A New K-12 Civics Report Card

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/20

If you Google “K-12 civics resources,” the search will produce seemingly infinite options (about 79,400,000 results, to be precise). It isn’t hard for teachers and parents to find resources—there are plenty of civics programs out there. The challenge is finding quality resources that will prepare students to take on the full responsibilities of American citizens when they come of age. 

Distinguishing between different civics programs can be a daunting task. Some resources use language that betrays their ideological agenda right off the bat (that civics program advertising “equitable K-12 civic learning,” for instance, is not trying to be subtle). But oftentimes, the depth and quality of a program can only be determined by diving into its content and taking a close look at what it teaches students to believe about their nation and their role as citizens. 

The stakes are higher than you might think. Today’s K-12 students are tomorrow’s voters—but even more than that, they are tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and scholars. They will eventually pass down what they learn to their own children, setting the tone for the next generation of American political life. 

The National Association of Scholars’ latest report, Learning for Self-Government: A K-12 Civics Report Card, offers a guide for teachers who seek a robust civics curriculum for their students—and for parents who want to know more about what their children are being taught in the classroom. Authored by NAS Director of Research David Randall and published in partnership with the Pioneer Institute, the report evaluates 15 leading civics programs and assesses both their educational quality and their ideological bent. 

In his introduction to Learning for Self-Government, Dr. Randall describes the long battle over civics education and articulates the need for a thorough assessment of existing programs:

The American people awoke in 2021—but the battle began decades ago. The republic’s champions, justly alarmed by our schools’ increasing alienation from America, have been fighting back against the advancing radical tide for a generation and more. They have funded textbooks, founded teacher training programs, and crafted lesson plans. So too, of course, have those educators who would remold Americans to assent to their authoritarian ideologies—and those cautious souls who have sought to follow a middle road between the old civics and the ersatz new. We possess, in tribute to America’s loose-knit sprawl, a variety of institutions that have experimented with different ways to forward civics education.

Civics reformers in 2021 do not need to reinvent the wheel. They need an inventory of the different attempts to improve civics education, an assessment of how effective each has been, and a recommendation about how they should build upon these different reform efforts.

Learning for Self-Government equips parents, teachers, and civics reformers to navigate the changing landscape of American civics education. If you play any role in civics education—or if you just want to know what the next generation is being taught—I encourage you to read it. 

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ash Severe, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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