Thursday, May 05, 2011

Citizenship in an Era of Standardized Testing

As someone who loves history and civics, I was saddened (though hardly surprised) to note that most American students failed a recent standardized civics exam, and the civics exam scores are better than those in history. I can't say I'm surprised, though. When I taught middle school humanities, social studies was easily the class that got shortchanged the most in terms of instructional time. Social studies classes were, it seemed, expendable. My students received only four periods a week, compared to five periods of science and eight periods each of math and English.

We are certainly reaping what we have sown. In an era in which we are more consistently being misled by people in power, a discerning and critical mind applied to questions about the life of a citizen is absolutely necessary. I think I've done and continue to do my part, but, as I observed earlier this week, it's not something that one teacher can do alone.

"During the past decade or so," says Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, "educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more on developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen." Think about this quote for a minute. We may indeed have developed workers, but by all accounts, far too many children remain unprepared for promising careers of the future. With few marketable skills and little sense of citizenship, the conditions are ripe for the development of a permanent underclass that can only consume or destructively deviate.

I regret, I suppose, the Hobbesian tone of this post, but I think all teachers start to feel a little Hobbesian by May.
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