Thursday, May 12, 2011

Understanding Civitas

This week has seen another of the rash of articles decrying American students' lack of knowledge about civics and government.

The Washington Post says only a quarter of high school seniors are "proficient" in civics knowledge and skills, even though many are now old enough to vote (Many students lack civics knowledge, study shows).

"Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool," retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in a statement. "The habits of citizenship must be learned. ... But we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal"... (Read more)

An article in EdWeek (Is Your Civics Knowledge a) Advanced, b) Proficient, c) Basic, or d) Below Basic) gives a sample of the questions from the latest NAEP exam. They include:

8th grade:
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution of the United States to:
a) Ensure that the federal government would be run by a system of checks and balances
b) Set up two parties that would share control of the federal government
c) Establish and protect various civil liberties
d) Guarantee that large states would not overpower smaller ones
46% answered correctly (__)

The First Amendment guarantees people in the United States the right to:
a) Own property
b) Own firearms
c) Speak freely
d) A fair trial
74% answered correctly (__)

How did you do? Did this exercise make you feel anxious?

If so, you're not alone.

At Classical Conversations, we study history and civics in more than one way. We memorize a time line of world events.We learn sentences about major eras in history. We read a lot of stories about history. We copy and write paragraphs from histories. We read original documents from the foundations of American government. We debate topics in current events.

We do all of these things because we know it's by returning to the same information from different angles that we keep our knowledge limber and readily available to us.

We do all of these things because we want our children to grow into their rights and responsibilities as citizens, just as we're growing into ours.

Finally, we do all of these things because we want our children to be eager -- not afraid or apathetic -- to participate in our system of governance, so they can change it for the better.

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