Congressional Conference on Civic Education

I spoke today at the first annual Congressional Conference on Civic

Education, which was attended by delegations from all fifty states,

including state legislators, educators, and executive branch officials.

I had served on the advisory committee for the conference, so I was

glad to see it come to pass. It was also my third opportunity in 10

days to make a speech about the Civic

Mission of Schools report. (The other two were the 50th anniversary

of the National Conference on Citizenship

and the Youth for

Justice state directors’ meeting.)

At all three events, there was discussion of the importance and difficulty

of teaching controversial issues in schools. Today,

I mentioned Gun Owners of America’s attack on the

civic education bill as evidence that there are people who do

not want such discussion in classrooms. After the session, a state

legislator from the West approached me and said that I had been un-civil

in treating the Gun Owners as "nuts"; I should have made

sure I understood and conveyed their position fairly. He said that

my incivility was an example of what is wrong with civic education.

I was taken aback, since I feel that much of my work is aimed at

promoting civil and respectful dialogue, and I strive to understand

opponents’ point of view. For example, I strongly disagree with the

National Rifle Association’s positions, yet I think its views are

sincerely held, based on principles, sometimes unfairly caricatured,

and conceivably correct. I suppose I would defend my criticism of

the Gun Owners by noting that I didn’t attribute a hidden agenda

to them; I simply paraphrased their public statement, which is a pretty

explicit attack on critical thinking in schools.

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