Is America a racist country? Or the greatest nation on earth? Or both or neither or some of each?
For the sake of our children’s education (and for any number of other reasons), we need a more thoughtful and balanced starting point for the whole conversation—one that leaves space for nuance, mutual understanding, and hope for the future. Our union is not perfect, but it will become more so if its citizens understand, value, and engage productively with the constitutional democracy in which we all live.
Sadly, far too many young (and not-so-young) Americans have only the haziest grasp of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are essential to informed citizenship, in part because for decades now we have systematically failed to impart them to our children. Culpability for that failure goes far beyond our formal education system, to be sure, but a considerable portion of it does belong there: on our schools, our school systems, and our state K–12 systems, which have focused—and been pressed by Washington to focus—on other priorities.
The consequences of that neglect are now painfully apparent on all sides, including the sorry state of American politics and the sordid behavior of many who would lead us. Rectifying the situation is an enormous project to be pursued on multiple fronts, but schools are an obvious starting point. That’s where we can best begin to inculcate the next generation of Americans with a solid grasp of their country’s past and present, its core principles, and the obligations of responsible citizenship.
The logical starting points for getting that right are the academic standards for civics and U.S. History that have been adopted
by the fifty states and the District of Columbia.
That’s because our federal system of government ensures that states and their subdivisions bear primary responsibility for education, which includes establishing academic standards that spell out the content and skills they want their public schools to teach and their students to learn. These standards are typically organized by subject, though in the realms of civics and history they are sometimes organized under the heading of “social studies.”
We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have been evaluating states’ academic standards for more than two decades. Consequently, we’re well aware that they are just the starting point—statements of aspirations, desired outcomes, and intentions. To get real traction, they must be joined by high-quality instructional materials and pedagogy, sufficient time and effort, and some form of
2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results
My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results
Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.