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America’s Broken Civics Education System

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

In a time when both immigration and education reform are in the public spotlight, AEI’s Christine Hoff Sommers stresses the need to create informed and attached citizens, both foreign and native-born. In an op-ed  in The American, Hoff Sommers argues that schools have drifted away from “the self-confident teaching of American history in our nation’s schools. ”

While the study of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and our national holidays once gave students an opportunity to “view themselves as part of an extraordinary culture of liberty,” the current lack of emphasis on American history in the classroom has allowed more than half of high school seniors to lack a “basic” grasp of U.S. history, according to the most recent NAEP report.

The problem is not limited to high school, Hoff Sommers says. Less than 20% of U.S. colleges have an American history or civics requirement, and the current course offerings at universities devote more attention to America’s failures than its triumphs: “Students become well-versed in the history of American bigotry, prejudice, and exclusion — but learn next to nothing about the heroic chapters of the national story.”

Hoff Sommers argues that a better balance must be struck between appreciating America’s historical successes and recognizing our historical flaws:

I am not suggesting we return to a time when our past was whitewashed and presented in a naïve or jingoistic way. But all students need instruction that acquaints them with the key figures, events, and doctrines that make up our collective identity. And that instruction should foster understanding, pride in country, and civic attachment. Our national sins should be frankly acknowledged, but the grandeur of the American experiment must shine through. This is simply not happening today.

For a look at programs that are attempting to reinvigorate civics instruction, read our “Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education” report on an innovative civics education curriculum that one charter school has developed, and check out the lesson plans created by our friends at What So Proudly We Hail.

AEI