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September 22, 2003

Congressional Conference on Civic Education

I spoke today at the first annual Congressional Conference on Civic Education, which was attended by delegations from all fifty states, including state legislators, educators, and executive branch officials. I had served on the advisory committee for the conference, so I was glad to see it come to pass. It was also my third opportunity in 10 days to make a speech about the Civic Mission of Schools report. (The other two were the 50th anniversary of the National Conference on Citizenship and the Youth for Justice state directors' meeting.)

At all three events, there was discussion of the importance and difficulty of teaching controversial issues in schools. Today, I mentioned Gun Owners of America's attack on the civic education bill as evidence that there are people who do not want such discussion in classrooms. After the session, a state legislator from the West approached me and said that I had been un-civil in treating the Gun Owners as "nuts"; I should have made sure I understood and conveyed their position fairly. He said that my incivility was an example of what is wrong with civic education.

I was taken aback, since I feel that much of my work is aimed at promoting civil and respectful dialogue, and I strive to understand opponents' point of view. For example, I strongly disagree with the National Rifle Association's positions, yet I think its views are sincerely held, based on principles, sometimes unfairly caricatured, and conceivably correct. I suppose I would defend my criticism of the Gun Owners by noting that I didn't attribute a hidden agenda to them; I simply paraphrased their public statement, which is a pretty explicit attack on critical thinking in schools.

September 22, 2003 11:42 AM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


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