In “What’s the Right Way to Teach Civics?” Vauhini Vara suggests that the Joe Foss Institute, which encourages high school students to study America’s governing ideals and institutions, has a conservative agenda. Foss, she points out, emphasizes not just “the facts of how American government works,” but also “civic-mindedness.” And this in turn betokens “traditional ideas about patriotism.”
“Civic-mindedness” isn’t only about “traditional ideas.” Learning about the past is the best preparation for influencing the future. Civic knowledge is good for people of all political persuasions. We should all desire to see our country live up to its ideals, and that means knowing and appreciating those ideals.
The National Association of Scholars is finishing a study of civic education at the college level. We have found that while higher education is moving toward making what it calls “civic engagement” part of what all college students do, civic learning is still peripheral.
The Foss Institute’s efforts to give high school students a foundation in civic learning is admirable. Colleges should pick up where high schools leave off. We need to broaden understanding of patriotism rather than deride the concept.