Civic courses make a comeback
Le retour de l'éducation civique aux États-Unis
Le retour de l’éducation civique dans les lycées américains.
Aux Etats-Unis, si les cours d’éducation civique sont obligatoires dans les lycées de la plupart des états – quarante-deux sur cinquante –, leur durée et leur teneur varient grandement, et ils sont considérés comme secondaires par rapport à d’autres matières. Cependant, face à un climat politique et social de plus en plus instable, un certain nombre d’écoles publiques et privées prennent désormais conscience de l’importance de cette matière...
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — It’s just after 7 on a Thursday morning, and Mamaroneck High School is empty — except for about 30 freshmen who are already seated in their classroom, laptops in front of them. They are finishing the first year of a new initiative: a four-year program called Original Civic Research and Action, which requires them to immerse themselves in the workings of their town of Mamaroneck — 1. high school lycée / freshman élève/étudiant de première année / laptop ordinateur portable / to immerse oneself in se plonger (dans) / workings rouages / just north of New York City — and find a useful solution to an ongoing problem.
A NATIONWIDE EFFORT
2. The project — for which students get no school credit in the first year — is the brainchild of Joseph Liberti, a longtime government and history teacher at the high school. And it is emblematic of a renewed nationwide effort to address, at both the high school and college level, issues that have been laid bare over the past few years — a lack of understanding of and trust in most civic institutions, a disconnection from government at all levels and intolerance for those who think and act differently.
3. Although he had been pondering such a program for years — modeled on similar ones the school had in drama and science — the election of President Donald Trump gave it a new urgency and “launching it became much easier in 2016,” Liberti said. “The energy was there, and I was able to ride that wave.” He expected 12 students to sign up. He ended up with 32.
FOCUS ON SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS
4. Only nine states and the District of Columbia require a full year of civics education, according to the Center for American Progress; 30 states mandate a half-year, and 11 states have no mandates. Only one state, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, require community service and civics courses before a student graduates. The reasons are varied, but many say the increased focus on science and mathematics, as well as stand-
ardized tests, has squeezed out time that once would have been devoted to such courses.
5. And tests results and surveys show that students’ — and most Americans’ — knowledge of their history and the structure of their government is abysmal. Scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress state that in 2014, only 18 percent of eighthgraders scored “at” or “above proficient” in American history. A survey last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that 37 percent of those surveyed couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and about 75 percent don’t know all three branches of government.
TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE
6. For years, a number of organizations have promoted teaching civics, such as the Center for Civic Education, which provides curriculums and holds annual competitions for upper elementary and middle-school students, and the Civics Education Initiative, which lobbies states to require students to pass a civics test before graduating.
7. But more needs to be done, especially in light of the divided state of the country, many say, and individuals and institutions are taking on the challenge. One example is Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago, whose students last year led a campaign to address gun violence in their community; as part of that they studied the Constitution and the Second Amendment and worked with legislators, police, activists and gang members.
8. “This is not just about a high school civics class. It’s not to prepare students for tests, but to prepare them to be active, contributing citizens,” said Ron Berger, chief academic officer of EL Education, a nonprofit network of about 160 public and charter school nationwide. “We’ve forgotten about that as a nation.” Polaris is one of EL Education’s schools.
9. Including civics education and engagement means “that when they go to college, the kids are used to being in a deep dialogue — they’re not going in with the idea that there’s one right answer,” he added. “They learn to negotiate and hear different perspectives.”
10. And hearing different perspectives is something that’s sorely lacking across the country. Jacobi Kandel, 14, who is taking the Mamaroneck High School class, said that after the 2016 presidential election, she realized how little she understood about the rest of the country. “This town is liberal, and I thought that was the way of the world,” she said. “I totally thought Hillary was going to be the first female president. Then I woke up and said, ‘What’s going on?'”
Students’ knowledge of their history [...] is abysmal.
Students from Mamaroneck High School are finishing the first year of a program that requires them to immerse themselves in the workings of their town.