Education

What Do I Need To Do To Put You in a Civics Class Today?

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If you're in Tennessee, you bitch and moan about how the No Child Left Behind Act means everybody's focusing on math and reading, leaving no time at all in the day for civic indoctrination. From the AP via the Cincy Enquirer:

Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2002, schools have focused on reading and math, and that has squeezed out other subjects like arts, music and civics, educators say. So lawmakers in Tennessee and other states have proposed bills this year to save civics.

A bill from state Sen. Rosalind Kurita would require the Tennessee Department of Education to create a separate civics course in at least one grade between fifth and eighth grade….

Kurita said teaching students about voting and citizenship rights is just as important as math and English. Ted McConnell, director of the Campaign to Promote Civic Education—an initiative of the Center for Civic Education—agrees.

"Study after study shows that when our youth are exposed to effective civic education courses, they're not only more likely to vote, but they're more likely to get involved in their communities and work toward solutions to societal problems," he said.

Attention to civics in the classroom had been declining over the past 20 years, McConnell said, but the "decline was dramatically accelerated after the implementation of No Child Left Behind."

He cited a study done last year by the Washington-based Center for Education Policy that showed 71 percent of school districts surveyed said they have had to reduce instructional time in at least one other subject to make room for increased attention to math and reading because of the federal law.

"We find that the first target of those cuts is usually social studies, which often includes civic learning," McConnell said….

"To inform students about government, how the legal community and how society works, is critical to education," said state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee. "It's as important as math and science."

More here.

I'm no fan of the No Child Stuff–the apotheosis of federal overreach in education with nothing on the upside. Just more spending, standardized testing and, most grotesquely, a fake-escape valve for kids jailed in the crappiest public schools.

However, the sort of bitching and moaning articulated above really sets my hair on fire too. Maybe if everyone everywhere immediately cuts civics courses, it's because they are widely recognized as even more of a joke than other classes already being forced on child-prisoners? Without even going into the serious question of whether schools should teach civics (i.e., the "official story" of a state apparatus) in the first place, maybe school administrators could squeeze a few extra minutes out of the day by dropping drug education classes or crab-soccer tournaments in gym class or lectures on ringworm in health? Or maybe lengthen the school day and year, so that it not only fits in somehow with a post-agrarian America, but gives teachers–who between 1966 and 1996 averaged 180 days in the classroom)–more time to yap to their charges.

Worth repeating in any school discussion that doesn't move to radical school choice plans: It'll Be a Beautiful Day When the Pentagon Has All the Money It Needs and Bombs Schools Having Bake Sales.

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  1. My high school civics teacher had a novel approach, for which I am eternally grateful.

    He ditched the state-approved curriculum (private schools were allowed to do that in my state–within certain reasonable parameters–way back when). His entire class consisted of reading Locke (selections), Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitution & Amendments, Federalist Papers, and selected Anti-Fed Papers.

    Great stuff.

  2. “Apotheosis”? Hmmm. Anyway, as problematic as “No Child” is, once you accept, however grudgingly, the enduring institution of government run schools in the first place, some sort of objective and external quality control mechanism to measure public education success makes sense.

    Like it or not (and you can put me down in the mostly “not” column), school of any sort has alway been about acculturation and socialization as well as academic education. It presupposes, not unreasonably and as any good parent must also presuppose, that children are uncivilized savages.

    Sure, in the best of all possible worlds, whether tax dollars at any level went to support some minimum universal public education, the states wouldn’t be running the show and the feds wouldn’t be pulling the strings backstage. But, um, this ain’t that world.

    I seriously doubt there is much of a cut back in social studies in public schools because of NCLB. Kids still learn — or are captive audiences to boring lectures on — “How a bill becomes a law” and blah, blah, blah. Yes, schools should run at least 11 months a year and, sure, we could do without the endless stream of propaganda (the real state apparatus in action) over drugs, sex, the environment, the blessings of diversity, et cetera ad nauseam. But, that said, school by its very nature and structure is an oppressive behavioral conditioning technique — it prepares us for the office cubicle or the jail cell later in life. And isn’t that the whole purpose of civics?

  3. “Kurita said teaching students about voting and citizenship rights is just as important as math and English.”

    This kind of “thinking” aggravates the shit out of me. Whatever else one might believe about the value of “civics” classes, they are composed of information imparted via the written word; rather than the inane and meaningless Dick-and-Jane drivel currently used in the Reading Lab, give the little darlings a newspaper, and let them read about how fucked this country has become.
    Have you ever read a set of McGuffey’s Readers; once the de facto standard reading text in the country?

    Please can we take all the Degreed Educators and put them up against the wall and shoot the worthles bastards?

  4. Note to everyone in the universe: American public education sucked even before the Orwellian-named No Child Left Behind came down upon us from on high.

    Until parents have real alternatives to the expensive, broken, corrupt Public Education monopoly, there will be no increase in learnin’ for America’s pwecious chitlins.

    In the meantime, I will settle for a better class of education pundit.

  5. I can think of better places for children to learn civics. Cspan, books, talk radio, anywhere but the union classroom. And those suggesting more days of indoctrination are out of their minds. A balance of time between parents and teachers is necessary for me to reducate them in the ways of freedom.

  6. In my (public) high school senior civics course, we learned, among other things, Marbury v. Madison, Schenck, Miranda, Mapp, that case that said juvenile court can’t be a kangaroo court, Roth, Alien & Sedition Laws controversy, the Japanese Internment, etc.

    We learned not just “official story,” but also about the rights of individuals, about causes that remain important to libertarians to this day. It was good and important for me to get that info at that time (my senior year). It had a positive impact on my legal thinking (I turned out to be a lawyer) and my political thinking (eg, limited government, Constitution as a limit on gov’t power).

    Maybe it was different at Mr. Gillespie’s public school?

    Also, the teacher told a locally famous story about everybody simultaneously vomiting on a ship on the way back from WWII.

  7. Dave W., the fact you became a lawyer instead of a productive citizen kind of proves my point.

  8. Dave W., the fact you became a lawyer instead of a productive citizen kind of proves my point.

    Can my engineering degree count toward that?

  9. My high school civics teacher was amazing. He was this fat guy late 50-early 60 something guy with a gigantic red nose who still lived with his mother and had a habit of blurting out inappropriate remarks in a voice with a mild speech impediment that made all S sounds come out “sh.” He used to yell over and over, “Guysh, guysh NEVER LET THE GOVERNMENT TAKE YOUR GUNSH!” He definitely was a big part of my skepticism about government today. He also gave a wicked 3-day lecture on both the Kennedy assassination and Roswell. And always was a good source ofentertainment such as when, shortly after 9/11, in a discussion regarding the terrorists’ belief that there would be 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven, Kenny O yelled, “70 virgins?! I’d settled for half a dozen hot-buttered cheeleaders!” Hilarity ensued.

  10. Wow, perhaps next time I can use my grown-up grammar.

  11. Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2002, schools have focused on reading and math, and that has squeezed out other subjects like arts, music and civics, educators say.

    Umm, Mission Accomplished?

  12. Nick, you are sounding like Louis Farrakan.

    In Civics I learned how a bill was passed, the founding of this country, who can run for president, major cases in American history, and other nice little tidbits.

    If anything, it wasn’t indoctronation but tilted way too much to the PC side. We learned the horrors of American slavery, but it wasn’t much later that I learned that slavery was going on every other place in the world.

    Christ, aren’t educated people filled with enough hate for their civillization already? I guess Gillespie wants us to turn into one big Europe, spineless cowards seeing Sharia law creeping in and shrugging.

    Who was it that said ideas have consequences?

  13. Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2002, schools have focused on reading and math, and that has squeezed out other subjects like arts, music and civics, educators say.

    Art and civics aren’t the problem. That is, It seems to me there should be time in the day to teach them all. Sounds like they are ditching the other subjects in an effort to make up for past years’ lack of math and science standards.

  14. I don’t get the snark here against High School civics class. This is one of the very few opportunites for kids to learn about our founding documents.

    My high school teacher went by the name of Mr. T (his last name was hard to pronounce). He used to heckle the film strips we were forced to watch (“Hey, that’s an ILLEGAL search!”). In retrospect, I think he was probably my first libertarian influence.

  15. What issue do you think is most important for the city to address?

    Drink!*

    *Or inhale, or have a sip of coffee, or whatever.

    Chalupa-Your straw man is leaking stuffing. Gillespie didn’t say anything remotely like what you attribute to him, and I think you know it.

    Mr. Nice Guy- The big deal is that the schools are likely to give into the temptation to use civics class to create a certain sort of citizen: an obedient one.

  16. Crap. I accidentally pasted the text from another document in my post. I meant to quote Dave W’s reference to his engineering degree.

  17. Is my engineering degree considered as a “crazy Dave W.” trope now, like the single action revolvers thing?

  18. Here he is, in his own words

    Without even going into the serious question of whether schools should teach civics (i.e., the “official story” of a state apparatus) in the first place, maybe school administrators could squeeze a few extra minutes out of the day by dropping drug education classes or crab-soccer tournaments in gym class or lectures on ringworm in health?

    The second half of the sentence has a good point, the first half (civics is the white man teaching you how he wants you to think the world works) is crap.

  19. This is so unfair. If it were the other way around then maybe not you, Mr. Gillespie, but some other Reason blogger would’ve been complaining about the reduction of civics instruction — about how by keeping the students ignorant of the workings of gov’t, the powers that be were helping entrench themselves.

    Without even going into the serious question of whether schools should teach civics (i.e., the “official story” of a state apparatus)

    Nice way to dodge. Sure, raise the issue and then pretend you’re saying nothing about it. Well, you have. Why the hell shouldn’t they teach about the workings of the state apparatus, when the students are going to have to live with it? And for the most part, the “official” accounting of how the apparatus works is the most relevant part — it’s their own program they’re running, and it contains its own self-modifying code, so why shouldn’t the students get a dump of it directly from core?

  20. Chalupa- What in that comment pertains to the white man?

  21. If it were the other way around then maybe not you, Mr. Gillespie, but some other Reason blogger would’ve been complaining about the reduction of civics instruction — about how by keeping the students ignorant of the workings of gov’t, the powers that be were helping entrench themselves.

    He would? Can you prove that? Can you offer even a scintilla of evidence of that?

  22. Since we’re rushing to recount those halcyon days of yore when we were in civics or government or whatever class in high school, I have to admit my own memories are a bit vague. It was first period, I’m not a morning person and I slept as much as possible through the entire experience. Unfortunately, I was also seated at a desk in the front of the class directly in front of the teacher’s desk. Perhaps I snored. Who knows? Anyway, one day he slammed a yardstick on my desk and, purple with rage, screamed “That’s it, Ridgely, I’m having you transfered to a Modified Government class!” “My gawd!” I answered, “You mean this isn’t a Modified Government class?”

    It was my finest moment in high school.

  23. Upon seeing my “Why vote for the lesser evil? Cthulu in 96” banner on my locker, my high school civics teacher asked if I was voting for a Nazi.

    In all fairness, I was more-or-less still a Republican at the time.

  24. Oh, and this is right up Mr. Gillespie’s alley:

    My senior year civics class is also the place I found out that people in some civilized societies still maintain their natural right to eat dogs.

    The teacher claimed that he saw this dog eating, but refused to partake himself.

  25. Whatever happened to the Cthulu campaign? I mean besides getting Hastert the unspeakable elected speaker of the house?

  26. If you’re in Tennessee, you bitch and moan about how the No Child Left Behind Act means everybody’s focusing on math and reading, leaving no time at all in the day for civic indoctrination.

    child-prisoners? crab soccer tournaments? yapping to their charges?

    Thankfully, my public school taught me to recognize hyperbole. It’s also good to know that raising concerns over the unintended consequences of federal laws and citing studies in support is just “bitching and moaning.”

  27. The “No Child Left Behind Act” has been successful. Not one child has been left behind. Now every child has been left behind. All of them will now be “Special Academic Olympics” qualified.

  28. In twelve years of el-hi education from my local Catholic schools, I never once took a Civics class. The lessons on how our government operates were integrated into our Geography, Social Studies and History classes, I suppose. In any event, after taking all the required coursework, and 3 semester-long electives in my Senior year (Soviet Union, Sociology and Consumer Economics), I tested out of the Introduction to American Government course required of Political Science majors at my college. You don’t have to have a Civics course to teach civics. My experience suggests that it might be wiser to teach America’s traditions of republicanism, democracy, liberty and, yes, revolution, all through the school years. I was educated in the years before the Multicult dictated textbook content, so maybe that might be a little tougher nowadays, but as other posters have shown, a teacher with the right attitude can counteract crummy materials.

    Kevin

  29. You guys suck, especially Chalupa. This is exactly what I expect from the cranky editor in the leather jacket, and why I give money to the reason foundation. As to what the other journalists would have written….um, notice how few of them voted in the last election? Or how many wrote about the proud dignity in not voting?

    While even the most Marxist of civics instructors will have trouble avoiding the objective facts and documents (such as the self-evident libertarian foundation of the declaration of independence), I do wish there were a PAC for Radical Atheist Apathetics. We could fight statist indocrination with the same zeal as the freedom-from-religion crowd.

    Who’s with me? Or should I say who gives a damn about the right to not give a damn?

  30. WTF!
    next the mooger foogers are gonna want Camry classes too

    SHEEEEEEEESSHHHHHHH

  31. Ummm, actually my fave aspect of no child left behind is the reaction to it here in southeast Alabama. They spend 2-3 weeks every year before the proficiency tests completely off the subject at hand to prepare the kiddies to do well on the tests. This follows the announcements and a scripture reading and prayer on the intercom that starts every school day.

  32. You guys suck, especially Chalupa.

    Including those disagreeing with Chalupa?

    Someone sucks here, that’s for sure…

  33. Camay? Lifeboy? Real Moms used Lava!

    I might point out, to the foes of testing, that every* student in New York State was required to take the Regents Exam in American History, normally after taking their AH course in Junior Year and the Regents English Exam after their Senior years. These were separate from the Regents Scholarship exam, which covered a range of subjects. Other Regents exams in particular subjects (math classes, foreign languages, science) were given, and if you took the required tests and a three-year sequence in any area with passing grades on all the tests, you got a “Regents Diploma.” College-bound kids usually got more than one Regents sequence, as a “non-Regents” course in the same subject was effectively the General Education track. Besides English and History, I passed REs given for Algebra, Geometry and Trig. I did two years each of Latin and Spanish, so I skipped the foreign language test, which was given after year 3 or 4. All of this went on more than 30 years ago, and my parents told me that when they were kids, during the Depression, the statewide tests reached down into elementary school. My point is that standardized testing to make sure that a student has mastered the content of a course is not some brand new thing, and existed without much trouble back when the public schools were not yet the publik skools. I went to parochial school, and it is possible that the state tests forced the private schools to conform their curriculum to cover the areas that would be tested, but I don’t know if it had any effect on teaching methods.

    Now, I’d rather see all schools privatized, and any standardized testing for content mastery overseen by private groups like accreditation councils rather than the government, but the idea of testing doesn’t necessarily suck. By passing a recognized test, such as the achievement tests that the College Board gives, or the Advanced Placement tests, colleges and potential employers who are unfamiliar with your school can have confidence that your diploma wasn’t just issued to you as the result of 12 years of social promotion. New York’s Regents diplomas assured someone in NYC that the kid from Cherry Valley’s education was in the same ballpark as a graduate of one of the city schools. This was back when NYC schools were considered among the best in the country, and things work the other way, now.

    Kevin

    *I may be misremembering, here. Almost everyone at my H.S. went on to at least Community College, and we didn’t really have tracking. Each Freshman class had one section of kids who skipped the Intro to Science class and went straight on to Regents Biology, and we usually had one section of “non-Regents” math and or science. We didn’t have Special Education classes of any sort, either. It could be that kids in the general tracks at public schools and the SE kids were exempted from some or all of these tests, or didn’t have them included in their final grades.

  34. Not you, Eric the .5b, unless I missed a posting from you on this subject.

    On the global warming thread last week you failed to read my sarcasm. You made a good point about additional-taxes-but-only-to-the-extent-they-displace-others.

  35. I suppose it depends on what is taught in the Civics class. My experience was a lot like Passim’s. I got a lot of my crazy libertarian ideas from my Civics classes.

  36. Regarding punishment of unruly publik skool students:

    We have limited private school choice here in Milwaukee. Besides the well-known Choice program that allows some low-income kids to attend private schools, both religious and secular, there are charter schools. There’s also a cross-district enrollment program known as “Chapter 220” that was instituted in response to a desegregation order made by a Federal judge in the 1970s. Students participating in these programs can be expelled, at which point they have to find another school that will take them, or fall back on the default publik skool that their district makes available to them.

    Even the kids going to a Milwaukee Public School can be expelled. Once kicked out of one school, they can apply to another, but many wind up in “alternative schools” that are usually run by non-profit social service agencies that have contracts with the school district. These are usually quite small, with low student/teacher ratios. They teach the kids enough to meet the minimum graduation requirements, or even prepare them to take the GED if they are determined to drop out. After what can only be described as rioting took place at the city’s newest, most expensive-to-construct high school, some commentators wondered aloud if maybe the expulsion stick shouldn’t be used more often, even if that meant opening more alternative schools that specialized in handling problem kids. It isn’t so much about punishing the rowdies, as removing them from the environment that the students who really want to learn have to endure, and placing them in situations where they might benefit from more discipline and individualized instruction.

    The MPS suspension and expulsion process does have to follow some due process norms, so chucking a kid out can be a bureaucratic hassle, unlike in the private schools. More expulsions will mean more hearings and paperwork, which means the administration will demand more $taff to handle that.

    Kevin

  37. On the global warming thread last week you failed to read my sarcasm.

    Hmm.

    Me:

    I’m as real as they get, but I have to admit I’m tempted by one aspect of Gore’s plan – shifting all federal taxes to emission taxes and such.

    On the other hand, I’m not dumb enough to believe that would result in anything but emission taxes on top of all our other taxes. 🙂

    You:

    Yeah sure, and the national sales tax will obviate the need for the income tax rather than become an additional tax.

    I still fail to read your sarcasm. Maybe you should avoid it.

  38. (Or to be more precise, it’s clearly sarcastic, but it still appears to be a snipe at my first sentence by someone who didn’t bother reading the second.)

  39. Oooo, a misunderstanding boiling over from another thread.! Do go on. Don’t mind me, I’ll just watch.

  40. Heh.

  41. Isn’t it odd that Mr. Gillespie refers to students as “child-prisoners” but looks favorably on efforts to increase the school year? Or was that was meant to be a sarcastic adoption of a pro-public school point of view(i.e., “If I supported government schools to begin with, here’s what I would do with them.”)?
    The remarks above about anti-government, sometimes whacky and conspiracy-minded civics teachers are further evidence that while there are many good libertarian reasons to oppose publically funded schools, the idea that the teachers are forced to feed the students government propaganda is one of the weaker ones. Other frequently criticized aspect of the public school experience, such as tenure and promotions based on seniority, actually help ensure that a bold, independent-minded, or just plain eccentric teacher can often say whatever he wants without fear of reprisal.

  42. This is exactly what I expect from the cranky editor in the leather jacket, and why I give money to the reason foundation…..

    Who’s with me? Or should I say who gives a damn about the right to not give a damn?

    And what better way to show that you don’t give a damn then by donating money to a magazine you agree with!

  43. Other frequently criticized aspect of the public school experience, such as tenure and promotions based on seniority, actually help ensure that a bold, independent-minded, or just plain eccentric teacher can often say whatever he wants without fear of reprisal.

    Which might be a good thing if we wanted teachers to be able to say whatever they wanted in class without fear of reprisal. But, of course, we don’t, and with good reason. High school aren’t college, high school teachers are neither scholars nor professionals in the sense university faculty are and the objectives of high school are only collaterally encouraging critical thinking.

    Mr. Gillespie can (and does) speak for himself. However, one might read his earlier comments as saying no more than that if one were to take these complaints about reduced civics instruction seriously, there are obviously better ways to go about fixing the problem than efforts, however flawed, to bring some accountability into the process.

  44. the idea that the teachers are forced to feed the students government propaganda is one of the weaker ones

    Have to agree with you. We libertarians may not be fans of government-run schools, but we should acknowledge that “public schools” is a simple label for a huge, complex creature that has provided a vast variety of personal experiences. Some people get an awesome education from public schools; others not so awesome.

  45. Number 6:

    I still don’t understand the snark here.

    True, kids are forced to go to school. But it is what it is. I’ve gone through the system myself and I don’t consider myself a slave. I rolled my eyes and mumbled through the forced loyalty oath (pledge of alligence) and I wasn’t thrown in jail.

    “IF” kids are going to be forced to go to school (and they are), then I can think of much, much worse things to brainwash them with then to teach them our republican form of government, and our sacred Bill of Rights. Ironically, this can teach them the true meaning of freedom.

  46. Some people get an awesome education from public schools; others not so awesome.

    this is exactly the point i have in mind when talking about public education. like any large group, it is far too diverse to make useful generalizations. further, because experiences range between excellent and terrible in public schools, unionized and un-unionized – problems with some public schools aren’t necessarily their unions or their public natures.

  47. Of course, the elephant in the dining room is that a lot of civics lessons used to be imparted by the adults talking at the dinner table. Not so in this day of a TV in every bedroom…

  48. If we start emphasizing civics in school, the students may start applying what they’re learning and will question the morality of the drug-sniffing dogs around their lockers.

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