Early in my career I was told to face the elephant in the room. The elephant in this room is the political extremes on both sides, driving and cheering on their home teams to advance a specific agenda, or the good old-fashioned defense to block the other team’s movement. An appropriate political adage is, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”
The organization I serve, the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement, has a mission to educate and equip students to become informed and active citizens. We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works with public and private schools across the state. Our mission is to first educate and inform students before equipping them for active employment. Students must understand their rights and responsibilities in order to be prepared to fulfill the promise of “liberty and justice for all” contained in those rights and responsibilities.
There is no doubt that we live in times of strong political contradictions. I’d say times are worse than ever, but a quick read of American political history will quickly remind us that the choice between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was quite bitter (so much so that Adams left the middle of the night before is). Jefferson’s inauguration to avoid attending). We must not forget the Lincoln-Douglas debates. These got pretty nasty too – this is where the “House Divided” concept was introduced. And let’s not forget the famous duel that led to the death of Alexander Hamilton, who was shot by political rival US Vice President Aaron Burr. We do not live in unique times – at least as far as the contradiction of political ideas is concerned.
One of the main topics of discussion that was popular at Georgia local school board meetings was the curriculum being taught in the classrooms. All parents and citizens have a right to and should be interested in what our students are learning. The state school board sets the standards to be taught, and because of local control policies, it is the local school boards that determine how and what is taught.
While there may be some instances where teachers use their position of trust to indoctrinate those who come before them, I would say that this is far from the exception and not the rule in Georgia classrooms. I’m privileged to work with thousands of teachers across the state each year and what I’ve found are people who love their students, endure incredible taunts when working with resources that in many cases they provide for themselves, and do well to have the time to teach them standards they must teach.
Before I’m accused of being Pollyannaish, there may be isolated instances where teachers get caught in the weeds. They can convey their personal views through the courses in algebra and art history just as well as social studies.
It would probably shock most people reading this that the average elementary school student gets about 30 minutes of social studies per week. There’s a good chance they spend more time each week waiting in line for the water fountain than they do reading up on our nation’s founding documents, principles, and history. This should be a primary concern – and is one of the areas the Georgia Commission for Civic Education will be investigating.
The 17-member Commission will meet two to four times a year to review the conditions, needs, questions and problems related to civics, submit an annual report to the General Assembly and recommend any action or legislation it deems necessary . Each of the nominees has taken great care to represent the diverse views of the legislature, members of the executive and judiciary, business communities, educators and the public. While we still await the announcement of the appointments by the governor and speaker of the House, other appointments include Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel, Attorney General Chris Carr, State School Superintendent Richard Woods, and Representatives of non-political organizations including the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Association of Municipalities of Georgia.
The Commission aims to rise above political currents and be that “bridge over troubled waters” to ensure that Georgian students graduate ready for the citizens. Our students deserve our best – and our democracy demands it.