State standards for civics education in the U.S. usually require that K-12 students learn hard dates and facts, like the events of Shays’ Rebellion or the details of the Stamp Act.
A group of scholars and educators wants to change that approach by prioritizing knowledge over the number of facts, and asking “driving questions” that integrate information, conceptual reasoning, and critical inquiry. In a report released today, “A Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy,” researchers at Harvard, Tufts, and other institutions laid out this strategy and other recommendations for a large-scale recommitment to a field that has seen investment decline during the last 50 years to the point where it now attracts just 1/1000 of the money spent on STEM subjects.
“We pose thematic questions that come from history and civics. The two are integrated and complementary, and they both need to be addressed,” said Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University and a member of the project’s executive committee, during a conference call with the media last Thursday. “For example, what were the experiences with the British government of British colonists of indigenous Americans, of enslaved Americans, and of indentured Americans? That’s a much deeper, richer, question.”
This educational shift from “breadth to depth” is one of several plans laid out in the report, developed as a roadmap to reconsider and support civics and history education at the K-12 level. As part of an interdisciplinary and cross-ideological mission, the researchers consulted with more than 300 scholars in history, political science, and education, as well as teachers, education administrators, civics providers, students, and policymakers.