The various essays are brought together in the book "Teaching America," and are introduced by David Feith.
The various authors offer a diverse group of views, and set forth both conservative and progressive arguments. Their conclusion: Our American experiment in self-governance relies on an informed citizenry that is conversant with both American history and the process of government. We're failing that 'informed citizenry' test today.
My reason for commenting on this book is simply that I share its conclusion that "America's crisis of civic education is acute, requiring a major change in the way students are taught about the workings of American government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."
So how poor of a job are we doing with respect to educating young Americans about our country's history, values and ideals?
Please consider the following:
"Even as the case for civic education is powerful, the evidence of civic illiteracy is abundant. Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University, reports that out of the thousands of primary and secondary students across the country who, in 2006, took a U.S. history exam administered by the Education Department, more than half failed and only slightly more than 10% "were as proficient as they should be" for their age and grade level. Mr. Bauerlein is particularly concerned that digital gadgetry and videogame distractions are taking students away from a deep and concentrated engagement with facts and ideas.
Bruce Cole, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, describes another kind of knowledge deficit. A 2009 survey of roughly 1,000 adults conducted by the American Revolution Center (of which he was president) found that 89% believed that they had a "passing knowledge of the Revolution and of our founding documents and principles"; but on the rudimentary test that followed, 83% failed. Not only is American history taught less and less these days, Mr. Cole notes, but "today's most widely used history textbooks . . . are diluted, dull, and politically correct. They fail to inspire students with a sense of wonder."
Since civic education is inseparable from basic education, it is alarming to learn from Seth Andrew, the founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools (a charter-school network), that, compared with 29 other developed countries, the United States ranks 15th in reading, 19th in science and 27th in math achievement. Correcting such deficiencies will be quite difficult. For the more limited task of cultivating civic knowledge and virtue, Mr. Andrew suggests installing a rigorous civics curriculum in high schools and teaching a "civic attitude" as well, by embracing controversy and "leveraging current events."
The book's reviewer finishes this way:
"Surely there is no reason why well-educated teachers can't deliver a civic education that highlights the remarkable achievements of America's liberal democracy while also forthrightly acknowledging its many flaws. At the moment, those flaws include the failure to cultivate an understanding of American liberal democracy itself."
We live in a very special place called America. It's special in large part because of its Constitution, history and its system of self government. An informed electorate is essential to a free society.
And in a global society, a competitive and productive workforce is necessary, too. Free markets offer educated citizens and entrepreneurial risk takers unlimited opportunities to innovate and help improve the lives of all Americans.
While the rule of law and government supervision are important parts of our system of self government, the proper role of government is not to stifle but rather to encourage private sector participants to take risks and pursue their dreams.
All Americans need to continue to learn more about the meaning of American exceptionalism and what was left to us by our forefathers.
Only by acquiring such knowledge can we reasonably expect to pass this exceptional and uniquely American legacy on to future generations.