Also from the NY Times today, comes this troubling story about the civic education of our young people today. While the less than 20 % of young people in New York City not making the grade in social studies is downright scary, the fact that less that 44% of students statewide don't make the grade engenders as much fear in me as the New York City statistic.
While it can be admitted that the NCLB points the focus, rightly in many respects, on reading and math achievement, I am wondering what kids are reading. I love literature and fiction, but if you have to teach a kid to read, why then can't we require the reading to sometimes be about history, civics, government and current events?
As a student of politics, history and the government, I am continually shocked by the lack of emphasis being placed on the understanding of history and our government--at all levels of education. In addition to the dismal performance of elementary and secondary education to provide a foundation of knowledge, colleges and universities fail to require a class in government or history for all students. We must, as a nation, understand a common political heritage as it affects the very fabric of our nation. I used to laugh when Jay Leno's Man on the Street would ask who the Chief Justice was or who the vice President was, but now I find the questions demeaning, particularly when friends from other countries know more about our government than average Americans.
I cannot blame the students for this one. This quote from the article sent shivers down my spine:
New York State administers social studies exams in fifth and eighth grades, but officials said the results get little scrutiny because they are not among the criteria used to determine if schools are performing adequately, either under state regulations or the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"The truth is we do not use it as a measure of accountability," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Education.
Big points to the Department of Education for candor, but candor does not comfort in all cases. Yet, I still have a few problems.
- The taxpayer in me asks why test something (at a cost of millions of dollars per year) and then not including it as a measure of accountability. Test as a measure, but measure your tests.
- The parent in me would ask, why are you subjecting kids to a test with no purpose in terms of teacher/school/school system accountability.
- Finally, the citizen in my cries out for including social studies testing in measures of accountability, because as we all know, if it is tested (and means something) it will be taught.
I beleive the lack of voting activity of more than third of Americans in presidential elections and over half in congressional elections is a direct result of the lack of a civics education in elementary and secondary schools. One of the tweaks that should be made to NCLB and state requirements is a stringent history and government requirement. What is the point of a child who can read, but can't understand how our country came to be or how the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches interact or who their Congressman and Senators are?
Most City 8th Graders Miss State Norm in Social Studies - New York Times