by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shay Khatiri and Daniel Samet write for the Martin Center about an important failure in American education.
Bring back civics, urge those disaffected with the United States’ educational system.
They have a point. Of the many things wrong with America’s schools, the warped view of American history, politics, and culture they teach might be at the top of the list.
Part of the problem is that, according to a 2019 survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a mere 18 percent of colleges require coursework in U.S. history and government. It isn’t just that civics are being taught poorly—it’s that they’re hardly being taught at all.
That lack of focus on America presents a notable problem in some academic fields. In strategic studies, net assessment—the art of comparing the strengths of two adversarial states—is of utmost importance, rooted in Thucydides and popularized by Sun Tzu’s quip, “Know thyself and know thy enemy, and you will not be defeated in a hundred battles.” But net assessment should begin not simply by assessing one’s hard power capabilities, but rather by a thorough understanding of oneself.
The little instruction in American government that graduate students have received forces them to learn about civics outside the classroom. Their education has taught them to craft foreign policy solely through a geopolitical understanding of the world, omitting domestic trends and political factions that affect the formulation of policy.
International relations departments offer a product lacking something fundamental.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Prospective U.S. strategists should study American politics, history, and civics so they understand American exceptionalism and its tremendous effect on U.S. foreign policy. Americans have a romantic view of themselves that they bring to engagements with the world. Throughout U.S. history, American statesmen have used such rhetoric to justify foreign interventions and they will continue to do so.