Last Friday, the Senate passed, by a 90-0 vote, the "American
History and Civics Education Act (S. 504), that had been introduced
by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The bill would create summer institutes for
k-12 teachers in college settings, where they would study civics and history.
It would give some high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to attend a
different set of summer academies; and it would organize a National Alliance of
Teachers of History and Civics, for the sharing of information and ideas.
Alexander said, Civics is being dropped from many school curricula. More
than half the states have no requirement for a course in American government.
And American history has been watered down, textbooks are dull, and their pages
feature victims and diminish heroes. Because of politically correct attitudes
from the left and right, teachers are afraid to teach the great controversies
and struggles that are the essence of American history.
agree and think that Alexander’s points can be substantiated with solid evidence.
Partly as a result of the way we teach (or fail to teach) civics, the actual participation
of young people in politics and civic life is dropping, and the least advantaged
are the most often left out.
Many people in the "civic-ed" world
are now calling for a movement to revese these trends, using the Civic
Mission of Schools report as the blueprint. This movement or campaign would
have to address fundamental problems that go well beyond what Senator Alexander
mentioned. Above all, social studies are being squeezed out of the curriculum,
especially in grades 1-8, because of budget cuts and an emphasis on testing in
reading and math. S. 504 has no direct bearing on these trends. It deals with
the in-service education of teachersa worthy goal, if not a crucial one.
But S. 504 could have an indirect positive effect if the participating
k-12 teachers and their college instructors become a national network of advocates
for civic education. Here’s hoping it passes the House and gets adequately funded.