Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ABA Concerned The Kids Aren't All Right On Civics

The American Bar Association is concerned about the lack of the American public's understanding of civics and the low level of political engagement by the youth.

In Flunking Civics: Why America’s Kids Know So Little, the ABA expresses concern that civics are not being taught well in schools or elsewhere.

Well, with a public education system that has constantly downgraded the importance of civics and history, what does the ABA expect?

Only one state deserved a rating of A when it came to teaching its students American history, according to a recent study. Most states fall in the category of “mediocre to awful.”

The study ranked history standards in 49 states and the District of Columbia (Rhode Island has no mandatory history standards, only suggested guidelines) for “content and rigor” and “clarity and specificity” on a scale of A to F. Only South Carolina got straight A’s.

Nine states’ standards earned a grade of A- or B. But a majority of states—28 in all—had standards ratings of D or F, the study found.

It is a real concern, as a democracy's citizenry untaught in its history and governance, and ignorant of its history and the history of the world, tends to not choose its leaders wisely.

While reading the article, try not to guffaw too loudly at one of the expert's supposed reasons for the lack of understanding of civics:
.. . the disappearance of traditional newspapers and TV news shows that objectively report information, youngsters have become increasingly disengaged from civic and political life, experts say.
Ah yes, the golden olden days of the objective mainstream media reporting - when was that again?

The article even goes on to blame Bush for this lack of focus on civics:
Since the late 1990s, when American students tested poorly in reading, science and math against students from 20 other Western nations, federal educational policy has focused strongly on those three subjects at the expense of history, social studies, government and civics.

That trend began in 2001 with the Bush administration’s landmark No Child Left Behind Act, which gives priority to federal funding for efforts to improve student performance in reading and math, skills that are considered fundamental to student success in the workplace.
Not only is civics lacking, but apparently so is math, history, and logical reasoning. The 1990s, dare I say, preceeded Bush so the trend can't have begun under Bush in 2001 a decade later, no? It is true that there has been more of a focus on those areas since NLCB cosnidering performance in them was also woeful, but schools have been neglecting civics for far longer than Bush had been in office.

This federal meddling in education being complaint about in the article is of course a further argument to get the feds out of education but that might be too complex a separation of powers argument for this study's civic-knowing authors to handle for now.

And as with all things, in lack of understanding of civics, it is women and minorities that are hardest hit:
The problem is exacerbated by evidence of what researchers describe as a growing “civic achievement gap” between white, wealthy, native-born youths—who demonstrate consistently higher levels of civic and political knowledge, skills, attitudes and participation—and poor, nonwhite and immigrant youths, who are thus at a disadvantage politically.
Well yes, if you're in a lousy area in lousy public schools coupled with not having been here as a child to learn civics in the first place, it is a shocker that you're at a disadvantage and don't know civics.

The sidebar of the article (at the bottom of the page) "American Know-How & the ABA" gets even funnier in that it blames conservatives for the decline in teaching "progressive" civics in schools. Yes, really.

In any case, it is nice for the ABA to recognize there actually is a problem. Perhaps they could urge other states' to adopt South Carolina's curriculum?


NE said...

Civics and history educator here. There was a lot of talk about this back in the 80s, so much so that President Reagan formed an investigative team - The National Commission on Excellence in Education - to look into it. They wrote a pretty shocking report that warned that current mediocre education was a national threat that needed to be fixed immediately. However, when commission recommended increased federal funding and support for public schools they were ignored for political reasons.

Aaron said...

That's quite annoying as civics and history are quite important subjects for students to learn.

The interesting question is if it is really a matter of funding or simply a question of prioritizing and allocating current resources to make sure students do learn math, english, science, history and civics effectively.