Friday, February 24, 2017

Civics in education

I have increasingly been coming to the conviction that civics is an important thing for students to learn.  Perhaps the most important thing they should learn.  I didn't learn a whole lot of civics as such in grammar school, and just a bit in high school.  Maybe in the course of hearing about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Jim Crow and Civil Rights, I kind of pieced together some of the basic pillars of an education in civics.  Which  I guess is kind of the idea of a robust education in social studies and history--a student can synthesize for him- or herself the lessons of the past, and the principles that the US was founded on and that have driven so many social movements.  The explicit civics stuff, like units on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Amendments, seemed kind of boring at the time. 

Anyway, here's an article that shows firsthand what a useful, interesting, modern civics education might look like, one based not just on the founding documents of US democracy but on direct action to improve and help govern the polity.  The ethnic and social diversity at the San Francisco high school the author writes about is also harnessed by resourceful professors as an opportunity for students to learn about coexistence, tolerance, shared human rights and respect, etc.  As the author notes though, most white students in the US, which is to say most of the population that most needs to hear divergen, minority viewpoints and to learn what it means to live in a diverse society of mutual respect, are in fact in segregated mainly-white schools.  It is one more manifestation of a trend I've seen a lot--ethnic minorities and other oppressed groups are called upon to and increasingly do widen their circle of tolerance, civic respect, and the like (blacks learning to respect Latinos, Muslim Americans embracing their gay neighbors, etc.), but the people who most need to become more tolerant, the whites who dominate public spaces, political power, and economic privilege, are by and large not in contact with ideas and realities that would challenge them to make society better for all.  And their very power means that they will not and cannot be forced to become more civic-minded.  I don't know what the answer is to improve this state of affairs.

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