by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you enjoyed the recent John Locke Foundation presentation from two N.C. Supreme Court justices about the importance of civics education, you might want to peruse a recent American Enterprise Institute article from Rebecca Burgess.
Three-quarters of American adults are unable to name all three branches of American government. About a third can’t even come up with the name of a single branch.
That means that more Americans are probably familiar with the “Y U NO”, “Futurama Fry”, and “The Most Interesting Man in the World” internet memes (the “three most popular memes of all time”) than they are with the who, what, when, why, and how of the laws that form the parameters of their life. …
… But it’s not only that people don’t understand the history of the U.S. government and its functions, or that they can’t name them. By every standard cultural and policy marker, both formal and informal, they are being told that this type of learning and intellectual engagement is worthless — not deserving of resources or time or seriousness. …
… Working with data collected from over 1,000 randomly selected high school social studies teachers, they found that while 83 percent of teachers believe that the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world,” and that 82 percent think it’s important for students to “respect and appreciate their country but know its shortcomings,” a majority considers teaching key facts, dates, and major events related to citizenship their lowest priority.
A mere 38 percent indicated that “the key principles of American government” was or ought to be a civic teacher’s top priority to impart to students.
However shocking, that also should come as no surprise.
As the seasoned observers of our teacher-training schools know only too well, for over half a century education theorists have decried any attempt to impart knowledge to students as a joyless and misguided exercise in rote learning.
And, since it’s so easy for kids these days to find all the information they need on the Internet, why teach such boring stuff in school?
Consequently, civics teachers might be the one teacher constituency in favor of some type of required testing.
Seventy percent of civics teachers indicated that social studies classes are a low priority in schools because of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests. Ninety-three percent say “social studies should be part of every state’s set of standards and testing.” …
… [W]e are feeling the lack of a civic education in our present national discourse that this current election cycle has only exacerbated.