<< The Body Politic

Seeking civic education

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Writing in this morning’s Heartlander–the newspaper of the Heartland Institute–Ashley Bateman takes a look at the current state of civic education and what some organizations are doing to improve it.

Her diagnosis:

Recent data is dismal. On the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 24 percent of seniors rated proficient in civics, while fourth and eighth grader proficiency also ranged between 20 and 30 percent. Only 4 percent of seniors tested “advanced.”

These persistent results combined with great energy and interest in the U.S.’s founding has some organizations working to study and counter this negative trend, using innovative teaching technology, research, and classical curricula to draw Americans young and old to a subject which, at its best, teaches not only government machinations, but how to engage as a citizen in a representative republic.

The Program on American Citizenship at the American Enterprise Institute, a well-known D.C. think tank, was created in 2010 to explore causes and possible solutions to civic ignorance.

For the survey “High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship,” researchers contrasted social studies teachers against the general public, exploring variances in opinion and preferences. It also compared Democrats and Republicans.

Opinions about what students should learn divided on partisan lines, while attitudes teachers expressed aligned with the public. Eighty-four percent of the public and 83 percent of teachers believe the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world.” The two groups largely agreed students should learn to “respect and appreciate their country, but know its shortcomings.”

“These teachers feel very marginalized right now,” said Cheryl Miller, the program manager. “The only thing that counts is math and reading because it gets tested. Over 90 percent [of teachers] said they would like to be part of their states’ accountability and testing regimen.”

Testing not only would highlight the subject’s importance to administrators, students, and parents, but also provide definition for what civics curriculum should include, Miller noted.

Bateman then continues to highlight the work that some organizations–in this case, iCivics, the Kirby Center, and a  charter school initiative at Hillsdale College–are doing to improve social studies and civic education. Read the whole thing here.