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June 23, 2003

the Alexander bill

Last Friday, the Senate passed, by a 90-0 vote, the "American History and Civics Education Act” (S. 504), that had been introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The bill would create summer institutes for k-12 teachers in college settings, where they would study civics and history. It would give some high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to attend a different set of summer academies; and it would organize a National Alliance of Teachers of History and Civics, for the sharing of information and ideas.

Senator Alexander said, “Civics is being dropped from many school curricula. More than half the states have no requirement for a course in American government. And American history has been watered down, textbooks are dull, and their pages feature victims and diminish heroes. Because of politically correct attitudes from the left and right, teachers are afraid to teach the great controversies and struggles that are the essence of American history.”

I heartily agree and think that Alexander's points can be substantiated with solid evidence. Partly as a result of the way we teach (or fail to teach) civics, the actual participation of young people in politics and civic life is dropping, and the least advantaged are the most often left out.

Many people in the "civic-ed" world are now calling for a movement to revese these trends, using the Civic Mission of Schools report as the blueprint. This movement or campaign would have to address fundamental problems that go well beyond what Senator Alexander mentioned. Above all, social studies are being squeezed out of the curriculum, especially in grades 1-8, because of budget cuts and an emphasis on testing in reading and math. S. 504 has no direct bearing on these trends. It deals with the in-service education of teachers—a worthy goal, if not a crucial one. But S. 504 could have an indirect positive effect if the participating k-12 teachers and their college instructors become a national network of advocates for civic education. Here's hoping it passes the House and gets adequately funded.

Posted by peterlevine at 3:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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