Plain Talk: We’re failing the citizenship test

Dave Zweifel:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been busy the past several months speaking about her pet peeve — the sad state of teaching civics in our public schools.
“Civics education has been all but removed from our schools,” she often remarks. “Too many people do not understand how our political system works. We are currently failing in that endeavor.”
O’Connor cites examples in which Americans could name a judge on “American Idol,” but couldn’t name a single justice on the Supreme Court or the three branches of government.
She’s calling attention to an extremely important problem in the U.S. All too many American citizens don’t understand the country’s democratic system and why it’s crucial to the future of that democracy to stay informed and participate. The Founding Fathers, after all, counted on the citizenry to be the republic’s caretaker and that’s a major reason why they felt so strongly about education.
Unfortunately, schools over the years have been saddled with teaching just about everything but civics, history and the arts. The heralded No Child Left Behind Act, for instance, has forced schools to drop meaningful civics classes so that teachers can “teach to the test,” consisting primarily of math and reading. And now that the Obama administration wants to tie teachers’ pay and promotions to those tests, classes on citizenship will continue to get the short end of the stick.

I’m glad Dave Zweifel raised this issue. I hope he remains active on curricular issues, which, in my view are not simply driven by No Child Left Behind.