Can changing social studies improve the education system?

Civics Alliance’s New American Birthright Program Aims to Revamp the Public Education System

In late 2021, the Pew Research Center conducted a study of 17 countries with first-world economies on how their citizens were divided along political, racial, and ethnic lines. It is perhaps unsurprising that America ranked first. But perhaps the American divide has less to do with politics, race, and ethnicity, and more to do with how the American educational system has centered itself on these three categories that make up the subject of social studies. .

Since the 1960s, social studies have been fertile ground in which to cultivate what is called the new civics. This new civic education is commonly referred to as “civic action” and has less to do with learning what is needed to be a good citizen of a republic than with engaging with social issues, such as climate change. or gun control.

There is no doubt that the public education system needs to be reformed and, for David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Academicsreform should begin with social studies.

Randall is also executive director of the civic alliance, which, according to its website, is a national coalition of organizations and citizens dedicated to preserving and improving civic education in the United States. The alliance is not just a group of educators and citizens campaigning for education reform. He put together a comprehensive social studies curriculum called American birthright.

What is the American Birthright?

“The Civics Alliance wants to improve all aspects of American social studies education by inspiring U.S. state education departments and public schools to provide social studies education that teaches American students their birthright to freedom,” Randall said.

The program is a throwback to classic liberal education that draws on classical Western thought, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to American founders and thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. According to Randall, this civics program is not revolutionary. In fact, it’s not even new. It is just an education that has been abandoned at the peril of the nation.

“The education system has abandoned both traditional content and traditional pedagogy, and abandoned liberalism for radicalism,” he said. “We can trace back to Deweyan pedagogy since the 1920s, the radicalization and loosening of education since the 1960s, and, perhaps as importantly, the virtual disappearance of even a minority of conservatives from universities and education schools from the 1990s, and the consequence shift from liberal bias to authoritarian radicalism.

“If we restored proper education, à la American Birthright, we would have students graduating from high school with substantial knowledge, educated to think freely, and able to act as citizens of the republic without needing to go to school. university.”

Randall said the American Birthright project began in October 2021. Since they weren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel,” they pulled their curriculum standards from already proven materials, such as the 2003 Massachusetts Standards. For parents going through the K-12 program found in the covenant Model K-12 Standards, this may seem too demanding. Unfortunately, this is the result of a decline in education standards and therefore student and parental expectations over the decades. Randall agrees that the program is demanding, but only demanding in the modern sense.

“Our schools in 1960 would have thought that pretty standard in its expectation,” he said. “We’re just going back to the standards we had.”

The goals

As mentioned, the goal of the Civics Alliance is to improve the teaching of social studies. Throughout the K-12 model standards, it mentions a way to do this that eliminates pedagogies in education. Although pedagogy is defined as “the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept”, Randall suggests that this type of teaching benefits neither the student nor the teacher. .

“The focus on pedagogies leads teachers to teach skills rather than content,” he said. “When you need it, you don’t just restrict how teachers can teach, you reduce the number of class hours to learn facts. Freedom for teachers and more hours to learn the real content – that’s why we didn’t emphasize any pedagogy. »

Randall said the Civics Alliance has a rather ambitious overall goal for the US Birthright Initiative over the next decade: to have at least half of the states adopt the program in part or in full. The project was just released at the end of June and is already attracting growing interest. He said many state lawmakers have shown interest, as well as some private schools.

“Most importantly, we now have five affiliated states, all trained since the launch of American Birthright,” he added. “That’s what we want – a grassroots effort to push this, to get public opinion behind American Birthright.”

The surge of public opinion

Public opinion on public education has not boded well in recent decades. Gallup has American respondents since 1973 on their level of confidence in the education system. It has fallen 30 percentage points since the polls began. Although there are many reasons why public education continues to falter – from bad teachers and bad administration to bad students and bad curricula, Randall believes that changing the way and content of education in American schools providing an effective linchpin for educational reform could be a pathway to achieving the success that Americans have been waiting for so long.

“Directly, we want to provide a positive model for social studies norms, to oppose radicals who come down on the pike,” he said. “Indirectly, using improved social studies standards to demand improved textbooks, professional development, curricula, etc.

“American Birthright cannot fix all education on its own; but without reformed social studies standards, you cannot fix the rest of the educational machine.

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