“Civics” means never asking the government you support with your taxes for anything

15 Jan 2015 01:58 pm
Posted by: Donna

AZ Governor Doug Ducey announced, at his State of the State speech on Tuesday, that he would push for a new, high-stakes statewide civics test in the public schools to counter a “96 percent” failure of students on the current civics tests. It turns out that his numbers might have been a bit off:

The survey Ducey relied upon was done for the Goldwater Institute and is widely cited by groups promoting civics education.

But Goldwater spokeswoman Starlee Coleman told The Associated Press Wednesday the institute withdrew the survey results in 2009 after a company that conducted the survey for Goldwater failed to show its basic research met Goldwater’s standards. Another survey done for an Oklahoma group showing similar dismal testing results also has been discredited.

Oops. The Ducey administration remains undeterred, however, with spokesman Daniel Scarpinato averring that if even “one Arizona child doesn’t know the answer to these basic American civics questions, including the name of our country’s first president”, that Arizona must forge ahead with this newer test, one that will somehow possess super-duper testing prowess that current tests lack. I don’t know, maybe it will ask who the first President was and how many branches the US government has with more patriotic vigor!

My guess is that the Sonoran Alliance (preeminent AZ right wing blog) tweet at the top of this post better explains what they’re after in this crusade. The Scottsdale-based Joe Foss Institute is mentioned in the AP article I linked and it appears the Institute may have right wing leanings:

To review, one board member is a member of the Goldwater Institute, a known advocate for school choice, another one is connected to the NRA, and the chairman for one of their star-spangled affairs also happens to be funding the insane Rick Santorum, who said this about education on the campaign trail Saturday:

In the nation’s past, he said, “Most presidents home-schooled their children in the White House.… Parents educated their children because it was their responsibility.

“Yes, the government can help, but the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

(Aside from schools for the children of military personnel, the federal government does not actually operate schools. Most U.S. schools are supported primarily by state or local funding, or a combination of the two.)

Santorum said the public education system was an artifact of the Industrial Revolution, “when people came off the farms where they did home school or had a little neighborhood school, and into these big factories … called public schools.”

It is possible that the Joe Foss Institute and Governor Ducey’s administration simply want to make schoolchildren better able to recite the names of Presidents and the functions of government entities on command. But what is the real importance of that? How does that make someone a more valuable citizen? I say this as someone who could easily name many Presidents and all the current SCOTUS members if Jay Leno (Joe Foss Institute Lifetime Achievement Honoree and Featured Entertainment!), stopped me on the street in his “Jaywalking” sketch back when he had a late night show. So what? I have nothing on the average ER nurse or school janitor – who might be too busy doing his or her demanding job to have memorized important “civics” lessons – in terms of what I do to better people’s lives, and neither does anyone at the Goldwater Institute.

A truly useful civics education would inculcate a sense into students that the government they help pay for through taxation exists to serve the people who maintain that government’s existence and the importance of being an informed and involved citizen. But the right wing version of “civics” seems to be entirely different. It appears the goal is to indoctrinate students to see themselves as atomized individuals with no connection to a larger community. Students may learn the Tea Party credo that the Founding Fathers did not intend them to expect anything for themselves or their neighbors in return for the taxes they pay – those are strictly for military and police to protect rich people’s money and property – and that people who do need help are losers. Imagine what all that, along with the endless recitation of dry facts and figures for the high-stakes test, could do to a student’s enthusiasm for actual participation in democracy. It’s telling that Governor Ducey and his counterparts don’t mention low voter turnout as a civics education problem.

And if recent history is any guide, what conservative activists are doing with science and sex education – teaching outright lies and harmful stereotypes to children – should make people very leery of Ducey’s plan to change civics instruction.

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