachers was air-dropped into Washington in a last-ditch effort to teach congressional leaders how the government’s legislative process works,” reports The Onion.

“We started them off with the basics, like the difference between a senator and a representative, and then moved on to more complex concepts, like what a resolution is,” Bozeman, MT social studies teacher Heidi Rossmiller told reporters as all 535 members of Congress copied down the definition of “checks and balances” from a whiteboard in the House chamber. “It’s been a bit of an uphill battle, since most of them seemed to have no real sense of how or why a bill is passed, and Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-NV] had to come up to me during a break and ask, ‘Ms. Rossmiller, what happens if Congress can’t reach a compromise?’ But hopefully it will all start to sink in soon.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stormed out of a lecture on bipartisan cooperation, claiming it was “too hard,” reports The Onion, which is a satirical publication.

 

 

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.

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.

Old enough to vote — whatever that is

Civics knowledge has declined for 12th graders, many of whom are old enough to vote, but climbed for fourth graders, according to the new civics report card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Eighth-grade scores stayed about the same.

Hispanic students made gains, though the racial/ethnic achievement gap remains large.

Students were asked both multiple-choice and constructed-response questions to measure their knowledge of civic life, politics and government and their understanding of citizens’ role in a democracy and the relationship of the U.S. to other nations.

At grade 4, students who scored at or above the Basic level (77 percent) were likely to identify a method used to select public office holders, students scoring at Proficient (27 percent) could identify a purpose of the U.S. Constitution, and students at Advanced (2 percent) could explain two ways a country could deal with a shared problem.

At grade 8, the 72 percent of students who performed at or above the Basic level were likely to identify a right protected by the First Amendment, the 22 percent who performed at or above the Proficient level could recognize a role performed by the Supreme Court, and the 1 percent who scored at the Advanced level could name two actions that citizens could take to encourage Congress to pass a law.

At grade 12, the 64 percent of students who performed at or above the Basic level were likely to interpret a political cartoon, the 24 percent scoring at or above Proficient could define “melting pot” and argue whether or not the phrase applied to the U.S., and the 4 percent scoring at Advanced could compare U.S. citizenship requirements to those of other countries.

Some of the questions appear to test reading and reasoning skills rather than civics knowledge.

Grade 4 sample question:

Cartoon strip. A boy named Calvin says to his father, "I think it's time we had a new dad around here. When does your term of office expire?" Dad responds, "Sorry, Calvin. I was appointed dad for life." Calvin screams, "For life?! What about a recall vote? What about impeachment?" Dad responds, "There are no provisions for either." Calvin asks, "Did you write this constitution yourself, or what?" Dad replies, "Well, your mom helped some, too."

Calvin and Hobbes © 1986 Watterson. Dist. By Universal Press Syndicate.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The child in the cartoon strip above is a six-year-old boy named Calvin. What is the main point of the cartoon?

1. Constitutions have rules about how long someone can stay in office.
2. Families and governments are not run the same way.
3. The term of office for elected and appointed officials is different.
4. Calvin does not know how a constitutional government works.

Grade 8 sample question:

In the United States, which civil right belongs only to American citizens?

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of assembly
  3. The right to legal representation if charged with a crime
  4. The right to vote in local, state, and national elections

Grade 12 sample question:

Political cartoon showing a man pulling the handle of a large box labeled “The Kick the Bum Out Ballot Box Company.” A large spring extends from the box with a shoe at its end. The shoe is kicking a man holding a briefcase through the air. The caption underneath the cartoon says, “Still the best congressional term-limiting device.

© Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Which of the following best captures the meaning of the cartoon above?

  1. Voters can limit the term of any member of Congress by simply exercising their right to vote.
  2. Term limits can be put in place only through an amendment to the Constitution.
  3. Term limits are needed to prevent incumbents from staying in office for life.
  4. Voters too often throw good people out of office.

No Child Left Behind-mandated reading and math tests are supposed to be crowding out instruction in civics, science and everything else, notes Quick and the Ed’s Kevin Carey. But NAEP shows a different pattern: NAEP scores are improving or holding steady in elementary and middle school, where there’s lots of  NCLB testing, and falling in high school, where there’s only one NCLB-mandated test. He speculates, “it’s hard to learn civics if you can’t read.”

Foreign-born students vie for civics honors

Top civics students will compete in the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution National Finals in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Randallston High’s team will represent Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun. Eleven of 13 team members were born in Nigeria, Liberia, Grenada and Egypt.

“Most of them have this great interest because it was starkly different from what they experienced. They have the appreciation for the Constitution and U.S. Bill of Rights that you wish the natural-born citizens would,” said Richard Weitkamp, whose entire Advanced Placement U.S. Government class at the Baltimore County school is taking part in the competition.

Students portray experts testifying on selected constitutional issues in a simulated congressional hearing. They must answer questions from a panel of judges that includes Supreme Court justices, historians, attorneys and political scientists.

Team members are top students who’ve taken gifted and AP classes together for years. Six come from Nigeria. Nearly all are female.

Christiana Ilufoye, a 17-year-old whose parents left Nigeria when she was 9 so that she and her siblings could get a better education, wants to become a lawyer, so she was eager to study the Constitution.

. . . Oluchukwu Agu, who came from Nigeria to Randallstown in 10th grade, is still trying to adjust. “The values and the culture are so different. In Nigeria, education comes first. … No one here is going to take a D home,” he said.

“We have some bonds because we all have a purpose here,” Ilufoye said of the competition. “We all know why we take this seriously.”

It’s inspiring and depressing at the same time.

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.

Why we need government

Why do we need a government? Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek looks at the answer provided for children in kindergarten through second grade by the U.S. Government Printing Office’s web site.

Why do we need a government? Imagine what your school would be like if no one was in charge. Each class would make its own rules. Who gets to use the gym if two classes want to use it at the same time? Who would clean the classrooms? Who decides if you learn about Mars or play kickball? Sounds confusing, right?

This is why schools have people who are in charge, such as the principal, administrators, teachers, and staff. Our nation has people who are in charge and they make up the government.

Despite the use of Ben Franklin on the site, the Printing Office seems a little weak on democratic government.

Roberts’ challenge: Remembering that the audience is five to seven years old, write a better explanation.

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.