We have just come to the end of a long and contentious political season. Many of us are worried about America’s future. It’s never too late to ask how civics education is being addressed in our public schools.
Public schools don’t usually teach civics well. Have you ever wondered why it isn’t a priority?
The National Council for the Social Studies claims we have narrowed the curriculum over the years to mostly exclude civics instruction. They say this especially threatens the poor and nonwhite students who get less civics instruction than middle class and wealthy white students.
Put that together with the privatization forces which have been at work in public schools. School boards face budget cuts—defunding—and the sole push for students to be college ready. There appears to be less concern that students be good citizens.
In elementary school, high-stakes testing in reading and math pushes other subjects out of the curriculum.
In high school, students are driven to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes (a program that makes the College Board a lot of money). Students who qualify can sign up for the AP United States Government and Politics class if it’s offered. Honors and other classes might provide students a semester of civics if they are lucky.
But most students get limited exposure to civics.
With the realization that civics isn’t what it should be, the focus is now on civics curriculum that can be done by outside foundations and nonprofits.
They take over some of the funding…and the agenda. Schools become reliant on outside groups.
Consider the Civics Education Initiative and their “100 Facts Every High School Student Should Know.” They advertise that leaders must volunteer time and effort to pass their initiative.
Their leaders include Governors, Senators, prominent business leaders, and famous actors and journalists. I see no community leaders, educators, or parents on this list. We are invited to become part of their “grassroots initiative.”
Where are the well-prepared university teachers who understand how to create a top-notch civics class that is impartial yet ready to tackle debate?
Civics is much like character education. Teachers have to be careful about how the class is taught. Outside groups don’t always worry about that.
In the Chicago Tribune’s “Civics class required for high school graduation will push the envelope” students debate and tackle heavy subjects. Civics is apparently a requirement in Illinois.
But it is done through the McCormick Foundation and other nonprofit, business and civic groups. They pledge about $1 million annually for a couple of years of teacher training in civics.
The McCormicks are well-respected in Chicago, and you can’t fault them for making civics a priority.
But why do Chicago and the State of Illinois have to rely on them or other outside groups, to prepare teachers to teach civics?
Also, a few civics programs here and there funded by nonprofits and foundations by and for the wealthy, don’t solve the general problem of lacking civics education in America.
I think this demonstrates how privatization fails students in public schools.
Every public school deserves a good civics class as part of a whole curriculum. Classes, including a credentialed, unbiased civics teacher, capable of structuring debate, communicating with parents, and bringing in outside speakers to enhance class discussion, are what’s necessary.
It’s sad that a country such as ours pays little attention to civics education unless it can be privatized. Isn’t it finally time to turn that around?