This historic month in history, educator Web Hutchins commemorates the remarkable words of Dr. Martin Luther King. As we remember the impeccable impact Dr. King made to how the world is shaped today, Hutchins questions the lack of civics in our classrooms. The Common Core is based in mathematics, literacy and reading. However, should it also be based in civics? Hutchins raises the question in this thoughtful editorial in Education Week:
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail (1963)
This year, educators and their fellow citizens celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ethereal “I Have a Dream” speech and his prophetic “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The unbridled urgency of King’s passion for justice almost jumps from the page, transcending time and inspiring us today to build civically engaging schools for all our children.
In 1963, King penned his letter on the margins of a newspaper in the confines of his “narrow” jail cell during the pivotal civil rights march on Birmingham, Ala. His still-unfulfilled ultimatum, “Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy,” could be the mission statement for the swelling 21st-century “new civics” movement, which is pressing to restore civics in America’s schools.
Civics proponents’ wishes have fallen mostly on deaf ears. Through promotion of the Common Core State Standards, the Obama administration and its allies orchestrated one of the most dramatic assertions of federal power into K-12 education since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, but failed to promote civics where it counts—in the common core’s package of standards and assessments. These documents determine what will be taught, and what will not be taught, to more than 40 million children across the United States. Because the core is barren of civics—the word does not appear in the 66-page standards document for English/language arts—the imperatives of the “not tested, not taught” mindset will diminish time for citizenship education, as it did under the No Child Left Behind Act.
In honor of Martin Luther King’s faith in education’s democratizing power, we should insist that civics be added to the core’s standards and unfinished assessments. A first civics standard could cover democracy, scaffolding K-12 students toward expertise in democratic citizenship. Instead of high-stakes tests, the core could promote authentic assessments, such as participation in a model United Nations simulation.
A half-century after his iconic address in Washington, King’s dream seems worse than deferred. It seems forgotten. Racial and socioeconomic segregationRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in K-12 schools is now worse than it was in the 1970s. In the NCLB era, nearly 14 million students dropped out of school (an average of 7,000 per day), and gaps between the academic performance of white and minority students persist. In too many communities, a specter of hopelessness and violence haunts young people. A student I was fond of was shot, in the back, this spring while I was writing this essay. Since 2008 in Chicago, more than 530 young people under the age of 21 have been killed.
NCLB’s high-stakes, civics-free stance absolutely failed our children and our democracy. In 2010, approximately three-quarters of the 4th, 8th, and 12th graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress civics test failed to score “proficient.”
Time is a stern master. Learning to operate democracy’s levers requires sustained K-12 attention. But under NCLB, precious minutes for social studies disappeared as principals anxious about “adequate yearly progress” narrowed curricula to test-prep kids in math and literacy boot camps. This ongoing trend, which is disproportionately common in schools in poor communities, contributes to the widening civics gap. Will the core be NCLB redux?
If so, it will be because of “the appalling silence of good people,” as King suggested in his letter. How much longer can we ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate in Brown that “education … is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms”?
To read more, check out the full article here.