Can teaching students the importance of civic participation unite America?

in August 27th, 2021

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If America feels more divided than ever before, it’s because it is. In fact, one report found political polarization among Americans has grown rapidly over the past 40 years — more than in Canada, the U.K., Australia, or Germany. Standardized testing results also reveal that over 75% of eighth-grade students failed to score at least "proficient" on civics tests. Many are finding hope, though, in two new proposals bridging the widening divide for future generations by improving civic education.

  • The Civics Secures Democracy Act was introduced by two senators (one Democrat, one Republican) this year and calls for a $1 billion investment in teaching U.S. history and civics at the K-12 level.
  • The Educating for American Democracy Initiative (EADI) is a collaboration of 300 educators, practitioners, and scholars bringing high quality civic learning opportunities to 60 million students by 2030.

What exactly is civics and what would such education look like? Simply put, civics is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society. As it stands today, only five cents is federally allotted to civic education per child — ten times less than the already considered low 50 cents for STEM. Regardless of funding, however, an EADI curriculum has been proposed for classrooms. Overall, it favors an inquisitive approach to social studies over the conventional memorization of events and concepts. Questions included in their proposal are:

  • How does the idea of “We the People” change over time?
  • Which moments of change have most defined the country’s evolution and that of its political institutions?
  • How did the institution of enslavement and practices of indigenous removal and even extermination affect national unity in the U.S.?
  • Who has the power to make changes in my community?
  • Why does a society need shared rules and what do rules do?
  • And perhaps our favorite: How have changes in the media affected American civic experience?

Most questions are conceptual but some are also contentious, immersing students in civil debate over America's defining ideas. And even with support from both Obama and Trump nominated Supreme Court justices, a number of conservative groups claim the initiative has a hidden agenda to push left-wing ideas — ironically illustrating how much partisan divide there currently is. Some conservative critics believe that education is a local and state concern over a federal one, which may explain prior failed attempts on this front. For example, a 1994 federal effort crumbled over complaints from conservatives for being anti-West with its prescriptive standards. This new proposal, in contrast, sets thematic questions that give students the opportunity to reflect and think critically about events — historical and current — and their own civic engagement.

🎬 Take Action

The group behind EADI has actionable guides for everyone from philanthropists to students and everyone in between to get involved.

Resource Center

Wall Street Journal: (Where we found this story) 3 weeks old | 9 minutes long

Brown University: How the U.S. is dividing January 2020 | 6 minutes long

Education Week: What SC justices are saying about civics education 4 months old | 3 minutes long

RealClear Wire: How EADI's roadmap will improve civic education 4 months old | 5 minutes long

Report from 1995: Controversy on 1994 national standards for history Nov 1995 | 72 minutes long

Education Week: Details on proposed civic guidelines 5 months old | 8 minutes long

ASCII-ing About the News

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I'm tired of hearing about Civics, I stand firmly with Camry!

Sir, we're discussing civic education, not cars.

Art Credit: ASCII.CO.UK

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