Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Overheated outrage abounds about low civics scores on standardized tests.

In response, let me give you a civics lesson. You have a very wealthy nation, though one with significant problems with income distribution and racial inequality. But this nation has chosen not to allocate sufficient resources to its schools, both because one of its political parties has demagogued taxation to the point that raising taxes has become a political impossibility and because its state governments and national representatives find it more useful to batter around teachers than to fund education. This nation also places significant social value upon personal income and consumerism, meaning that its smartest and most motivated young people are going into more lucrative professions than teaching.

Although not willing to fund education or pay teachers a high enough salary to attract the best young minds to the profession, the nation frets about falling behind to intensively-educated Asian kids in math and reading. How will they compete with the Chinese?!? So that nation passes an unfortunate law called "No Child Left Behind," which forces kids to take pointless standardized tests, exacerbates the underfunding of poor schools by tying their existence to improved test scores, convinces schools and teachers to fix the test answers in order to save their jobs, and encourages teachers to not ply their wares at poor schools since they will be fired if they don't improve test scores, a near impossibility given the massive problems of social inequality that children in these schools face.

With math, science, and reading being valued over other subjects, subjects like history and, yes, civics become less important. If students need extra time to prepare for the standardized tests, it comes at the expense of those classes. If outside speakers come to the school, kids are pulled out of these classes. Because everything is about the standardized test to comply with No Child Left Behind. Students then don't learn about their government or their collective past, not to mention literature, art, or physical education.

And then this nation freaks out when students don't know the fundamentals about their government. I wonder if there's an easy solution that will cost no money. I suggest more standardized testing and rote memory.