tv Discussion on Civics Education Democracy CSPAN September 8, 2021 7:28pm-8:02pm EDT
the future, especially the future of our political and economic system, is a keep part of our work at the chamber foundation. any words have been written over the years about the decline of civic knowledge and skills in this country. few seem to have gained traction. that is not the case with a clear eyed and optimistic case that david davenport, our guest today, recently wrote to the hat foundation. cannot tell you how many people sent copies of this paper to make given before it was published. they described it as a must read for anyone who is concerned about the state of civic knowledge and civic skills in america. and thinking about ways to a bellow it -- elevate civics to strengthen our democracy. we are delighted he agreed to participate in today's episode of civics forward, especially since he will join conversation by another partner, a leading
life in the fields of education and civics and philanthropy in her own right. hannah was appointed ceo of the daniels fund, the latest in a series of prominent positions including the secretary of education in new mexico. that qualifies her to drive the conversation. there is another piece of the puzzle. almost 20 years ago, they both co-authored a paper on the development of civics associations in this country and the ways to support democratic self-government. that is what all of our work in civics is about so we are honored to have these distinguished guests for today's program. they've been thinking about this for a very long time and are sure to bring valuable insights to the topic. i will turn it over to hannah for now. i will be back later to organize a little q&a session. if you have questions, throw them into the chat. thank you for joining us. hannah: thank you, mike.
it is great to be here and thrilled to be a part of this conversation in joining and partnering with the u.s. chamber foundation and civics forward event. i just will say not only have i had the privilege of working with david davenport but he is a friend and mentor. he is a research fellow at the hoover institution, a senior fellow at the ashbrook institute, and as mike mentioned, recent author of what has become known as the hatch report, but it is really around the bigger buzz of civics in the education space. particularly in the education space. what is possible. david, welcome. >> thank you, good to be with you. hannah: at the presidency of the daniel fund, we have made a
priority of investing and teacher training and other organizations and most recently excited about our partnership with the u.s. chamber foundation in launching civics across our country. we are very excited about it. david, i just want to say, as you think about our conversation today, i believe that the civic education has been reinvigorated. for some, in a fearful way. our country feels divided. where do you weigh in the midst of this? i am optimistic. talk about what the landscape and are you optimistic or pessimistic? david: that is a big question. i will take a couple pieces out of it.
you can follow up. i am hopeful that civics has become a major part of our national conversation. unfortunately, as they put in my hatcher report, civics has been elbowed out of the curriculum in a lot of schools. i think in a way it was well-meaning. i do not think this was a plot to attack civics. we got so focused on reading and math and preparing students for the standardized testing. then come along same -- along came stem. all kinds of heavy emphasis. what happened i think, these new emphasis have elbowed civics out of the curriculum. as in the 1960's, a student
would've had many courses in civics. if they're in the right state they have one, one semester's course on physics -- civics. there is also some dangerous conversation in which civics has become little sized. -- politicized. that is not surprising. that is going to be a problem long-term. hannah: think about the common conversation in public policy about unintended consequences. you refer to that when you talked about no ill will, somewhere between reading, math, and other priorities we have lost something important. let me ask you this, in your report, one of your favorite quotes is how can you trust what you do not understand? tell me what you found in your
research about this crisis. i want to use the word crisis the word civics has had on our moxie -- democracy. david: a lot of our civic problems which people are increasingly recognizing could be addressed by better civic education. we see a huge loss in trust, especially among young people. trust in government, leaders, media, beyond. a lot of that is because they do not understand. how can you trust what you do not understand? a better understanding of civics leads to greater trust. we also have voting turnout problems, especially among the young. the 2020 election was a bit of an exception and hopefully is the beginning of a long-term trend. i doubt it.
more voting, more turnout, more civic response ability is going to be helped by better civic education. we see the debates in policy today, people saying we would like to have socialism. when you get to the bottom of that, they do not understand what socialism is. there are things they do want, but it is not socialism. there is a lot of misunderstanding and skew debates. a number of problems we are experiencing in our democracy is greatly helped by better civic education. hannah: i mentioned earlier about doubling down on commitment because of jill daniel's commitment to contributing through scholarships and education at the k-12 level. as you think about a better civics education, what does that
mean? we are here with the u.s. chamber of commerce foundation. business leaders across the country. what is a better civics education look like? what are the leaders of this cake, if you will? -- layers of this cake if you will? david: i use this term, layer cake. we need to have civic education began in the elementary grades. we have no civic education taking place in the elementary grades and almost none in middle school. you wait until you're junior or senior year and you have a one semester course. it is too late by then. students do not have the vocabulary. they have a poor understanding of the concepts to benefit from that course. the first thing we need to do is to build the layer cake in elementary school.
giving kids what they can learn. there is quite a bit they can learn. i did. in my schooling, we had a lot learning about civics and history that were helpful. then we continue to add things that are great appropriate. by the time they get to high school they have a good grounding for taking their civics course. in high school, we need a full year of civics, not just a single semester. we more states require it. we have states that do not even require the teaching of civics. we need to move towards a full year course and not just a half a year. any improvement i would make is i think we have gotten off-track in failing to appreciate civic knowledge. we are moving in a lot of areas, including reading. we teach reading as a set of skills.
have gotten away from reading literature for its own sake and history for its own sake and better knowledge and understanding. when need to be sure that we are not just taking -- teaching pacific skills -- civic skills. we need to be teaching a deeper understanding, a deeper civic knowledge. that would be another improvement. by the end of our report, i'd recommend two big things. we need our state legislatures to require more civics. to require that it be taught in some way in elementary and middle schools. that we have a full year course in high school. perhaps even a civics test. and we need to do a better job of teacher training for civics. those of the big two recommendations i make. hannah: your answer is near and dear to my heart. education is a space i spend a lot of time in.
what i hear you saying is star earlier, lay a foundation, layering the cake. thinking about -- there is a role for adequacy -- advocacy. asking for these things. a clear quantifiable demand to create the energy and importance around this. weather that is in the legislature and into the states and school districts. the voice in this space is important. let me push on one thing. i love the focus on k-12 education. doubling down on the priorities. a lot of focus on the teacher training. one about, i mentioned earlier statement about a partnership with the u.s. chamber foundation in regards to civics speaks. we invest in civic
organizations. what is the role of society and communities today? in thinking through this conversation about how important civics is and how we bring it back to life in a way that is meaningful. that will give us the knowledge that leads to action versus action that may be uninformed? david: i think you have put your finger on an important point. what we need is a national priority towards civics. at least two or three times in our history, in my day, we had the sputnik episode in the 1950's. where russia launched into space and the u.s.. we became aware that we needed to do a lot more in science and technology education in this country. and lead to a major national movement -- it led to a national
movement. we had a lot of conversations across the country. in stem, that is the latest national push. we need that national push at all levels about civics. this is not a problem that will be sold in washington. this is not going to be solved by a billionaire investing his fortune in this. this is going to be solved by action at all levels. ronald reagan, in his final speech as president says we should be talking about civics at the family dinner table. it is a family question. we need a community leader, working with their schools to train teachers and emphasize the priorities of civics. the idea of the civics b is brilliant. have them debate. they learn so much for
participating actively and learning things in that way. it is a great idea to draw more attention and get kids excited about civics. we need action at all kinds of levels. the local level, business level, that is the good news. that is the reason to be optimistic. there are a lot of ways people can be involved in improving civics. hannah: so many times in the public policy discourse, who is responsible, is that the state role, local role? what i hear you saying is it is everyone's role. part of being an american is understanding not just intellectually, but the engagement please -- piece. to see these things converge so that everyone has a role to play
if we want to see the crisis of civics education in our country solved. david: ronald reagan, people going back and reading his farewell address. this is what he emphasized. we need to be passing onto the next generation, not only knowledge and understanding, but love of country. in my personal opinion, that is one of the ultimate goals of civics education. to empower kids to go and understand what their country is and make a contribution to it. a national movement in that direction that involves nonprofits, churches, businesses , state legislators, even washington. there are lots of ways that we can released her up a major national push along the lines of science and technology and reading that we've had the last few decades. hannah: we don't like to talk
about these things, but at the beginning of our conversation, there are some things that have become political that really ought to be just what it means to be american. the politicization and polarization, there is fear in engaging. one of the opportunities we all have is to humbly enter this phase and try to tear down those barriers that shouldn't exist if we really want to see this opportunity emerge in a way that is meaningful. it is not a single entity. a government space, but everyone owns this. the memory of our identity, if you will, as americans. emma hearing you right on that? david: i am a pragmatic person. i am much more interested in
seeing us make progress then i am in politicizing or winning some kind of debate in civics education. the writer thomas mann said everything is politics. that may well describe our day. civics and history have unfortunately also followed into that pit, if you will, of becoming political. frankly, most of the politics is not about civics and government. it is mostly about american history and the founding. that is a debate that scholars probably should be having. but i'm not sure we need to put that on the backs of what we are doing. we have civics projects saying that the founding wasn't really 1776, it was when the first slaves arrived. and we need to articulate american history around that.
and we have the ark went about critical race theory and the whole system of american racism and if we need to teach it in that way. and the 1776 commission. that is a debate for scholars to have. but most kids are really not ready for or need to be heavily engaging in those kinds of political issues. that is my fear. where are -- whereas there are lots of objective things we can do, i think we need a certain kind of civics. civics that doesn't drag our kids through that sort of thing. as is often the case, the sides want to make it all or nothing. you can't just have slavery as part of the conversation. you can't just have race in the conversation.
the whole system is racist. you have people passing bills saying that these things can't be taught at all. even the debate that we are having that is not terribly useful, i guess i shouldn't be surprised that politics has raised its head in this arena as well. hannah: i have enjoyed this conversation. we will open up for questions from our audience. in summary, you have a book coming out this next year. in my push to myself and all those here, how do we take the most simple opportunities to engage and advocate for our country, if you will. and seeing civics as an important part of this foundation. i look forward to seeing your book out and i appreciate your insight into this space.
i will turn it back over to mike for audience q&a. mike: i could listen to the two of you talk about this all day. i learned a lot just from that conversation. if you have questions, i will get us kicked off. and both of you, we talked about civics in the context of k-12 in schools. because of the chronic under prioritization or de-prioritization of civics, we have a multigenerational deficit. do you have any suggestions how we can tackle that even going beyond the traditional school system? maybe i will start with you, hannah.
hannah: i think education is a foundation and a great starting point. and we mentioned the daniels fund and the excitement about thinking about future training. david mentioned that as well. and how do we engage? we have a role to play. we are not going to solve this problem, but we are giving our best shot at how to participate in a meaningful way. the one thing that we see partnering with you all at the foundation, we can see civics the in asset and create an opportunity to come into the community at the local level and encourage our young people to learn as a foundation. mike: a good number of our audience will be chamber members around the country. and many of those chambers would
easily sponsor constitutional declarations and schools, the reading of those documents. that get students engaged. i am very involved in teaching through primary documents, the use of primary documents. getting students involved. that is something all generations can participate in. there are just lots of ways to have communitywide conversations that draw lots of people in. and you hear other people's perspectives. mike: david, this question is for you. david makes a great point about teacher education. can you elaborate and discuss programs that effectively address those issues? david: i do think that is one of
the biggest issues. when i did my study, i hadn't realized the various depictions of this. you don't really major in civics in college. so your typical civics teacher may have some courses -- when you go to get your masters degree, that is how to teach, not about the content of teaching. a lot of teachers in various subjects, they get to the classroom with very little preparation themselves and knowledge about the field. one that i was just starting in on was the teaching of primary documents and we do some work with him now. they have students take off the
21st century lenses and go back to history and read the debates and speeches and arguments of the times that really engage in the primary documents. this kept us away from reinterpreting everything. it allows us to learn history. my civics which was started has developed lots of games and tools. there are a lot of tools out there. frankly, a lot of local community leaders can help sponsor future training. this happens when teachers can help by sponsoring programs.
mike: we have had conversations with civics teachers around the country, especially middle school teachers. that is an area we are particularly interested in for the chamber foundation. one of the themes that emerged in this conversation is that it didn't matter if it was a red state, blue state, or whatever the political disposition of the community was, it was irrelevant. it was a consistent thread. teachers were nervous, to say it lightly, to bring controversial subject to the classroom. one of the reason is the polarization we have been talking about. they weren't confident that their supervisors or administrators would have their back if someone complained. is there anything we can do to better empower teachers.
it is through those kinds of conversations where kids learn. do you have any ideas about that? hannah: i have a couple things about this. number one, david said it earlier, whether it is any number of folks like the ashbrook institute, etc. -- going to the original documents allows you to get away from a narrative faced on an individual's interpretation. i'm not saying there's no place for that, but as we think about engaging and getting a foundation that is not your interpretation of the moment, but creates the opportunity for a conversation in your classroom. it gives you a foundation that is much more solid.
i think the best and healthiest way to think about this is we all have a role to play. and whether you are a district superintendent, keeping in your state, or community leader, asking and being a part in supporting the opportunity is a really important role to play. otherwise, we keep running from the opportunities and the feeling of the risk. and whenever ground ourselves in the opportunity of layering the cake that david talks about. we talk about individuals and communities. we have to acknowledge the importance and strive for that importance. and create safer opportunity for educators to actually teach and do what they do best instead of wondering if they walk in the door, am i going to step on a
landmine? that is a responsibility that we all hold as citizens. mike: if we had more time, i would ask you what happens if we don't fix this, but i want to end on a positive note. get the landscape of where we are today and where you think we might be going tomorrow, what gives you the greatest amount of optimism about the future of civics in america? we will start with david. david: i think the fact that we now have people from both the left and the right engaged in the conversation is a reason to be optimistic. it makes the conversations more challenging. on the other hand, more conservative people have had more focus on civics. i would say it is a very positive sign. and people on the left worried
about our democracy have entered the conversation. to me, that's the sign of optimism. the second sign is that we don't need washington or a billionaire to fix this. we can all be engaged in fixing it. i can wake up tomorrow and do something about it. to me, that is the second reason for optimism. david: i will -- hannah: i will double down on that and say at the end of the day, this is a conversation that is a good thing. if no one is talking about it, how do you create a pathway to that? that is not my issue. that is not my problem. this is everyone's opportunity. it is all of our opportunity in
our home at night. and the opportunity to take kids through civics and be prepared. i could go down the list. there is no safer place or person that this does not apply to and present an opportunity. when i think about why i am proud to be an american, we are grounded and founded with each one of us having a responsibility. and here we are with that responsibility and opportunity today. mike: i think i asked the right question at the end. this is the right way to wrap up the conversation. and to you in the audience, taking time out of your busy day to join us on this kind of
excursion into one of the most important issues america faces. i hope you join us for another episode of civics forward. we can all be engaged in fixing this. and q joining us. -- thank you for joining us. you can learn more at u.s. >> coming up tonight on c-span, architects and designers of september 11 memorials and former house intelligence committee chair and the sister of a september 11 victim speaking about the lessons learned from the attacks. in later, washington post investigative reporter craig whitlock, discusses his book, the afghanistan papers: a secret history of the war. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. provided by these television companies and more. including buckeye broadband.
buckeye broadband support c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers. giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> the architects and designers of the september 11 memorials in new york city, shanksville, pennsylvania and at the pentagon discuss their design process and the meaning behind their memorials they created. this event was hosted by the national archives foundation. the architects and designers of the september 11 memorials in new york city, shanksville, pennsylvania and the pentagon, discuss their design