Amber Northern, Thomas B. Fordham Institute - Why so few people understand either word in

Amber Northern, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Why so few people understand either word in "civic duty."


What do you know about America’s history and about its civic structures and how they are supposed to work? And how much of that did you learn in public school?

How about your kids? Or your grandkids? What do they know and what are they being taught in school about U.S. History and Civics?

The curmudgeon in me wants to reduce the answer to all those questions to a single word: “less.”  They know less about American history and about the structures and functions of government than earlier generations, and worse news — they seem to care less about what they don’t know about both.

Part of that is due to our culture which is less focused on living up to abstract standards, part is due to the pollution of public issues by mis- and dis- information and part to the infringement on private time by online distractions from games, videos and social media riddled with falsehoods.

All real problems, but to tell the truth, they’re no more than the hand that’s been dealt to those who would better educate Americans on their history, politics and civic responsibilities.

For more than 20 years,  The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been evaluating standards for teaching U.S. History in schools K through 12 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  This year, for the first time, they expanded their agenda to consider standards for courses in civics, and concluded “the tattered condition of civics and U.S. history education constitutes a national crisis.”

What’s the evidence, beyond our anecdotal experience of Nephew Norman’s ignorance of “ancient history” like the war in Vietnam, that America is failing to teach its youth about our history and government?

Who reached that conclusion and how did they do so?

And if things have reached such a sorry pass, how can states, how can citizens, do something about it?



Amber Northern is senior vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she supervises the Institute’s studies and research staff.  She has published in the areas of educational accountability, principal leadership, teacher quality, and academic standards, among others. Prior to joining Fordham, she served as senior study director at Westat. In that role, she provided evaluation services for various federal, state, and local education agencies, as well as oversaw multiple research studies involving reading instruction, math and science partnerships, performance-based pay, and more.



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