The Civics Crisis
An article about David Feith's new book, Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education(www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1607098415/tilsoncapitalpar), which Mike Feinberg, Andy Rotherham and Seth Andrew all contributed to, and the shocking lack of knowledge of civics among our youth:
That wouldn't surprise the contributors to Teaching America, a new anthology of essays about the nation's civic-education crisis. Edited by the Wall Street Journal's David Feith, the book features voices from across the political spectrum, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Senator Jon Kyl, former senator Bob Graham, former secretary of education Rod Paige, Dissent coeditor Michael Kazin, and Fox News contributor Juan Williams. Feith's urgent anthology offers a painful accounting of our school system's failure to impart meaningful civics to young Americans.
American history, Feith reminds us in his preface, "is the only subject in which more than half of high school seniors can't demonstrate even basic knowledge." As Paige points out in his essay, in 2006, "only 43 percent of eighth graders gave an 'appropriate' response when asked why marchers participated in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 march on Washington." In 2001, "only 34 percent [of eighth-graders] could identify that the phrase 'Jim Crow' refers to laws that 'enforced racial segregation.'" Among high school seniors, meanwhile, "only 38 percent could identify appropriately the societal policy reflected by a sign declaring 'COLORED ENTRANCE.'"
Young Americans—particularly minorities—are also profoundly alienated from our common civic culture. Citing a 2007 Pew Hispanic Center survey, Juan Williams, himself a Latino immigrant, notes that "52 percent of Latinos in the United States between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five identify not as 'American' but as 'Mexican,' 'Salvadoran,' or 'Dominican.'" Seth Andrew, who founded the Democracy Prep network of charter schools in Harlem, demonstrates how gaps in basic civic proficiency between low-income minority children and their more affluent white peers correlate with differences in civic attitudes: "Among young people aged fifteen to twenty-five, Latinos and African-Americans are far less likely than whites to agree with the statement that 'I can make a difference in solving the problems of my community.'" Our urban school systems, Andrew concludes, are committing "civic malpractice."
The Civics Crisis
Both reformers and the educational establishment should focus on what makes America great.
4 November 2011
Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education, edited by David Feith (Rowman & Littlefield, 220 pp., $26.95)