It’s getting awfully hard these days to keep up with the “innovations” making their way into America’s education system, as grand experiments follow one after the other. Among them: charters and their failing virtual counterparts, the flawed Common Core Standards and their force-fed online standardized tests–even though reading online compromises comprehension–hard-to-define personalized learning, and on and on.
The latest entry: an activist brand of civics education. As described by Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz, its mssion is “Not only to teach students how their government works but to harness that knowledge to launch them into collective action on issues they care about. And its lofty goal is to revitalize democracy with a new generation of informed, engaged citizens.”
Take, for example, the Oklahoma 8th graders who got legislators to consider a bill ensuring students receive accurate HIV and AIDS information, while those in California researched their drinking fountains’ water quality resulting in an eventual new filtration system. Still others are focusing on such issues as the LGBTQ population, gun control, school choice, and right-to-life.
Says Brian Brady, president the action-civics training and curriculum provider Mikva Challenge, “Civics is transformed when we teach it as a lab and not just a sedentary class. It’s just good project-based learning.”
Not so fast, cautions Chester E. Finn, Jr., president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. In his view: “At a time when subjects other than math and reading are getting squeezed and social studies in particular are getting short shrift relative to STEM and social-emotional [instruction], civics and history have a very limited purchase on the time and attention of kids and teachers.”
He worries that, as a result, students will never really learn how government works and why.
Others worry kids will be used to push adults’ political agendas. Says Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, “Trying to turn children into activists prematurely is not an especially good basis for a civic education. It might be a good basis for adults to gain a chorus of supporters, but that’s just to say it’s manipulative.”
Advocates counter that most of the projects have “no ideological bent,” so such misgivings are misplaced…
With my many thanks, what do you say?