Agenda-driven education, left or right, is not the way.
These days, one can’t turn on the news or look at social media feeds without seeing multiple disturbing stories and images.
This seems to be a near-universal theme: Democracy is under attack. But that’s where agreement ends.
The left says democracy is under attack from conservative extremists.
The right says democracy is under attack from liberal extremists.
Both claim the U.S. Constitution is on their side.
Confusing? Sure is.
Older folks are pretty much set in their ways, as evidenced by the lack of give-and-take from either side.
So let’s think about younger folks.
The most serious concern is whether young people today, in this age of short attention spans, are gathering enough information at school to make intelligent decisions. That, in a word, is doubtful.
With so many distractions piled on kids -- the ubiquitous phone, social media algorithms that blow up their feeds, sports travel teams, an explosion of extracurriculars, not to mention challenges kids may face at home -- it’s not really the fault of young people that proper education in history, government, economics and so forth can be a reach.
For that matter, to some degree teachers get a pass as well in an environment where schools increasingly are expected to do surrogate parenting and remedial basic life lessons.
Nevertheless, if kids do not become well versed in the knowledge and skills to function as reasonably adjusted adults in a self-governing society, the American foundation is threatened.
So we’re supportive, at a basic level, of the legislative effort in Wisconsin to mandate statewide teaching of a civics curriculum. The measure has drawn support from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. It calls for teaching history, the context of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and to instill “a sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government at all levels.”
So far, so good.
Another bill moving through the Legislature, though, would prohibit teaching students that systemic racism is or has been a national problem, and also ban training staff about topics such as implicit bias.
Put those two matters together and this question begs to be asked: Is it possible this amounts to legislative overreach with an agenda, meant to establish what children are allowed to learn?
And we go back to the partisan divide.
The right believes the left controls schools and actively indoctrinates students in liberal ideology.
The left is suspicious bills like the ones moving through the Wisconsin Legislature are intended to indoctrinate students in rightist ideology.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards went on record saying nearly all state school districts already are teaching civics. Likewise, school authorities claim no one is teaching what has become known as critical race theory.
Here’s our thoughts.
It’s just as important to teach students to have knowledge and appreciation for America’s way of governance as it is to instill reading, writing and arithmetic skills. The Founders began an experiment with a belief that free people could govern themselves and establish civic institutions to assure and preserve freedom. To be blunt, ignorance is the enemy of liberty. Schools should be obliged to turn out graduates who understand the nation’s system and why good citizenship is required to continue the great American experiment.
At the same time history should never be selective. Slavery is a continuing stain for a nation that has taken too long to live up to its own ideals. It was not solved by the Civil War. Afterwards came the Ku Klux Klan. And Jim Crow laws. Separate drinking fountains and restrooms and the back of the bus. The point was perfectly illustrated earlier this year when the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre was observed. For tens of millions of Americans that was the first time they had heard of the slaughter and burning of the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood. That was no accident. That history was not taught. Not even in Tulsa.
History and civics is more than necessary. It’s essential. But it should be taught the way it was and is, not with a left or right agenda.
The best of the Founders believed in the people and thought they could be trusted with the truth, whether it upset one ideological set or another. We agree. Teach it all, so students have a base of knowledge that recognizes America’s greatness and its challenges.