Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Have we forgotten civic education?

Two centuries after Jefferson, social studies are lacking at public schools

In the early afternoon of July 4, 1776, church bells rang out in Philadelphia celebrating the official adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. Of course, the work of establishing the republic was not finished on that July day. Indeed, the nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" - to use Abraham Lincoln's words - will always be a work in progress.

The founders knew this too. By the summer of 1818, their generation was passing away. The survivors fretted about the future of their legacy and whether the republic would endure. They believed that each new generation must be enlightened by the principles of liberty and prepared to fight for the rights that had been won. For all of the founders - and especially for the author of the Declaration of Independence - education was the key. As early as 1779, Thomas Jefferson had written a bill in Virginia proposing a system of public education and arguing that history should be studied by all citizens. In 1817, he again proposed a system of free public education for the state and the establishment of a public university....

So how is Jefferson's vision for a sound history and civic education doing today? In California, we have a comprehensive, history-driven social studies framework and standards for all grade levels. Every high school student must take three years of social studies, including a U.S. government course, to graduate. On the surface, things look good.

But in truth, social studies is no longer a priority in schools and has not been for some time. Most recently, because of the national No Child Left Behind mandates and the school accountability system, language arts, math and science are emphasized. Resources for history/social science in terms of professional development, materials and even instructional time are scarce. This is particularly true at low-scoring elementary schools serving underrepresented student populations, where instructional time for social studies has been greatly diminished. A cruel irony, really: those least empowered and most in need of the knowledge and skills of effective citizenship and advocacy are the least likely to be exposed to them.

Recent studies demonstrate that our nation and state are paying a price for this neglect. The California Survey of Civic Education conducted last year demonstrated that despite taking a course in U.S. government in the 12th grade, graduating seniors' knowledge of the structures and functions of government and of current political issues is very weak. Students averaged only a little over 60% correct on a test of their civics content knowledge, a low "D" on typical grading scales.

The survey also revealed that today's graduates are not inclined toward participatory citizenship. Less than half of high school seniors surveyed believed that "being actively involved in state and local issues is my responsibility."

Given these findings, it should be no surprise that young people's trust in government is appallingly low. Only 33% of high school seniors said they trusted "the people in government to do what is right for the country," and only 28% agreed with the statement: "I think that people in government care about what people like me and my family need."

It is difficult to fault young people for these views and attitudes, and, in truth, a survey administered to adults might well bear similar results. Given the daily fare of political scandal, partisan nastiness and negative campaigning, why would young people be inclined to trust in government or become politically engaged?

Studies such as the California Survey have brought to light the need for a renewal of civic education in our nation's schools. These days, there are groups - such as the Alliance for Representative Democracy and the Civic Mission of Schools - working in every state to improve civic education and preserve the social studies.

As you enjoy your Fourth of July activities, take a moment to reflect on Jefferson's summer long ago in Rockfish Gap. Then do what you can do make the founders' hopes a reality.

More here


Press release from The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce (Lindsey.Mask@mail.house.gov)

The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), today heard testimony from golf legend Jack Nicklaus and others on character-building instruction and integrating character education into school curriculum. Character education typically includes direct instruction and other efforts that promote values such as responsibility, respect, trust, hard work, and civic engagement. Nicklaus, honorary co-chairman of the character education initiative, The First Tee, joined educators in discussing the challenges and successes of character education programs.

"The First Tee uses the game of golf to teach youngsters skills that enable them to incorporate positive values into their behaviors," Nicklaus explained. "The First Tee is based upon nine core values: honesty, responsibility, respect, judgment, courtesy, perseverance, integrity, confidence, and sportsmanship; and our Life Skills curriculum ensures that every youngster who comes to The First Tee is taught more than the game of golf."

Nicklaus continued, "At a time when we need to do everything we can to promote positive values in our children, particularly thinking beyond themselves and caring for others, The First Tee has adopted that mission and is doing it effectively." The First Tee and similar programs - coupled with the work schools are doing to promote character education - are designed to expand the possibilities for personal growth in U.S. students.

"It's clear that public, private, and non-profit organizations are working each day to build character education in our nation's youth, and I'm pleased our Committee was able to provide them a platform to highlight their efforts," noted McKeon. "Far too many children throughout the United States face difficult circumstances - from poverty and violence to drugs and alcohol. And character education plays a valuable role in helping them overcome these obstacles."

Sharon Aldredge, principal of Woodley Hills Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, discussed the success of incorporating character education into the curriculum of her school. "The one factor that changed was the implementation of a character education initiative that involved every member of the school community," Aldredge said. "The students, office staff, custodians, parents, teachers, cafeteria employees, and administrators developed a shared vision and became responsible for modeling and integrating character education into every aspect of the school environment."

Underscoring the positive results of the character education efforts, Aldredge continued, "In 2001, Woodley Hills was named a `National School of Character' by the Character Education Partnership organization. Our scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests are now at 80th and 90th percentile. Discipline problems are almost nonexistent in the school, with only three to five suspensions a year. Our children are happy to come to school, and they understand why we are teaching character education."

McKeon noted Congress' increased support for character education initiatives as well. This year alone, character education programs under the No Child Left Behind Act have been funded at nearly $25 million. "Through the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress has stepped forward in promoting character education," concluded McKeon. "The law establishes competitive grants for states and local school districts for character education programs that can be integrated into classroom instruction. And scores of schools also are developing character education curriculum independent of this federal program. Many schools, like Woodley Hills, who have implemented these types of initiatives have reported rising test scores and improved student behavior."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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