Archives for category: Citizenship

Jack Schneider is a historian of education at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. He and Jennifer Berkshire recently published a superb book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, which I recommend to you.

The “Public” in Public Schools

There are two stories that we tell over and over these days about our schools. The first is that schools are a mechanism for getting ahead in our society. In a competition of each against every, schools are the ostensibly meritocratic sorting mechanism that determines who gets what. The second story is that schools are the engine of the economy. Education builds human capital, which in turn promotes economic growth.

These aren’t entirely wrong. Despite the fact that the privileged work feverishly to tilt the playing field for their children, schools can and often do serve a leveling function. And it is impossible to imagine the American economy thriving in the same way without an educated populace. Yet this is a torturously narrow way of understanding the value of public education.

We don’t have public schools in this country so that young people can win advantage in an unequal society (and we especially don’t have public schools so that racially and economically advantaged families can launder their privilege). Nor do we publicly fund education so that the private sector can reduce the costs of training labor. Instead, we tax ourselves to pay for universal K-12 education because public schools are the bulwark of a diverse, democratic society. 

The founders knew this. As early as the 18th century, leaders were making the case that education was too important to be left to the whims of the market. If the young republic was to be governed by the people, those people needed access to schooling. Of course, education wasn’t universal from the outset; racially minoritized students were excluded and segregated, low-income students attended poorly-funded schools, and students with disabilities were refused at the door. But access to public education increased in commensuration with the recognition of other rights. Over time, our notion of “we the people” has expanded most obviously in our schools, and the benefit of this has accrued to all of us. We live in a stronger and healthier society because of our investments in public education.

And public schools weren’t merely seen as purveyors of academic content. As early advocates like Horace Mann understood, an increasingly diverse society needed a mechanism for fostering civic relationships and mutual understanding. Schools could draw young people from various walks of life together under a common roof and teach them to work in common cause. Although this inclusive vision of education has often remained an elusive ideal, integrated schools are also a reality. They have strengthened all of the communities in which they exist, and at a time of increased social fracturing it is perhaps more important than ever to heed the wisdom of Thurgood Marshall—that “unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

As Jennifer Berkshire and I document in our new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (which Diane wrote about in The New Republic), public education in this country is presently facing an extinction threat. Those who wish to privatize it like to make the case that the “public” part of public education isn’t so important; in fact, they argue that it’s a liability. I vehemently disagree. In the nineteenth century, we had a system much like the one envisioned by the radical right. And is essential to remember that public education was developed as a replacement for that largely-private system, which had proven insufficient at advancing the public good. There are things that all young people in this country should learn, and common destinies for which they should be prepared. Moreover, this is work that should be done in equal fashion for all, since we all stand to benefit from the education of our populace.

We’ve been so distracted by the use of schools for social mobility and economic sorting that many of us have forgotten about the essential role education plays in making and sustaining an American public. Yet what other institutions do we have for fostering the kinds of civic virtues that increasingly seem so short in supply? Shall we leave it to private entities to build that public? Do we trust that the profit motive will advance the interests of us all? Whatever the flaws in our existing system, we risk tremendous harm in unmaking it. 

Joel Westheimer is a professor of education at the University of Ottawa. He wrote this article for The Ottawa Citizen and shared it with me. This is a good time for me to mention that I strongly believe in content. In the mid-1980s, I was involved with a large committee that wrote the California K-12 History-Social Studies Framework. We realized that whatever we wrote had to be feasible from the point of view of teaching and learning. We selected the key events and developments that teachers would focus on. When we finished our draft, we sent it to teachers across the state. We received more than 1,000 reviews and read each one carefully. We made many changes. We sought in-depth learning, not a swift canoe ride across the centuries. Depth matters more than breadth.

Westheimer wrote:

Three essential lessons COVID-19 has taught us about education

During the pandemic, we rediscovered what teachers and students have always known: that schooling is about relationships, learning is a social process, and a deep-dive into a topic of interest is worth more than a stress-filled endurance swim in the shallows.

When did the Assyrian empire’s reign over Mesopotamia begin and end?

If you don’t know, you have a lot of company and you’re about to have even more. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless nine- and 10-year-olds missed lessons about one ancient civilization or another this past year.

History and geography aren’t the only subjects affected. Some middle school students won’t learn the three functions of mitochondria. High school math teachers may have skipped lessons in differential equations. And who knows how many missed the opportunity to read Paulo Coelho’s brilliant allegorical novel, The Alchemist.

So what?

The first lesson parents, educators, and policymakers should draw from our collective school experiences during the pandemic is this: content matters much more than coverage. For more than three decades, the school curriculum has become increasingly consumed with all the things students should know before they graduate. That has resulted in an unprecedented global obsession with micro-managing teachers’ work to ensure the right information is taught and with standardized testing to find out if they’re succeeding.

Every day we read about children falling behind, but the curriculum is bursting at the seams. Falling behind what? Behind whom?

Research in teaching and child development tells us that learning how to think analytically is much more important than cramming in material that students won’t remember weeks or years later. We live in an age of instantly accessible information in an infinite number of domains. Living well in the 21st century does not require more information but rather the knowledge and skills needed to sift, understand and assess the quality of information. Teaching content matters, but covering every possible historical event and scientific or mathematical concept does not.

Let’s turn our concern over learning loss during the pandemic to focus on what was gained. We rediscovered what teachers and students have always known: that schooling is about relationships, learning is a social process, and a deep-dive into a topic of great interest is worth more than a stress-filled endurance swim in the shallows. What matters are the connections that teachers make, both to students and their families and between subject matter and the outside world.

A second lesson for education I take away from the pandemic is that inequality undermines the work educators do. This shouldn’t be a new lesson, but it was a wake-up call. COVID-19 has functioned like an x-ray, exposing already existing fault lines: poverty and economic inequality, unequal access to high speed internet and computers, and inadequate resources for those most in need.

Calls during the pandemic for parents to make sure their children don’t fall behind only increased these already existing inequalities. Some parents have the time, resources and education to demand their kids follow the curriculum, maybe even get ahead. Other parents are front-line workers, or holding down two jobs, or working at home with little time for other activities.

School cannot solve all of society’s problems, but they are a place we can acknowledge them. For example, some teachers brought new scrutiny to how they assign grades. Could the way we evaluate students’ prospects reflect the fact that students come from such different starting points? As children return to classrooms, let’s try — both within and outside of schools — to address inequality in meaningful ways.

A third lesson from the pandemic is that teaching is essential work. Remember those amusing memes from last spring when schools shut down?

  • Homeschooling, Day 1: And just like that, teachers were appreciated again;
  • Homeschooling, Day 2: We should double our teachers’ salaries;
  • Homeschooling, Day 3: I must apologize to the teacher for insisting that Suzie was “gifted.”

Funny, yes, but also revealing. Psychologists tells us that good humour often points to truths that everyone knows but nobody admits. I hope that we learn a newfound respect and admiration for the difficult and vital work teachers do. Will it be a little bit harder to claim teachers are lazy or have too much time off or that class size doesn’t matter? Teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions and we should do everything we can to assist their efforts.

There are other lessons to take away. At the University of Ottawa, colleagues and I started the research collaborative CHENINE (Change, Engagement, and Innovation in Education) to make sure these lessons don’t get lost in the shuffle back to brick-and-mortar schooling. Already we’ve learned that educational technology can enrich good teaching but can’t replace poor teaching; that we could give students less homework and fewer tests; that the outdoors is a vastly underused resource for teaching and learning; and that trusting teachers’ front-line judgments is crucial.

When school returns to full swing, let’s give teachers latitude in what, how and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

By the way, the Assyrian empire fell in 609 BC. I had to look it up. 

Joel Westheimer is an education columnist for CBC Radio and professor of education at the University of Ottawa. His most recent book is What kind of citizen: Educating our children for the comm

This story has justifiably gotten a lot of national attention. Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after posting the following message on his Facebook page. He has a philosophy of sink or swim. That Government has no responsibility to help you when the power goes out and the temperature goes below freezing. Surviving is your problem.

That worldview sounds like it derives from the late Rush Limbaugh. It is certainly not consonant with the core values embedded in the Holy Bible. I’m guessing ex-Mayor Boyd considers himself a Christian. From what I know of the words of Jesus, he taught love and kindness for one’s neighbors, not indifference.

For non-Christians, there is another source for believing that government has an obligation to help its citizens: the United States Constitution, which begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

”Providing for the general welfare” is a commitment that society makes to its citizens.

And then there’s the basic fact that the government in most parts of this country does control the power grid and the water supply. Texans should rightly hold their state government responsible for the lack of both. Individuals and families can burn wood in their fireplaces, if they have one, and they can draw water from a well, but most people don’t have a well. People in civilized societies pay taxes so the government will protect them, build roads, supply electrical power and potable water, provide free public education, and do those things that individuals can’t do for themselves.

When their lives are at risk because of a natural disaster, they rightly turn to government for help. At times of overwhelming crisis, only government has the resources and personnel (think National Guard) to save lives.

This is what ex-Mayor Boyd wrote, along with his sort-of apology:

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MESSAGE (since deleted):

Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!

No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic). Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this. This is sadly a product of socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts. Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves! We have lost sight of those in need and those that take advantage of the system and meshed them in to one group!! Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!

Bottom line – DONT (sic) A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!!

APOLOGY

All, I have set back and watched all this escalating and have tried to keep my mouth shut! I won’t deny for one minute what I said in my post this morning. Believe me when I say that many of the things I said were taken out of context and some of which were said without putting much thought in to it. I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves. I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used! I had already turned in my resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again on the deadline that was February 12th! I spoke some of this out of the anger that the city and county was catching for situations which were out of their control. Please understand if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording and been more descriptive.

The anger and harassment you have caused my wife and family is so undeserved….my wife was laid off of her job based off the association people gave to her and the business she worked for. She’s a very good person and was only defending me! But her to have to get fired from her job over things I said out of context is so horrible. I admit, there are things that are said all the time that I don’t agree with; but I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there livelihood such as a form of income.

I ask that you each understand I never meant to speak for the city of Colorado City or Mitchell county! I was speaking as a citizen as I am NOT THE MAYOR anymore. I apologize for the wording and ask that you please not harass myself or my family anymore!

Threatening our lives with comments and messages is a horrible thing to have to wonder about. I won’t share any of those messages from those names as I feel they know who they are and hope after they see this they will retract the hateful things they have said!

Thank you

Tim Boyd(citizen)

Edutopia reports on new research by Professor C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, who finds that a “good school” does much more than raise test scores.

In a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, C. Kirabo Jackson, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, and his colleagues found that schools with robust impacts on student well-being may be helping students in ways that aren’t picked up by standardized tests. These schools may not have the highest test scores, but they’re the most likely to motivate students to graduate and attend college, especially those students who are less likely to do so in the first place.

“Test scores aren’t everything, and schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” Jackson told me. “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

This is the latest in a series of studies examining the broad impact that teachers and schools have on students. Jackson’s previous research looked at the impact that teachers had on noncognitive skills such as self-regulation, and found that teachers who improved these skills improved their students’ long-term outcomes, boosting not only grades, but also attendance and high school graduation rates. The skills that are valuable for future success aren’t usually measured on tests, Jackson points out. So while teachers and schools are often evaluated by their ability to improve students’ test scores, broader measures should be used.

In the current study, Jackson and his colleagues looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools between 2011 and 2017, analyzing test scores and administrative records. They also examined responses on an annual survey students completed on social and emotional development and school climate. The survey covered a range of topics, including peer relationships, students’ sense of belonging, how hard they studied for tests, and how interested they were in the topics they were studying. The data were then combined into a three-part index: one that included test scores and other academic outcomes, a “social well-being” index, and a “work habits” index.

Jackson’s team found that schools that scored high on the latter two indices—those that promoted social and emotional development—were also the most effective at supporting long-term student success. In these schools, there were fewer absences, and more students graduated and went on to college. And perhaps more importantly, the benefits were greatest for student populations who struggled the most in school.

I “attended” only one Inauguration, that of John F. Kennedy in 1961. I had been married only six months, and my husband and I took the train to D.C. It was a bitter cold and snowy day. Our train contained many members of Congress. Because of the snow, the train crawled and arrived very late.. All of us heard JFK’s stirring Inaugural Address on our portable radios, one train. We missed a historic moment. It was a frustrating moment for all of us, me especially, because I had worked for months in the Kennedy campaign, at campaign headquarters at 277 Park Avenue in Manhattan (since replaced by a high-rise building). I remember when he visited us. I was struck by how freckled he was and starstruck like everyone else.

Our reader Greg B. reflects on the importance of the Inaugural ceremony.

It strikes me that the upcoming inauguration can only be compared to both of Lincoln’s inaugurations. They will have been the only three in which there was serious concern about the life of the president. I think, very sadly, the many of us here and elsewhere who have expressed fear about the rise of fascism and intolerance in this nation over the past five years have been proven to be correct. What I feared in 1989 when I was a part of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism has come to fruition.

Making it even sadder, the only inauguration I experienced personally was the Clinton’s first in 1993. It was a celebration. The tents from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were erected on the National Mall for a musical, culinary and cultural celebration. It featured musical acts from the range of American experience. I remember being in the tent that had McCoy Tyner, followed by Etta James, followed by Booker T and MGs (!!!), and concluded by the Very Rev. Al Green (!!!!!!). Front freaking row. Free. For the people.

I remember sobbing like a baby when watching tv as the crowd at Obama’s first inaugural celebrated in peace and joy and wishing I could have been there. And while I was just a baby, I remember later learning about JFK’s stirring speech at his inaugural. I also remember laughing at Sean whatever-his-name-is making a fool of himself and cheering my wife and her friends on at the Women’s March from a distance four years ago.

The Idiot has taught me how to hate, something I didn’t think would have been possible four years ago. But mostly, I hate what this craven Idiot and his enablers have done to our national rituals, rituals that confirm the legitmacy–not perfection–of our system of governing. And what they continue to do. They have robbed our Nation–and more importantly, our Nation’s historical and international standing–of an essential act of legitimacy. Murderers of people and our system of governing are still at large, both within and outside of our governing institutions. We must take it back. More importantly, we must all pledge to protect President Biden. Whether we supported his candidacy or not, we must do so to restore this nation’s legitimacy, for us, the world and posterity.

Andrea Gabor argues that the violent storming of Congress is reason to revive civics in schools. Clearly, she writes, many Americans do not understand the norms of a democratic government (including, I would add, Trump and most of the elected representatives of the Republican Party).

Last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol may have been incited by President Donald Trump and right-wing politicians, but it was supported by millions of their followers. News reports and public opinion polls make it clear that many Americans believe evidence-free assertions by Trump and his allies of massive voter fraud in the November election and their lies about the power of public officials to overturn the result.

The riot was just the latest and most appalling evidence that a wide swath of the American public doesn’t understand democratic norms. That’s why it should serve as a sputnik moment for an ambitious revival of civics instruction along with expanded training in news literacy.

Nobody’s claiming that the violent extremism on display on Jan. 6 owes its rise mainly to the decades-long de-emphasis of U.S. classroom civics. But it should be a clue that civics is too important to relegate to a semester or two of high school or to sacrifice to other curricular goals. It needs to be woven throughout the K-12 curriculum and go beyond rote instruction in the three-branch structure of the U.S. government, how a bill becomes law and the ins-and-outs of the electoral college.

Last week, educators nationwide were forced to throw out lesson plans and help students make sense of the day’s events. On Twitter, teachers reported students coming to class hungry for answers about everything from the 25th-Amendment process for declaring a president unable to perform his duties to why the Capitol police were more forceful last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests. In Matt Wood’s seventh-grade civics class at Leman Middle School in suburban Chicago, students analyzed images and words used by the news media to describe the Capitol attack — insurrection, coup, insurgency, protest — to determine which ones were most accurate.More fromCall the Senate Vote on Trump’s Removal and Be Done With ItA Breakup Plan to Save Intel and Preserve National SecurityTrump Will Try to Make His Impeachment About Free SpeechThe Pentagon Must Learn to Do More With Less

At a time of heightened political polarization, wrestling with the events of Jan. 6 is a potential minefield for both teachers and students. Teachers need help from civics experts to figure out how to navigate it.

Some districts in Florida thought they could avoid potential blowback from parents by telling educators to avoid discussing the Capitol riot at all, even though Florida has a decade-old civics graduation requirement. That didn’t stop students from pressing teachers for answers. On Twitter, some students, including an eighth grader in Virginia, agonized about how a class discussion had unleashed racist attacks from classmates.

Illinois’s five-year-old civics mandate requires the discussion of “current and controversial issues” and provides an object lesson in how a robust commitment to civics can prepare schools and educators to help students make sense of the things they see on the news. (Illinois was among 11 states that previously had no civics mandate.)

As part of Illinois’s professional developmentofferings, teachers can take weekly civics webinars. Last week, about 50 educators, including math and dance teachers as well as librarians and administrators, joined a webinar on “strategies for using current and controversial issues in the classroom,” which quickly focused on the Capitol attack. It offered resources on voter fraud and how presidential pardons work, as well as the importance of engaging “student voice.”

Participants were encouraged to handle thorny debates by drawing distinctions between “settled” and “open” issues. For example, the constitutional right to abortion has been “settled” by the Supreme Court but efforts to limit or eliminate it remain “open.” Although debating abortion might be “uncomfortable,” noted a Naperville high school social studies teacher during the webinar, doing so teaches students that “civic peace exists because we can hold oppositional views in the same community.”

Counterintuitively, encouraging debate can help teachers avoid political minefields. When one webinar participant argued that teachers should “condemn” the insurgents and denounce them for racism, Wood, whose Chicago-area school is ethnically and politically diverse, countered that having students help guide discussions by encouraging them to ask questions helps to protect teachers from community blowback. It also gives students a greater stake in the conversation.  

For years, civics has been neglected in favor of math and English, subjects with federally mandated annual tests. A new study found that the vast majority of California students “attend schools in districts that do not articulate a substantial focus on civic education.” Most American high school and college students also have trouble judging the credibility of news stories they read online.

Discussion of current events should begin as early as kindergarten, argues Steve Masyada, a civics expert at the University of Central Florida. And schools should begin teaching American history and civics in early grades.

Maryland is one of the few states to embed civics in social studies learning standards for all grades, and to establish a community service graduation requirement.

In Illinois, high-school students have been instrumental in drafting new legislation, including a 2016 school-discipline law and, most recently, a pending bill to observe daylight savings time all year. In earlier grades, students work on community improvement projects and participate in mock U.N. and legislative sessions.

Doubling down on civics and news literacy will require ratcheting back costly and time-consuming annual standardized tests — though a high school test could measure student knowledge and news literacy gleaned over time. One bonus: Mastering the background knowledge needed to understand history and civics is likely to make students better readers, while civics projects would help produce more engaged citizens.

Schools everywhere should be offering after-hours civics classes for families. The federal government should consider sponsoring an advertising campaign aimed at disseminating bite-sized lessons on how to distinguish fact from fiction online. That would be a fitting way to mark the end of Trump.

George Will is a conservative who adheres to conservative principles of personal responsibility, ethical behavior, and limited government. For these reasons, he despises Donald Trump, a man who has no values, ethics, or principles.

Will was appalled by the storming of the U.S. Capitol and also by Trump’s refusal to concede his loss in the election.

He wrote a column excoriating the three villains of American democracy: Trump, Hawley, and Cruz.

He wrote:

The three repulsive architects of Wednesday’s heartbreaking spectacle — mobs desecrating the Republic’s noblest building and preventing the completion of a constitutional process — must be named and forevermore shunned. They are Donald Trump, and Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Trump lit the fuse for the riot in the weeks before the election, with his successful effort to delegitimize the election in the eyes of his supporters. But Wednesday’s explosion required the help of Hawley (R-Mo.) and Cruz (R-Tex.).
Hawley announced his intention to object to the certification of some states’ electoral votes, for no better reason than that there has been an avalanche of “allegations” of election irregularities, allegations fomented by the loser of the election. By doing so, Hawley turned what should have been a perfunctory episode in our civic liturgy of post-election civility into a synthetic drama. He turned this moment into the focus of the hitherto unfocused fury that Trump had been stoking for many weeks.


And Cruz, by organizing support for Hawley among other Republican senators and senators-elect gave Hawley’s grotesque self-promotion an ersatz cloak of larger purpose. Shortly before the mob breached the Senate chamber, Cruz stood on the Senate floor. With his characteristic unctuousness, he regretted the existence of what he and kindred spirits have not only done nothing to refute but have themselves nurtured — a pandemic of suspicions that the election was “rigged.”


“I want to take a moment to speak to my Democratic colleagues,” said Cruz. “I understand your guy is winning right now.” Read those weasely words again. He was not speaking to his “colleagues.” He was speaking to the kind people who were at that instant assaulting the Capitol. He was nurturing the very delusions that soon would cause louts to be roaming the Senate chamber — the fantasy that Joe Biden has not won the election but is only winning “right now.”

The Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation. They, however, will not be so permanent. In 14 days, one of them will be removed from office by the constitutional processes he neither fathoms nor favors. It will take longer to scrub the other two from public life. Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.

Brianna Keilar of CNN speaks here about the post-insurrection efforts to rewrite history by those who were complicit in nurturing the mob and amplifying their grievances.

For months before the election, Trump warned that it would be rigged. He said that if he lost, it was proof that it was rigged. The only “fair” election, he warned, was one that he won. You may recall that in 2016, he repeatedly predicted a “rigged” election, but since he won, it wasn’t rigged.

Since the election, he has been obsessed by the certainty that the election was “rigged,” “stolen,” and the greatest political crime in American history. His campaign team filed 60 or so lawsuits, which failed in state and federal courts, including twice at the U.S. Supreme Court. It didn’t matter whether the judges were appointed by Democrats or Republicans, even Trump himself. There was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Even Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr said do.

But nothing could stop the slander against the election. Trump created a “Stop the Steal” movement of his most ardent cultists. His message was echoed by elected officials like Ted Cruz abd Josh Hawley, who hope to win the loyalty of the Trump base.

Trump summoned his cult to Washington in January 6 to rally them one more time to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. He urged them to march to the Capitol, and he unleashed the Monster.

So far, five people have died because of the Trump-inspired insurrection. We can be grateful that the death toll was not greater and that the domestic terrorists did not set fire to the seat of our national government.

In the aftermath of the insurrection, some say “this is not who we are.” We are not haters, looters, thugs, and vandals. Sadly, this is who some of us are.

What do we do? We don’t appease the mob by holding hearings about blatant lies. As Mitt Romney said, what we owe the American people is the truth. They won’t get the truth from those who seek political gain by telling lies that stoke rage. When Trump’s hoax was twice tossed out by a Supreme Court dominated by six conservatives, including three he appointed, that should have ended the post-election battle. It didn’t because Trump and his enablers had an agenda that did not include the truth.

The deep divisions that Trump exploited won’t be healed anytime soon. As educators, we must remember that the first obligation of public schools is to develop good citizens. Not compliant citizen, not indoctrinated citizens, but citizens who are knowledgeable about our government and our institutions; citizens who can weigh evidence, listen to opposing views, and think critically about their decisions. We need citizens who can tell the difference between facts and propaganda. In rebuilding a functional democracy, we need education more than ever. Civic education is obviously not all that is needed for active participation in society, but it is crucial to sustain our democracy and strengthen it. As Ted Cruz and josh Hawley demonstrate, intellect is not enough when it becomes a tool of the unscrulous.

What matters most, I believe, is a combination of knowledge and character. People who knowingly lie do not have it. People who are driven by greed and ambition do not have it. Our Founding Fathers understood full well that men are not angels, and they created a Constitution of elaborate checks and balances to protest us from the predators who seek power by any means necessary. We have been reminded during these past four years that our democracy must be renewed in every generation. Its promise of equal justice for all is far from real and for too many, a false promise.

We must continue to work towards a better, fairer society. That work begins with truth-telling. We must demand it from our elected officials and practice it in our daily lives. That’s a start.


Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes here about the importance of civics education, especially in a time when democracy is under attack by a defeated president and the leadership of the Republican Party.

Put Civics Back in the Classroom, Right Now

Has there ever been a better time to resume lapsed efforts to teach young Americans the structure and purpose of U.S. democracy?


By Andrea Gabor

The presidential election seemed to mark a revival in American civic engagement. A record two-thirds of the electorate voted. Candidates raised at least $3 billion in small-dollar donations, and historic get-out-the-vote efforts had an impact in NevadaGeorgia and elsewhere.


Yet large numbers of Americans appear to believe President Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud. Civic life and discourse have been eroded by the normalization of lying by elected leaders, the dissemination of disinformation via social media and the attempted weaponization of the courts to undermine confidence in voting.
Has there ever been a better time for a revival of civics education? Not your father’s bland civics, with its how-a-bill-becomes-law tedium, but a vigorous set of lessons about American society and government that encourages fact-based exchanges of views and civil debate about controversial topics without taking sides in contemporary disputes about such issues as abortion or immigration policy.

Civics should begin with a common narrative that Americans can agree on, beginning with what the Declaration of Independence and Constitution say about the role and structure of U.S. government. It should explore the definition of citizenship and how it has evolved over the course of 250 years via such documents as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Seneca Falls Declaration on women’s rights, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It should address the role of the electoral college, how it works, and how votes are counted. And it should examine the prerogatives of state and local governments and their relationship to the federal government.
A foundational civics course must include uncomfortable truths. That would mean delving into the three-fifths compromise of the constitutional convention, which made slaves count toward the congressional representation of slave states without granting them any political rights, along with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Supreme Court’s sanction of Japanese internment during World War II and its 2018 decisionto overturn that precedent. But divisive and complex debatesabout the degree to which slavery shaped American society should be left to more advanced classes.


Civics should also make room for local variations in content and execution. For example, the terms on which Southern states were readmitted to the union following the Civil War might receive more emphasis in the South, and the role of the 1787 Northwest Ordinances in expanding statehood could be stressed in the West.


The refreshing of civics curricula in Illinois and Florida provide a roadmap for how states should approach the topic today. Illinois’s civics mandate, especially a requirement that classes discuss “current and controversial issues,” is especially important. The law passed overwhelmingly in 2015 with bipartisan support — Illinois was among 11 states that previously had no civics mandate — and was signed by former Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican. (While Illinois had long required high schools to teach two years of social studies, including one year of American history, the law now requires that at least one semester be devoted to civics.)


Facilitating constructive discussions of controversial topics requires special teacher training. Illinois offered all civics teachers professional development courses over a three-year period, and created a mentoring program for civics teachers, especially in schools with no previous civics course — as many as 13 percent of the total. The problem is that the state didn’t set aside money for the training, relying instead on philanthropies; a subject as important as civics should have a dedicated funding stream for educators and schools.Nor should the introduction of civics concepts wait until high school. Last year, Illinois added middle school to the grades that must provide civics instruction. Similarly, Florida’s decade-old civics law makes passing a middle-school civics course a requirement for high 
school matriculation.


A well designed middle-school civics test could support fact-based debate and is arguably less onerous than a high-school graduation requirement; students who fail the class (in Florida the test accounts for just 30 percent of the middle-school civics grade) could retake the test and go on to high school. When the coronavirus pandemic recedes, states should consider eliminating all middle-school testing in lieu of a single meaty civics test that might include geography and some economics.


When it comes to civics, states have a lot of ground to make up. For decades, government policies, including state testing mandates and federal initiatives like President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and President Barack Obama’s support for Common Core, have focused on college and workplace readiness. Civics instruction got short shrift and was often abandoned.

As attacks on democratic institutions picked up steam during the Trump presidency, civics remained an afterthought. As of 2018, only eight states required students to take a yearlong civics and government class. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, dropped its 4th- and 12th-grade civics and American history exam in 2014.

Few recent state civics efforts succeeded.
Now, as a few states begin to pursue a civics revival, one concern is political interference from the left and right. California Governor Gavin Newsom just vetoed an ethnic studies law that threatened to erode time and effort spent on other subjects, including civics. Last year, Florida’s legislature passed a bill requiring the state to review civics materials, a concern at a time when Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis have promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.


But civics instruction needn’t take sides to promote democratic involvement. Last year, Massachusetts became the first state to require schools to coordinate nonpartisan student-led civics projects. The redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics course taken by many college-bound students also requires students to work on a civics project, either partisan or not.
States should borrow good ideas from each other, including Florida’s emphasis on middle-school civics and Illinois’s focus on constructive debate. A shared narrative will be stronger if buttressed by productive argument and brought to life by civic action.


Andrea Gabor
Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism 
Baruch College/CUNY
After the Education Wars (The New Press, June 2018)
www.andreagabor.com

Arthur Camins, retired science and technology educator, knows that Democrats must do a better job of reaching out and persuading nearly half of voters that we all have a stake in a better, fairer society.

He writes:

Celebrate! Breathe a very, very big sigh of relief. Among the record number of Americans who went to the polls and mailed in their ballots, over half voted for Joe Biden to reject and decisively defeat Donald Trump!! At least five million more. I wish it was a landslide, but still, big, big whew!

However, don’t stop worrying. Be vigilant. Organize.

Roughly 47% of voting Americans, (including 58% of exit-polled whites) were willing to accept an openly racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, corrupt, wealth-protecting tax cheat, as well as his many elected Republican sycophantic supporters. The causes go way back and continue to this day. We ignore that history and current precipitants at our grave peril.  The depth of racism, appeal of authoritarianism, and continued of be-out-for-yourself cynicism will not fade away soon.  The danger of armed right-wing violence is ever-present.

This deep polarization is unacceptable, he writes. We must find a way forward that changes the mindset of those who fail to see that our society rises or falls together. He has some suggestions.