Hundreds of academics from all political backgrounds recommend new civic education curriculum


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Most states require fifth-graders to learn historical facts such as when intolerable laws were passed (1774) or who was the primary author of the Constitution (John Adams). But a new report says to fully prepare students for civic engagement, K-12 teachers need to go beyond places and dates, even if the change proves controversial.

The “Educating for American Democracy” report aims to help teachers do so by providing new guidance to national, state, tribal, and local leaders on how they can assess their current practices and norms and teach history and history. civic education in new ways.

“Our goal is to have one million teachers who will be ready for the work of American democracy education, ready and prepared as directed,” said Danielle Allen, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at the ‘Harvard University and one of the lead authors of the report.

Numerous national surveys have shown a widespread loss of confidence in the American civic order. Experts say a lack of consensus on the substance of what and how to teach history and civics over the past decades has contributed to political polarization and the loss of a sense of legitimacy in constitutional democracy of the nation.

At a press briefing last week, none of the authors of the reports mentioned last month’s attacks on the United States Capitol. But Peter Levine, professor of philosophy at Tufts University and another lead author of the report, said that after 18 months of working on the project, he had gone from thinking the nation was not “in good shape” to the belief that “our constitutional democracy is in peril.”

“We have to do something to rebuild our civic strength. We can’t wait, ”Levine said. “We think America is in a bad position in part because the education system, not only in schools but in higher education, has neglected the teaching of civics and American history.”

The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US Department of Education, is the result of collaboration and discussion among 300 academics, educators and practitioners. Several of the principal investigators come from the universities of Massachusetts, including Allen and Jane Kamensky at Harvard and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Levine at Tufts.

The report includes a ‘road map’ for educators, organized around seven themes such as ‘We the people’, which explores ‘the people’ as a political concept, not just a group of people living in the same area. geographical. Another theme, “A People with Contemporary Debates and Possibilities,” examines how historical narratives shape current political arguments.

The themes also identify challenges – what the authors call “rich dilemmas” – that educators may face when teaching students. For example, the framework asks, “How can we offer a description of American constitutional democracy that is both honest about the wrongs of the past without falling into cynicism and grateful for the founding of the United States without falling into the? adulation? “

These are already deeply dividing questions and often dealt with by educators at the local level. Allen said the project will offer support for teachers, including a website, which will offer sample study plans.

The creators of the project come from diverse backgrounds and cover an ideological spectrum. iCivics, a Cambridge nonprofit founded by retired Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, played a key role in the report. Judge Sonia Sotomayor currently sits on its Board of Directors. Other attendees include David Bobb, president of the Bill of Rights Institute, and Jeremy Gypton of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio. This center is named after the late John Ashbrook, a conservative Republican congressman.

Levine says the report, guidelines, and roadmap provide educators with the ability to push history lessons and create civics classes that move from lists of facts to important questions.

“What were the experiences with the British government of British settlers, Native Americans, Americans enslaved and Americans under contract? He asked, as an example.

This, he said, is a much deeper, richer and broader question.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Peter Levine’s first name.

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