Conservatives: If You Don't Want Critical Race Theory in Classrooms, Provide the Resources for Civics EducationBreaking News
tags: civics, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory
Thomas Kelly is director of civics outreach at the Jack Miller Center. David J. Bobb is president of the Bill of Rights Institute. Jeffrey Sikkenga is executive director of the Ashbrook Center.
In recent months, lawmakers and activists have become embroiled in a debate over critical race theory — the movement contending that our legal, political, and societal structures are inherently racist — and whether public school programs or curricula that reflect this thinking are appropriate. Eight states have passed laws to ban critical race theory, and nearly 20 more are considering legislation.
But the intense debate highlights a reality upon which all sides can likely agree: To prepare coming generations for their roles as citizens, American civic education needs fixing.
Basic educational outcomes make that clear. For example, only 56% of respondents to the 2021 Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey could name all three branches of government. In 2018, only 24% of 8th graders scored “proficient” in civics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and only 15% achieved the same rating in American history.
On a deeper level, we need everyone to understand our fundamental principles — among them, the notion that all people are created equal, regardless of race or ancestry; that government derives its legitimate powers from the consent of the governed; and that we all have certain rights that no just government can violate. These include the right to due process of law, freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.
So how do we make sure young people grasp these tenets?
Passing top-down policy may feel like progress, but substantive changes can only happen in the classroom — and must be led by our nation’s teachers.
America’s middle and high school educators have a unique platform. Their instruction of American history can influence generations to come. In fact, throughout a typical career, a social studies teacher can reach more than 5,000 students.
Yet our teachers don’t have all the tools and support they need.
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