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?

Russia trains patriotic ‘Young Army’

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is promoting “military-patriotic education” training for teens, reports Simon Shuster in Time.

At a school outside Moscow, students as young as 11 learn to assemble and load Kalashnikov assault rifles.

 . . . Putin ordered the creation last fall of a nationwide “Russian students’ movement,” whose aim is to “help form the characters” of young people “based on the system of values that is intrinsic to Russian society.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has created the “Young Army” to provide training in military tactics and history.

French ask: Can Joan of Arc unite us? 

In the 15th century, Joan of Arc united the French against the English invaders. Now, the French are debating whether teaching about Joan of Arc and other historical figures will create a sense of national identity, reports the New York Times. 

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

 “In France, where the state sets school programs nationwide, the country’s understanding of its past — and how it uses education to shape young citizens — has become a hot-button issue,” reports the Times.

Some want schools to teach a “national narrative.”

“Once you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls,” said former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a candidate in the right-wing party primaries.

Socialist education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem believes the curriculum “should reflect changes in society.”

After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the Education Ministry added more hours dedicated to teaching about secularism and the republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

However, there’s no consensus on teaching citizenship, said Patricia Legris, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Rennes. “Should it be a national citizen? Or a European citizen? A world citizen?”

Americans wouldn’t have much trouble with that question. But getting from e pluribus to unum isn’t easy.

Patriotism: Are we in this together?

Most Woodrow Wilson High football players in Camden, N.J., knelt during the national anthem last Saturday. Photo:Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

High school football players across the country are refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Rejecting the rituals of patriotism is a mistake, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The idea of America is that we’re supposed to “create a good and just society,” he writes. And that we’re always “screwing it up.”

“This fusion of radical hope and radical self-criticism” is America’s “civic religion,” he writes. It’s “fired a fervent desire for change.”

When we sing the national anthem, we’re not commenting on the state of America. . . . We’re expressing commitment to the nation’s ideals, which we have not yet fulfilled. If we don’t transmit that creed through shared displays of reverence we will have lost the idea system that has always motivated reform. We will lose the sense that we’re all in this together. We’ll lose the sense of shared loyalty to ideas bigger and more transcendent than our own short lives. If these common rituals are insulted, other people won’t be motivated to right your injustices because they’ll be less likely to feel that you are part of their story.

In short, it’s “we the people” or every man, woman and being for him-, her- or zir- self.

At many schools, “a globalist mentality teaches students they are citizens of the world rather than citizens of America,” Brooks complains. “The multiculturalist mind-set values racial, gender and ethnic identities and regards national identities as reactionary and exclusive.”

Since the post-911 peak in patriotism, Americans are less likely to say they’re “extremely proud” of their country, reports Gallup. The decline is sharpest for those 18 to 29 years old. However, only 1 percent say they’re not proud at all.

Trend: How proud are you to be an American -- extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud or not at all proud?

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.

Students protest ‘patriotic’ history

In a Denver suburb, a conservative school board member proposed focusing U.S. history courses on citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority. Naturally, students walked out in protest.

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Some students waved American flags and carried signs, such as “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”

Other carried signs supporting teachers. “The youth protest in the state’s second-largest school district follows a sick-out from teachers that shut down two high schools,” reports AP.

The school board proposal — which has not been voted on — would establish a committee to review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to ensure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” board member Julie Williams told Chalkbeat. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.”

“In South Carolina, conservatives have called on an education oversight committee to ask the College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement courses, to rewrite their framework to make sure there is no ideological bias,” notes AP.

“Politics, propaganda and faith” have distorted history in textbooks written to meet Texas’ standards, historians complain.

School rejects ‘Merica Day’

A group of residents hold American flags in front of Fort Collins High School in protest of the school's ban on 'Merica Day Tuesday morning Feb. 4, 2014. The school reached a compromise with students and will hold an event on Monday called, "My Country Monday."

Residents protest Fort Collins High School’s ban on “Merica Monday.”

Celebrating America during spirit week might offend immigrants, said Fort Collins High administrators. They rejected students’ request for “Merica Monday,” reports The Coloradoan.

“It’s kind of absurd that we can’t celebrate the country we’re in — whether you’re from it or just visiting,” said Ellie Goodspeed, a senior and treasurer of the school’s student council.

“Building administrators met with the students to discuss the inconsistency of this day versus the other planned theme days, including PJ day and Twin day,” said Poudre School District spokeswoman Danielle Clark in a statement.

Students proposed “My Country Monday” as a compromise. Administrators rejected that idea too, said Goodspeed, but changed their mind on Monday.

Students celebrate the Mexican culture holiday Cinco de Mayo, senior Stephanie Livingston told the Coloradoan.

Remembering the Civil War dead

Today is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, writes Ilya Somin on Volokh Conspiracy. As Frederick Douglass said in an 1871 speech in honor of the Union war dead, we should not forget “the moral chasm between the two sides.”

We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict….

. . . If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration….

But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic…. If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage…. , we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.

Born into slavery in Maryland, Douglass learned to read and write when it was illegal for a slave to do so.  “He made the neighborhood boys his teachers, by giving away his food in exchange for lessons in reading and writing.” He learned oratory from a schoolbook.

Schools can’t assimilate immigrants

Urban schools struggle to educate and assimilate immigrant students — especially those who arrive in their teens, write  Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, a dean and professor at UCLA.

In 1997, they began a study of newly arrived immigrants, ages 9 to 14, in 20 public middle and high schools in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Many were fleeing violence and living in high-crime neighborhoods in the U.S. Asked  “what do you like most about being here?” an 11-year-old Haitian boy in Cambridge said, “There is less killing here.”

The Chechen brothers accused in the Boston bombings were 16 and 9 when they started school in Cambridge. They were not in the study, but they fit the demographic profile.

Many newcomer students attend tough urban schools that lack solidarity and cohesion. In too many we found no sense of shared purpose, but rather a student body divided by race and ethnicity, between immigrants and the native born, between newcomers and more acculturated immigrants. Only 6 percent of the participants could name a teacher as someone they would go to with a problem; just 3 percent could identify a teacher who was proud of them.

. . . many educators, already overwhelmed by the challenges of inner-city teaching, considered immigrant parents uninformed and uninvolved.

Immigrant students who made a friend who spoke English fluently did significantly better in school, they write. But many didn’t interact with native-born students, much less make friends.

Students who did well academically “tended to be enrolled in supportive schools, to have caring teachers, and to develop informal mentorships with coaches, counselors or ministers.”

Catering to “difference” is a mistake, responds Stanley Kurtz in National Review Online. He cites a study by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, America’s Patriotic Assimilation System is Broken, which found a “patriotic gap” between native-born and naturalized citizens. For example, “by roughly 31 points (81% to 50%), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than ethnic pride.”

Schools “riven by racial and ethnic divisions and a lack of common purpose” should affirm  “the shared American identity that used to unite this country,” Kurtz concludes.

Hong Kong protests ‘brainwashing’