The state blows history
RALEIGH – If the main goal of public education were to prepare young people for employment, its entitlement to taxpayer support would be much lower.
I am not saying this because preparing young people for employment does not matter. It is of great importance. Precisely because effective education and training would increase the future incomes of students, however, private money would flow into the business – from parents, future employers and (in later classes) to the students themselves. They would all get direct economic returns on their investments.
Governments would subsidize schooling for the poor, of course, as a kind of safety net. But that would not necessarily lead to universal provision or a subsidy of public education. Its main focus is really culture, not the economy. It is about producing future citizens inclined to autonomy and capable of doing so.
When voting or otherwise participating in representative government, citizens must have sufficient general knowledge to ask questions and to vote knowingly. And when engaged in direct democracy – voting in referendums, for example, or attending a municipal assembly – informed citizenship is even more critical. “To educate and inform the whole mass of the people,” wrote the famous Thomas Jefferson. “They are the only sure trust for the preservation of our freedom. “
Educating young people for citizenship means passing on a broad knowledge of various subjects. They should be able to read and consider news and information. They should have a working knowledge of mathematics and science. And perhaps more importantly, they should know the history of their country and understand the civic institutions in which they will participate.
Alas, when it comes to history and civics, North Carolina seems determined to blow up. As my colleague from the John Locke Foundation, Terry Stoops, recently explained, state officials began a review of North Carolina’s social studies standards in 2019. Over the following year, the process turned into a politicized mess, producing heavy standards on the left nomenclature and light on specificity, rigor and balance.
A national group called the Thomas B. Fordham Institute noticed it. In a recently released report assessing history and civic standards in all 50 states, Fordham placed North Carolina at the bottom of the list, with a D minus for our new civic standards and an F for history.
“North Carolina’s new standards for civic education and history in the United States are inadequate,” the report said. “Nebulous verbiage and an aversion to detail makes them functionally without content in many places, and organization is poor everywhere. A complete overhaul is recommended before implementation.
Naturally, advocates of the new North Carolina standards will cry foul, given the Fordham Institute’s past advocacy for standards-based reform and school choice. This is not, however, partisan politics or disagreements over education policy. Here are the five states Fordham put at the top of his list: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee and New York. There is no “red state versus blue state” model here, just as there is no such model among the 10 receiving F ratings in both categories.
Although North Carolina narrowly missed falling to that lower level, it has the worst standards of history and civics in the Southeast. Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi all received “exemplary” or “good” ratings.
How can policy makers correct this mistake? Stoops is urging an immediate end to implementation of the new North Carolina standards pending a complete rewrite. The Fordham Institute team came up with specific recommendations to improve standards. In civic education, for example, the state should detail what students should learn about such essential topics as the separation of powers, judicial review, the rule of law, and the electoral process. Fordham also offered thoughtful ways to align civic and historical norms with each other.
North Carolina should “articulate what students should know instead of asking them to” illustrate “,” criticize “,” distinguish “,” differentiate “,” compare “,” evaluate “or to ‘categorize’ massive bodies of unspecified content that cannot or should not be treated in this way, ”the report concludes.
In this case, where Tennessee and California lead, North Carolina should follow.
John Hood is a columnist and author for the Carolina Journal, President of the John William Pope Foundation, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the John Locke Foundation.