Sunday, December 2, 2012

The ONLY Way to Teach Civics: Involve the Parent

My title sounds a little absolute, but if there are other ideas out there, I would like to know.  My prime concerns are competition and parental authority; the more removed responsibility is from the government, the more removed is control. Control should be with parents.  Yes, vouchers are an important solution; whatever puts the options available to the wealthy available to more of the middle-class is a step int the right direction (and I think an argument can be made for this reaching lower-class families as well).  However, there is no reason that public schools can't involve parental choice more, and this post is about parents' role in their children's upbringing -- not the more general issue of education quality.

In one of my recent posts about the susceptibility of youth to the "vote for Big Government and in return we will make stamp out immorality (intolerance) and give you more freedom and less responsibility" narratives.   I would have linked to Dennis Prager's insightful post about the change in the Cuban American vote.  (Note: Some conservatives have objected that these statistics are skewed and that the Cuban American populace hasn't been so completely won over . This is a valid point, I think, but how many of the 42% that voted for Obama are 18 to 30?)  I'll probably add the link to the older post eventually.

In recent years I became aware that Richard Dreyfuss wants civics to get more attention in schools.  From an actor that has twice portrayed The Evil Republican politician with apparent fiendish glee, I worry about the specifics of this plan. I recently read a high school student's poli sci paper on comparing the Presidential candidates.  It was like reading HuffPost.  There was no comparison of parties' positions or attempt to understand what is going on from both perspectives.  It was just "this is what I believe based on what little I've heard and read." Nothing I experienced in college assures me that any deeper (just more research supporting the HuffPost talking points).  I shudder at what Dreyfuss has in mind to "fix" this.  This is not to say that I believe that Dreyfuss has some conspiratorial agenda--but leftists tend to gravitate policies that further marginalize conservative opinion whether or not it's what they had in mind.

I agree in theory though that children leave high school very unprepared to discuss citizenship and what it means.

Here is my idea:
There will be several different options of accredited course work available for students. Most of these will be online. The most important aspect of this will be that the parents will choose the option.  Online studies and courses are getting increased traction in classrooms everywhere.  For students that don't have computers at home, there will also be options for use of computers at school as well as take-home readings and tests to supplement the default coursework, which I will get to describing a little.  Some of these alternative course materials will come from the most natural sources: the political parties.  There are at least seven major political parties that regularly get on the ballot in Калифорния (California).  Libertarian, Green, Peace and Freedom, and Constitution Party members will be delighted to have their minority parties prepare curricula for their children.  People's religious associations (Catholic, Muslim, secular humanist, Mormon, etc.) will also be a source of options for the communities that seek options that are less "value-free."

Two objections I anticipate:  lack of parental agreement and objectivity.  For the first problem there has to be some default standard coursework that passes muster with a bipartisan commission of the Two Biggest Parties.  The particular school district can then potentially offer a small set of take-home supplements from each parental preference in addition to the default centrist(?) option, or just the default coursework.  The paperwork will need to either have both parents/guardians signatures and preferences, or be signed by one parent with a written explanation for why the other parent/guardian is not stating a preference (or stating a lack of preference).  This is important because there needs to be a subpoena-able document if a parent contests their lack of input in his/her child's education.  

I'm certainly not against there being some concrete objectives for a civics course.  Seems that by the end of a civics course all students should be able to answer questions about our political process and theory of government.  However, public schools need to bend to the fundamental concern of parents having the ultimate say in the shaping of their children's views.  It is not the government or government worker's job to impose their own superior cultural and political beliefs on students, however enlightened they may be.  This diversity of education will prepare students better than some education committee could devise for critical debate.  There might actually be some meaningful student debates in high school as there were 55 years ago.

Students for Academic Freedom have taken on the task of documenting the use of classrooms for shaping worldviews rather than preparing students for critical thinking.  I don't know if the policies they advocate are  an answer to the problem many of us have with "education," though they are making an important contribution to public awareness.  Rather than have the academic community police itself better, I think that more direct parental involvement is required.  We parents are paying for this education; it should reflect our hopes for our children.

Now, would this idea be more popular with Americans on the Right or on the Left?  What do you think?

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