Thomas Kelly in the The Hill: “Civics must not further polarize America”
Many claim that civic education is the solution to an increasingly polarized America. So why do the headlines suggest just the opposite? The contest over AP African American Studies that pits Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is only the latest battle in the renewed culture war over history and civics that began with the New York Times’s 1619 Project in 2019 and has continued with fights over critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching.
Even civics reform efforts that claim to be bipartisan, such as the Educating for American Democracy project, generate significant backlash. We need civics to reduce, certainly not exacerbate, our divisions — but where can we start?
In the first place, civics advocates need to have frank conversations with parents and the broader public about what we mean by civics. A recent poll sponsored by my organization, the Jack Miller Center, found widespread agreement among parents that particular content knowledge should have priority. Fully 89 percent said that it was very important that students have a basic understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the responsibilities of citizenship before they graduate from high school, including 80 percent of Democrats and more than 73 percent across all racial groups…
Thomas Kelly is the Vice President of Civics Initiatives at the Jack Miller Center. He received his A.B. from the University of Chicago, where he studied international relations, and he earned his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame. Tom practiced as a commercial litigator in Chicago prior to his return to JMC, where he was previously programs officer. Tom directs all JMC efforts on behalf of K-12 education, including the Founding Civics Initiative.
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