I am also an advocate of preparing our students for “college and career readiness.” Another focus that the government has pushed over the last decade and one that innovative educators are addressing. Students should leave with higher level thinking skills that will prepare them for their future endeavors and good educators are working to provide them with the tools to do so.
With this being said, I would like to discuss the Civics Education Initiative, and its recent adoption in Missouri (among other states). Under the current law (Missouri HB 1646--Signed by the governor on June 22, 2016):
“Any student entering the ninth grade after July 1, 2017, who is attending any public, charter, or private school, except private trade schools, as a condition of high school graduation shall pass an examination on the provisions and principles of American civics.
The examination shall consist of one hundred questions similar to the one hundred questions used by the USCIS that are administered to applicants for U.S. citizenship.
The examination required under this section may be included in any other examination that is administered on the provisions and principles of the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and in American history and American institutions, as required in subsection 3 of section 170.011.”
I have no problem with the intent of this law and I am a proponent of that intent. The issue that I have is the obvious contradiction that the government has put into place. If the end-goal for our students in K-12 education is “college and career readiness,” I would like an explanation about how a test with “100 Facts Every High School Student Should Know” is preparing them to meet that goal.
There is an obvious disconnect proving that our elected officials are consistently playing politics without common sense in mind in many cases regarding education reform and improvement. I understand how a “nea” to this would not be politically savvy and probably was not an option on the table in almost all cases. If you say no to this, you are saying no to stronger civics education.
Or are you?
I argue that a “yea” narrows social studies and civic education down to a set of “100 Facts” that any student can memorize in a week. As a result of this, what will happen in classrooms as a result? Nothing. Most educators will continue to teach social studies at a higher level than this and in the exact same way that they have been. Social studies once again gets reduced to simply “one hundred questions similar to the one hundred questions used by the USCIS that are administered to applicants for U.S. citizenship.”
This initiative in its current form does not strengthen civic education, but instead diminishes it. The role of social studies once again gets sent to the backburner. Instead of providing students with the opportunity to think at a higher level, determine how they are going to participate in the government, along with determining what they believe, they will be taught 100 basic facts. Students are going to miss out on the best and most important part of social studies courses, learning how to decipher what they think and know and becoming key contributors to society and United States democracy.
If we want students to become knowledgeable, responsible, conscientious, and civically engaged, is the best way to have them simply memorize these basic facts for a state mandated test? If our goal is to teach students how to think for themselves, we need to get more creative about ensuring that they learn civic values by teaching them to become part of the process. Being civically educated does not mean only knowing a series of simple facts, but by learning how to become an active part of United States democracy. This takes so much more than another required test. In Missouri, our students have been expected to “pass” tests on the United States and Missouri constitutions for decades. I can guarantee that the tests that I, and most other civics educators have developed take into account much more, at a higher level, than the simple set of factual knowledge that the Civics Education Initiative requires.
Once again, education has been reduced to a standardized set of questions with an answer that can be memorized and forgotten. If we want real change and reform, we should be looking for innovative ways of teaching and assessing our goals with lasting impact, not another mandated test full of standardized questions to be regurgitated and forgotten.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not represent those of any organization in which he is affiliated.
Text of Missouri HB 1646 Establishing the Civics Education Initiative:
The Civics Education Initiative:
Civics (American History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test: