Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Another Opportunity Missed - Civic Education Policy Proposals in California

California education policy makers have once again written and published a nice looking report on school curriculum – this one on the need for improved civic education.  As is the norm for these tasks, a group of “well respected” civic leaders have participated.
They have written a report, Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California, and they call it a Blue Print for Action.
They call for a major revision of civic education.  That is fine. They also call for discussion of their proposals on social media.( p 42)   Well, here is some of the needed discussion. 

They even recognize 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 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.
 Rates of voting and voter registration provide a window into civic engagement.  The proportion of state voter  registration that is Latino and Asian has remained far below the proportions of these groups in the state’s overall population. In 2010, Latinos in the state made up 37.6% of the general population while they were on 21.2 % of the registered voters. The Asian population was 13.1 % of the state but  only 8.1 % of the registered voters.

The report, as is common, 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  They  even note  that the current History Social Science Framework and Standards are over 15 years out of date- a  reminder that the State Board of Education and the California Legislature should heed.
Then, they propose some decent curricular directions  drawn from a variety of sources that take little or no account of the diversity  of students in our schools. 
The report and recommendations  miss the single most direct and clear issue.  Children and young adults need to see themselves in the curriculum.  Students, particularly students of color, have low levels of attachment to California and U.S.  civics messages in significant part because the government institution they encounter the most- the schools- ignore the students own history, cultures and experiences.
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.
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 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and a photo of Cesar Chavez.
 When the 53%  % of students who are Latino , and the 9  % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school and their success at school.  It contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students.  A more accurate, more complete  history  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. History and social science  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.   
Add their stories to the history textbooks, add their literature to the literature textbooks. They are not migrants from some distant place. They are California's children. Include them.  Revise the History/Social Science Framework and Standards to include them.
Unfortunately politico appointees, including from the CDE, and professional class rarely see or meet with large numbers of alienated and ignored students in our schools. As a consequence they write reports and recommendations based too much on their own experiences, not recognizing the experiences of the students. 
When will they ever learn?
If they had engaged diverse voices in the committee, they would have heard more useful ideas.

Or, as Barack Obama is said to have directed members of his cabinet, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

Dr. Duane Campbell
Democracy and Education Institute - Sacramento
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