Sunday, December 07, 2014

The great uninformed- When policy wonks and editorial boards listen mostly to themselves


Headlines and articles in recent press reports raise an alarm about low voter turnout while ignoring some of the most obvious causes.
On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee editorial noted low voter turn out and insisted  on a need for change.  But, these establishment sources seek minor technical changes restricted by their own narrow views of the problem  rather than looking at more  substantive issues.

Young people, particularly students of color, have low levels of attachment to California and U.S.  civil society  messages to vote  in significant part because the government institution they encounter the most- the schools- ignore the students own history, cultures and experiences. Children and young adults need to see themselves in the curriculum. 

Policy wonks and the Bee Editorial Board   urge changing registration and voting systems because  I guess in their segregated white world, students of color are not seen, they are not important. This is, I grant, a little better than the civics curriculum promoted by the Koch brothers in the post below. 

When the 51 % of the California students who are Latino , and the 9 % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of  official history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school their success at school and the likelihood that they will vote as adults.   Marginalization  contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students. 


A fundamental way to engage students in civic culture is to engage them in their own schools and communities.  That is where the students most encounter civic opportunities.   A more accurate, more complete  history taught in schools   in Ethnic studies courses  would provide some students with a  a sense of self, of direction,  of purpose, even a sense that  they should stay in school and learn more.  It might even encourage them to read newspapers.  And, ethnic studies would provide Anglo  students with an informed, accurate history of the political and cultural development of our society.

In November the LAUSD board voted to require courses to offer ethnic studies classes at all of the district high schools.  A few courses had already been offered, but this provides a substantial increase in offering.
San Francisco Unified will consider a similar decision at their December meeting.

 Ethnic studies classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the civics  skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.   
California should add their history to the textbooks.  Add their literature to the literature books.  Include all students in Ethnic Studies classes.  These students are California’s children.  The state can start by revising the 1987 era  California History/ Social Science Framework to include their history. The California Dept. of Education has diverted prior  attempts to substantially revise the framework.


In 2014 some California policy “leaders” called for a renewal of civic learning in order to promote civic education.  Unfortunately, but predictably, they have not proposed increasing ethnic studies.  Instead, they have written a report, Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California, and they call it a Blue Print for Action. http://www.powerofdemocracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CLTF-Final-Report.pdf

The report appropriately  recognizes  the diversity of California students.  They say,
Civic learning is also vital for our increasingly diverse California society. In 2012-2013, our 6.2 million K-12 students were 53 percent Latino, 26 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 6 percent African American, with the remaining 6 percent comprised of other ethnicities. In addition, an increasing number of our students are not native speakers of English. Almost 4 in 10 kindergarteners are English language learners. This diversity, and the attention it requires, is now acknowledged in our school funding model. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) recognizes the necessity of investing in the reduction and ultimate removal of inequitable outcomes in California public schools. Revitalizing civic learning opportunities, in an equitable manner, can contribute to meeting these goals.”

While it is beneficial to recognize the need to “revitalize civic learning opportunities, in an equitable manner,” it is not equitable to continue to impose an inaccurate and deceptive view of  history on the students.
While it is accurate that we have a general problem of civic engagement of the young,  it is also true that we have a very specific problem with the rate of Latino and Asian voter participation and  civic engagement.

The report, as is common now , is well illustrated with compelling photos of very pleasant multi racial and multiethnic student faces.  They  even note  that the current History Social Science Framework and Standards are over 15 years out of date- a  reminder that the State Board of Education and the California Legislature should heed. As a minimum the Latino Caucus of the Legislature should pay attention.

Regretfully the curricular directions proposed in the report  take little or no account of the diversity of the students in our schools. This is what happens when insular policy “consultants” do not consider the input of students and of teachers.
The prior legislative session passed two bills to  increase youth voter participation:
Assembly Bill 700 (2013) requires the Instructional Quality Curriculum in all California high schools. This bill was developed to increase civic participation and education
Assembly Bill 1817 (2014) encourages voter participation among high school students, allowing students to register or pre- register qualified classmates on high school campuses to vote in upcoming elections.

These new laws will do no harm, but  the report and these new laws miss the single most direct and clear issue.   The 1987 California History Social Science  Framework still in use today to guide the selection of  California textbooks   expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but remains totally inadequate in the coverage of Latinos and Asians. The only significant change between the 1987 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and a photo of Cesar Chavez. This is the blind writing reports for the blind.

A more accurate, more complete  history  provided in Ethnic studies courses  would provide some students with a  a sense of self, of direction,  of purpose, even a sense that  they should stay in school and learn more.  And, ethnic studies would provide Anglo  students with an informed, accurate history of the political and cultural development of the state.  Ethnic studies classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the civics  skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.   

The Department of Education and the Board of Education  can start by revising the California History/ Social Science Framework to include the history of the majority of students in the schools by  joining LA Unified in requiring Ethnic Studies Classes in high school. This would be much more effective than the required voter registration efforts of the report on Civic Competence.

The Framework determines what goes into the California  textbooks.  Having sought for decades to change this framework, I recognize how difficult it will be.  The next revision is up for consideration in 2015/2016.   If the CDE stacks the committee membership for writing a new framework, as they did last time, we can expect little change.

There is a network of scholars and professionals interested in writing a more complete history of our state.  This has been said before and we will keep reminding these folks.


Cordially,

Dr. Duane E. Campbell
Democracy and Education Institute


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