Thursday, October 22, 2009

Throwing In The Towel On Civics

I got to be a fly on the wall at a discussion of Supreme Court elections last night. Two groups of about 10 or 12. One men, the other women.

In a scene right out of one of Leno's "Jaywalking" segments, none of the men could name a single member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. One spoke of "that short lady" (presumably Shirley Abrahamson) in an unsuccessful attempt to jog the memories of his fellows. Another mentioned "the woman who works for the banks." (Ouch.) Nobody came up with Annette Ziegler's name either.

The women were better, but not much. Several talked about how horrible the last Supreme Court election was. When asked what was bad about it, one mentioned the "Loophole Louie" ad but couldn't remember much more. Another mentioned "that ad Gableman did." No one pointed out that the election in question was held in 2008. No one seemed to have a clue that there was a more recent election for Supreme Court held earlier this year.

In a speech I gave at this year's Fighting Bob Fest that was later turned into a newspaper commentary, I listed 12 essential nutrients every democracy needs. On my list, #7 is citizenship and #8 is civic education. Judging from what I saw last night, #7 is on thin ice. And judging from a recent column written by a journalist-turned-schoolteacher, so is #8. Among her observations is this:

"For a while, we skipped social studies every Monday while students took standardized tests. It got cut when school let out early for teachers' professional development. Then one day, after a school assembly ran long and I had to administer a math skills assessment, our social studies class was whittled down to just 15 minutes. I threw in the towel."

As I said a month ago on stage and in print, there can be a ruling class or there can be democracy, but there cannot be both. If we are partial to democracy, then preparing our nation's youth to be citizens needs to be as front and center as preparing them to be economically productive.

Any thoughts on the subject Tony Evers?


Anonymous said...

In the olden days when I was in school, civics was a required course for all high school students. But well before then, civics was woven into many courses. Being patriotic meant civic participation. Now it has been reduced to flag waving. It is a big relief to our officials that the public may be upset, but have no clue how to affect the system. Who cares if we are disgruntled but have no idea that we can change things.

Anonymous said...

Totally in agreement. Loved my high school civics class. I've retained much of what was taught but that's my problem. Now a days, with what I learned, our present state of affairs is driving me crazy.

pvl said...

We are committed to spiraling growth, and nothing more. Our political dialog is not -- I am not convinced that election reform is key, because I don't believe that we can sufficiently remove the citizen "money" from the process -- for after all, it has a voice and rights along with the citizen "corporation".

These problems may be intractable -- without massive constitutional reform? Color me very pessimistic, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I AM a public school teacher. Luckily I do not teach American Government as it is currently called. I say "luckily" because I couldn't possible explain the political process as it was taught to me. I would be teaching a myth if I did. Could students and their parents tolerate the truth of the current political process with its corruption, injustice, gerry-mandering and disregard for the Constitution? Factor in the lack of a watchdog media (with exceptions) and that mode of education is also lacking.

I believe there is a certain amount of muzzling of teachers and pressure to avoid controversy, as well. The universities are in a better position to explain politics (versus government) but that misses students who don't continue their education after high school.

Definitely citizenship education should be a higher priority, but the goal seems to be creating popular and well-adjusted individuals rather than ones who will inform themselves.