A Common Sense Solution to Our Civics Crisis
Published December 14, 2021
Some parents and politicians seek to ban controversial ideas from classrooms, but a better solution would be to improve civic education. Many Americans do not have a proficient understanding of civics, government, or American history, which leaves them vulnerable to the influence of misguided theories and false narratives about our country. By devoting more time to the study of civics and government, students will develop greater judgment and stronger resistance to bad ideas.
- How might we better invest in civic education?
- How does a good civic education help individuals discern between good and bad ideas?
- Read “Civics Education: Let It Bloom,” by David Davenport, via Defining Ideas. Available here.
- Read “How Not to Teach American History,” by David Davenport, via Defining Ideas. Available here.
- Explore results for the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress Civics Assessment. Available here.
Some politicians and parents are seeking to ban controversial ideas from being taught in the classroom. Their concern is that impressionable students will accept misguided theories and false narratives about our history, culture, and country.
But the effort to ban particular theories or ideas isn’t enough to solve the problem. Like pulling weeds, successfully banning one idea won’t stop others from finding their way into the classroom.
A better answer is to equip students with the tools needed to discern good ideas from bad ones.
And that requires a robust and effective civic education.
Unfortunately, national test results show that only a quarter of eighth-graders are proficient or better in civics and government and even fewer in US history. Americans are unable to answer fundamental questions about our government and how it works.
To correct this, schools must devote more instruction time and teacher training to the study of civics and government, particularly in primary and middle schools.
This education must go beyond textbooks, instead emphasizing primary documents so students may understand history from the perspective of its participants.
There will always be controversial civics programs, especially in a country devoted to the free flow of speech and ideas. But by building civic knowledge earlier, students will develop greater judgment and stronger resistance to bad ideas later.