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February 6, 2004

no federal concern for civics?

The NAEP, often called the "Nation's Report Card," is a voluntary, federally-funded assessment of students' progress in a field. Those who support the Civic Mission of Schools agenda favor a big expansion of the NAEP Civics Assessment. We want the Civics NAEP to be given every three years with separate representative samples in as many states as possible. We have argued that this is an important way to hold states--but not individual kids--accountable for civic outcomes. Furthermore, we believe that the NAEP civics assessment is a good instrument.

Now we learn that the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has commissioned a report on the 12th grade NAEP, which will be received and publicized on March 5. We are told that this report will call for the abolition of all 12th-grade NAEPs other than reading, math, and science. This decision would represent a giant step away from our goal, at least at the federal level. On the other hand, if we can organize to block the change, we may gain some momentum and visibility. I think this is a crucial test.

It's also a reminder of our fundamental goal. NABG is not contemplating the end of the NAEP Civics Assessment because it is a flawed instrument. Rather, they simply do not believe in the importance of schools' civic mission. They are asking all fields other than reading, math, and science to justify themselves. They are putting us all in a position where we will have to compete for survival: civics against history; civics and history against the arts. We would not face this highly unpleasant situation if people believed that schools have a civic mission.

February 6, 2004 9:59 AM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


Did you catch Stanley Fish's piece, "Intellectual Diversity", in the Chronicle of Higher Ed? http://chronicle.com/jobs/2004/02/2004021301c.htm

In it he writes:

Teaching, yes -- it is my job to introduce students to new materials and equip them with new skills; but I haven't the slightest idea of how to help students become creative individuals. And it is decidedly not my job to produce citizens for a pluralistic society or for any other. Citizen building is a legitimate democratic activity, but it is not an academic activity. To be sure, some of what happens in the classroom may play a part in the fashioning of a citizen, but that is neither something you can count on -- there is no accounting for what a student will make of something you say or assign -- nor something you should aim for. As admirable a goal as it may be, fashioning citizens for a pluralistic society has nothing to do with the pursuit of truth.

Although he is writing about university, it strikes me this perception is one that will be a significant obstacle to promoting civics in the classroom. Have you been encountering this idea in your work?

February 14, 2004 2:13 PM | Comments (2) | posted by Frederick Emrich


I think there are a lot of academics who agree with Fish, but this is a useful quote because it puts the argument explicitly. (I hadn't seen it before, and I thank you for it.)

I sometimes argue that we can develop young people's civic identities by engaging them in research on public issues. Research is connected to the core mission of universities; it isn't controversial for people like Fish. Yet studying public issues can awaken young people to civic values. I have no objection to going further and actually teaching students to be civic activists. But engaging them in public-interest research may be a good compromise.


February 14, 2004 5:06 PM | Comments (2) | posted by Peter Levine

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