Thursday, July 7, 2011

Teaching Civics May Help Preserve The Middle Class

William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, worries about the recent information that students score poorly on basic civics knowledge.

Damon makes a trenchant conclusion and offers a solution that might have long term benefits beyond test scores.  He writes,
How can we do better? Of course we need to teach students the Constitution, along with its essential underlying principles such as separation of powers, representative government, and Federalism. Excellent programs for such teaching now exist. But these programs are not widely used amidst today's single-minded focus on basic skills
Those points may not be new to those who understand the idiocy behind the testing regime mandated by NCLB/RTTT.  The fact that they come from a Hoover fellow is welcome.

More importantly, Damon writes,
As for the essential matter of motivation, the only way to capture students' interest is to inspire in them some justifiable pride in their country's best traditions. Fortunately, U. S. success stories are not hard to find. In our recent history, three 20th Century cases could be taught to promote pride in the American tradition: 1) the civil rights movement that extended rights to millions of citizens in the United States; 2) victories over totalitarianism (especially fascism, communism, and other militaristic tyrannies) that extended new freedoms to millions of subjugated people in Europe and Asia; and 3) the building of a middle class that offered economic freedom to millions of ordinary citizens, and to immigrants coming to American in search of a better life as well. [Bold Mine]
I'm always a bit leery of appeals to American greatness because those phrases are often turned into jingoistic domestic political slogans that favor the Koch brothers or corporate America.  The middle class, however,  is under the most vicious assault I have seen in my nearly 54 year life.  I seriously doubt that current trends will allow any future grandchildren the opportunities to better themselves that I had.  If students are taught that the middle class was necessary for economic freedom AND that its being systematically decimated, perhaps there's a chance to reverse the current trend.

If Americans don't reverse this trend, I echo Damon's prediction for a dire future.
We live in a time marked by anxieties over many perceived threats to our way of life—terrorism, economic collapse, and climate change, to mention just a few of the widespread fears making our headlines these days. But there is a looming crisis closer at hand that poses every bit as grave a threat to the future of our way of life: the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it. A free society requires an informed and virtuous citizenry. Failing this, as Ben Franklin long ago warned, despotism lies just around the corner.
(HT: Bruce Bawer)

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