Schools, Citizenship, and Tolerance

AEI has an interesting new report out on social studies education in America, and particularly how social studies teachers feel about teaching civics or "citizenship" values to their students. In the era of NCLB, the results are not all that surprising; just 45 percent of public school teachers believe social studies/civics remain a priority in their district, and a full 70 percent say social studies have been pushed aside because of the focus on raising standardized test scores in math and English.


It's interesting to note that about half of the approximately 1,000 respondents believe "tolerance and equality" are the core values social studies teachers are responsible for teaching–far more than those who prioritize the actual facts of American history and principles of our government.

While we could endlessly debate whether it's more important for teachers to develop knowledge or character in their students (the best teachers–and parents–do both), what's sad to me is that the majority of American children spend their days in classrooms devoid of the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that the research of Amy Stuart Wells and others have found effectively fosters a lifelong committment to tolerance and equalty.

This is a problem at both the school and the classroom level. We know schools are more racially and economically segregated now than they have been in about 30 years, so let's focus here on segregated classrooms within relatively integrated schools. When Jeannie Oakes studied the San Jose public schools in the 1990s, she found that among students scoring in the top 10 percent on standardized tests, 97 percent of Asian-Americans and 93 percent of whites were enrolled in college prepatory courses, while just 56 percent of black students with the same high standardized test scores were enrolled in such classes.

While there is increasing awareness–in part thanks to the work of Jay Matthews' high school rankings in Newsweek–that truly good schools enroll a diverse cross-section of their students in college prep courses, this in-school, curricular segregation problem remains visible nationwide. According to the Department of Education's Civil Rights Office, white kids made up 60 percent of the K-12 population in 2000, but took up 74 percent of the seats in gifted and talented programs. Black and Latino children, on the other hand, were over-represented in special education programs and severely underrepresented in gifted and talented classes. The College Board keeps similarly depressing stats on AP course enrollment.

My point here is that when kids attend schools that claim to be tracked by ability level–but are, in many cases, tracking more by socioeconmic status (and parental pressure/influence) than anything else–we are sending them powerful and innacurate messages about race, class, and equality in American society; messages that become, for some of them, part of the way they view politics and citizenship.

Via: Rick Hess

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