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Harvard Professors Allen, Kamensky Help Develop Roadmap for U.S. Civics Reform

Educating for American Democracy outlined plans to reform the civics curriculum in the United States on Monday.
Educating for American Democracy outlined plans to reform the civics curriculum in the United States on Monday. By Allison G. Lee
By Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writer

Educating for American Democracy — a team of more than 300 academics and educators with Harvard professors Danielle S. Allen and Jane Kamensky on its executive committee – outlined plans to reform the civics curriculum in the United States on Monday.

The report, entitled “Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy,” represents the culmination of 16 months of work and seeks to instill comprehensive civics and history knowledge from kindergarten through twelfth grade to give the next generation the tools to participate in political processes.

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, the roadmap stresses that it is neither a rigid set of standards nor a national curriculum, but rather a map of “the disciplinary and conceptual terrain” required for “healthy civic participation.”

The report proposes a number of goals to be accomplished by the end of the decade. It specifically suggests that, by 2030, 60 million students should have access to comprehensive civics education, 100,000 schools should be equipped with a “Civic Learning Plan” and the resources required to support it, and one million teachers should be trained in civics through professional development programs.

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Allen linked the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to a failure to provide adequate civic education, writing, “The lesson was etched into our soul that day.”

“We should desire to compete on the world’s stage as the kind of society we are, namely, a constitutional democracy,” Allen wrote. “That requires civic education to support the knowledge, skills and civic virtues needed for a healthy republic.”

In a forum moderated by PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff, Kamensky said constitutional democracy itself was at stake unless educators work to reenvision civics and history education in the United States.

“Young people are losing confidence in our form of government and in their ability to participate in civil society,” Kamensky said. “We’re here in part because the American educational system has neglected history and civics at all levels.”

Kamensky referenced the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics exam, in which fewer than 25 percent of eighth graders demonstrated proficiency in civics, and only 15 percent demonstrated proficiency in history.

“The deficit comes in part from a lack of investment,” Kamensky said. “We now invest about $50 a student each year in the important STEM fields, yet only five cents per student a year on civics, or a ratio of 1,000 to one.”

Allen wrote in her op-ed that when considering the US’s past, present, and future, it is important to take into account both the “hard histories” and “unique achievements” of the American story, invoking both the New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission.

“Disagreement is a feature, not a bug, of our constitutional democracy,” she wrote. “The question is whether we can learn to disagree productively.”

Paul O. Carrese, director of the School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, said the differing disciplines, political views, and experiences of those on the Education for American Democracy team represented an important model of cooperation for both the education system and the nation.

“We fully expect that because it’s a free country, there will be disagreement with this,” Carrese said. “I would say to my conservative friends: this is not a national curriculum, this is not a one-size-fits-all attempt to force anything on the states, but it does call for debate.”

While only “advisory” in nature, the report concludes by calling for all Americans to take history and civics education seriously in order to “navigate the dangerous shoals” the country finds itself in.

“To those who believe in America’s principles and promise, what we have inherited is painfully imperfect,” the report reads. “It is our task not to abandon but to improve it.”

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at brandon.kingdollar@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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