I’m working ineffectively on lots of separate projects, including trying
to fix the NACE Website so that it works for
older Web browsers. In between things, I’ve been writing a proposal for
a new kind of high school civics textbook. If I ever found a publisher
interested in it, I’d have to shelve a lot of other writing projects,
but it would be worthwhile.
The leading texts for high school government classes are basically political
science primers written at the tenth- or twelfth-grade level. They describe
the mechanics of the federal government as if from a distance, without
explaining how an ordinary citizen can play important roles in community
affairs, without addressing complex ethical and moral questions; without
helping students to reason about contemporary issues, and without describing
civic and political institutions other than the federal government (which
is remote from students’ lives).
Because textbooks deal mainly with the structure of the national government,
government classes have little connection to students’ direct experience
of civic and political issues, which they gain through community service,
membership in groups outside the school, and extracurricular participation.
Meanwhile, students’ practical experiences are largely separate from their
academic work, despite evidence that community service best encourages
civic development when it is combined with learning in the classroom.
In short, there is a profound need for a textbook that combines analysis
of political institutions; guidance about how to think about complex public
issues at all levels from the school to the world; a thorough and challenging
treatment of ethics; and practical instructions for meaningful community