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Rising Trend of Classical Education Offers Hope for Civic Renewal

Posted on Wednesday, July 3, 2024
by Outside Contributor

As we celebrate our independence on the Fourth of July, Americans would do well to reflect upon what’s necessary for a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, to long endure.

A free people requires an education in the civic knowledge and virtues necessary to preserve liberty.

In his 1838 Lyceum Address, a young Abraham Lincoln—then a state legislator in Illinois—reflected on “the perpetuation of our political institutions” in the wake of the killing of Elijah Lovejoy, an outspoken abolitionist who ran an anti-slavery newspaper, at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob.

Lincoln warned that although no foreign power could conquer us, destruction could come from within if the rule of law were to be replaced by the rule of the mob.

Lawlessness begets anarchy, he noted. If “the vicious portion of [the] population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity … this Government cannot last.”

The solution, Lincoln argued, is a commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. Fostering that commitment would be the high duty of every citizen in a position to influence others, including parents, pedagogues, preachers, and politicians:

Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.

Unfortunately, America’s education system is currently failing in this duty. But there is hope.

1) Americans Are Failing Civics

Public schools are supposed to prepare students for the responsibilities of democratic self-government. At minimum, that requires knowing how our system of government works and understanding the principles that animate it.

Sadly, civic knowledge in America is abysmal.

According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual survey, one-third of American adults cannot name the three branches of government—and 17% can’t name any branch at all. Likewise, only 5% of Americans could name all five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. Twenty percent couldn’t name any.

It gets worse.

survey earlier this year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that more than 70% of Americans failed a basic test of civic literacy on “basic functions of our democracy.” Only half correctly identified the branch where bills become laws. A third didn’t even know that there are three branches of government.

America’s schools bear much of the blame. On the most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress, American students’ history scores hit an all-time low. Only 13% scored at or above proficient in history, while two-fifths of eighth grade students performed below basic proficiency—meaning, they “likely cannot identify simple historical concepts in primary or secondary sources.”

American students also fared poorly on the NAEP’s civics exam, with only 22% of American eighth graders scoring at or above the proficiency. Nearly a third “cannot describe the structure or function of government.”

2) Schools Aren’t Teaching Ideas of the Founding

Students can’t learn what they’re not taught.

Unfortunately, as Dan Currell and Elle Rogers detailed in National Affairs, the “ideas at the heart of the American founding—equality, natural rights, the consent of the governed—have gone missing from U.S. history textbooks.”

‘America’s History’ ranks among the leading textbooks for Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH), a rite of passage taken by half a million young Americans each year. ‘America’s History’ is 1,035 pages long, but its treatment of the Declaration of Independence runs to a total of 344 words. …

Aside from a few scattered mentions, that ends the student’s encounter with our nation’s—and perhaps the world’s—most consequential political document until it appears in an appendix 858 pages later.

‘America’s History’ is not unusual. The most widely adopted APUSH textbook is ‘The American Pageant’—another thousand-page doorstop co-authored by historians from Stanford and Harvard. It, too, subordinates ideas in favor of a story of identity groups and factions fighting for power and economic advantage. Its ‘Road to Revolution’ chapter, to take one example, includes 16 review questions, nine of which concern trade, taxes, and budgets; five concern military jockeying; one addresses republican and Whig ideologies; and one asks about the material conditions that led to revolutionary ideas.

The latter textbook also gives short shrift to the U.S. Constitution, which receives “just a bit more space than [‘The American Pageant’] allocates to transcendentalism.” The textbook dedicates about twice as much space to Charles Beard’s 1913 “Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” a “discredited conspiracy theory about the Founders’ financial motivations for writing the Constitution,” than it does to the Federalist Papers, in which prominent Founders laid out their case for the Constitution.

But if American students aren’t learning about the principles of the American Revolution, what are they learning?

3) Schools Are Indoctrinating Left-Wing Activists

The vacuum left by the failure to teach the ideas and ideals of the American Founding is being filled with a push toward left-wing activism.

Instead of traditional civics, which focuses on the knowledge and virtues necessary for self-government, too many American schools are now pushing “action civics.”

What’s the difference? As David Randall of the National Association of Scholars explains:

[I]n ‘action civics’ history and government classes, students spend class time and receive class credit for work with ‘nongovernmental community organizations.’ This substitution degrades teachers’ and students’ esteem for classroom instruction, which is deemed not to have sufficient civic purpose in itself. It reduces the scarce time available for students actually to learn about the history of their country and the nature of their republic.

Most importantly, it introduces a pedagogy that facilitates teachers’ ability to impose their personal predilections on their students, by influencing the process by which students choose ‘community partners’ with which to work. It also facilitates the ability of peer pressure to impose group predilections on individual, dissenting students. We may note that the advocates of “action civics” explicitly distinguish this activity from volunteering: action civics is meant to change the political system, not to support civil society.

In other words, “action civics” focuses less on understanding how our system of government works or the principles upon which it is built, and more on training activists for left-wing causes.

It’s no wonder then that college campuses today are awash in anti-American protests, where students are more likely to desecrate the American flag than defend it.

4) Hope for Renewal: Classical Education Is on Rise

But there is yet hope for the nation Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.”

American parents are in the midst of a great educational reawakening, in which they are rediscovering the form of education—classical education—so treasured by our Founding Fathers.

A classical education focuses on cultivating the minds and hearts of students through the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty. It takes seriously the formation of the human person morally, intellectually, and aesthetically.

Schools in the classical model have children engage with the Great Books—the best that has been thought and said—in order to develop a deep appreciation of the foundations of our civilization.

The classical approach to civics entails a heavy emphasis on primary sources, such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Classical education emphasizes the importance of civic life, but before students are encouraged to act, they are taught to understand.

Parents are flocking to classical schools. According to a recent analysis by Arcadia Education, more than 677,500 students attended 1,551 classical schools during the 2023-2024 school year.

Classical schools are growing at about 5% annually. In the past four years alone, more than 260 new classical schools opened. Arcadia projects that by 2035, more than 1.4 million students will be enrolled in classical schools or receiving a classical education at home.

“Classical education gives us the chance to rekindle the flame of the West before it goes out,” observed Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts and Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. “To have a future, we need to start learning from our past.”

Jason Bedrick is a research fellow with The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy.

Reprinted with Permission from The Daily Signal – By Jason Bedrick

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AMAC or AMAC Action.

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10 days ago

The quickest, the surest and the only way to turn education around and right the course of it in this country is to get any and all federal dollars out of it. The dark (deep) state controls what is to be taught at the state and local level by tying federal dollars to curriculum. This ensures that what liberal dark state demands be taught is or else the money disappears. So make the money disappear from K through 12 and remove it from the universities as well. Our tax dollars are being used to fund indoctrination into the liberal way of thinking and we must stop it.

anna hubert
anna hubert
10 days ago

70 % failed civic literacy How about the plain ordinary literacy Majority of kids do not know how to hold a pen never mind writing cursive They know what they are taught which is not much unless they go to a decent school and have parents who care and can help If they live in the inner city forget it Teachers have it tough also not only because of lack of discipline but the fact that kids parents and kids themselves don’t function in English and they are all in the same system We are mixing apples with oranges Took a while to get to this sorry state will take longer to fix it One step at the time I guess

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
11 days ago

The title of this article ” Rising Trend of Classical Education Offers Hope for Civic Renewal ” — those words provide a positive, optimistic outlook , something indicating reason to believe the betterment of the Nation is in the works. That is very good to think about. And the last paragraph , the statements by Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts and Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters are very nice to hear too. Well done with this writing Jason .

9 days ago

I used to teach at a university and with almost 15 years of experience testing students by having them write down the 50 states like a quiz, the average number of states named was about 31. These are both undergraduate and undergraduate students. Abysmal IMO and I was teaching them how to function in the international business world. I actually had two students only name two states, both from the same school district. I also had only two or three name all of the states over the same time.
When challenged to name the provinces of Canada on the same quiz I usually got only one or two. More often than not they wrote down NHL hocket cities. Pathetic.

William S. Klocek
William S. Klocek
10 days ago

Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard (especially his “Conceived in Liberty), A.J. Hayek, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, et al, visit and review for more reading. Strongly suggest Mises’ “Omnipotent Government” & “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality”.

10 days ago

This movement is one of the best things going today. The more people involved in this the greater the pressure on the public indoctrination centers known as schools. The ultimate goal will be to get the government out of education completely. This is a wonderful first step.

judy setran
judy setran
10 days ago

So can you imagine being a student and I able to read, write or do arithmetic…unable to function without digital technology. Read a clock?write a letter? When schools asked for calculators for first graders.. I voiced my opinion that were only exercising the index finger not the brain…I met resistance but did not send calculators…that was nearly 4 decades ago..

corbin douthitt
corbin douthitt
9 days ago

Readin’ and Writing’ and ‘Arithmetic- was the basics for hundreds of years, one MUST be able to read and write coherently and do basic math. Civics- as we called it- taught what government IS and should be. the sciences, biology and chemistry exposed us to a different world- as did a language other than our own. Reading the “classics’ exposed us to the same learning as did our Founding Fathers have-was it Jefferson that could write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other? Education is supposed to expose us to as much as possible, in order to stimulate our curiosity to explore something MORE. History taught us what happened before we got here and why we are who we are. Not so today. kids can’t write a complete sentence- cannot read handwritten historical documents because they do not know cursive. They communicate in a strange shorthand on a device- while standing in front of the person that is getting the message!
if you can’t read- you are useless. I see so many kids that do not read-only enough to get by and get the grade- they are handicapped for life! ” well, I learn better by doing or hearing…” yes- because you can’t read..! I read that educators claim that my generation (Boomer) was taught for the 50’s and 60’s- that my kids were taught to live in the 70’s and 80’s and that what I was taught is useless for the 2020’s. I do not buy that. my dad- (1908) went from riding horses and buggy whips to Model T’s to cars of the 1990’s= telephones, and man on the moon and microchips. all on a 12th grade education. Sadly, he voted Democrat all his life. Educators claim to be teaching kids to live in the future- yet they do not know the future except in their fantasy ideologies. Our children are being indoctrinated and propagandized to live in a Socialist world or mediocrity. Except we know it will not even be mediocrity at best! more likely just plain poverty.

Abolish the Dept. of Education- it provides NO education. A contractor can dole out the $$$$ and we’d save billion$ even with the usual graft and fraud.
Abolish Dept of HUD- we do not need anymore slums
Abolish the Dept of Energy- they provide no energy and impede the creation of energy.
Abolish the EPA- they create law without input from the citizens- constitutionally illegal agency
Stop Democrats from ruing the world.

9 days ago

That’s a great place to start because we’re lacking in civics, history and geography
Which is a sad state of affairs
Unfortunately there’re some who probably not name you one state capital of any state
Nor understand the importance of history or functions of our government be it state or nation

John Shipway
John Shipway
9 days ago

Mr.Bedric is a fool. There is no hope for renewal in our educational system. The entire system of public education was a laughing stock when I received my high school diploma in 1972 and when I completed college in the spring of 1980 I had realized for the last two years that I was working 40 hours a week and taking 19-22 hours each semester while bleeding money to pay for tuition and books for what would be a piece of paper having nothing to do with whatever I ended up doing in so far as a work career. I finished with a double major in Marketing and Communications both with advertising as their center. I ended up with a career as an insurance casualty claims adjuster, a job a high school graduate could obtain after completing a roughly month long series of useless classwork offered by the states insurance claims commission. All those tuition and book funds hesitantly spent while working all those hours carrying an overload of classes were for naught. The heavy class hour load was because the wife and I were raising our newborn and as such I needed to complete college as rapidly as possible and with taking two summer semesters each year I managed to obtain a double bachelors degree in 3.5 years and could have completed in 3 if not for moronic requirements to take optional coursework, i.e. drivel like badmitton and art appreciation and music appreciation and the like.
When my son was a sophmore in high school he told me he was considering dropping out and to be honest I didn’t skip a beat when I told him he would have my full support if he were to promise to obtain his G.E.D. as soon as legally possible as i felt I should have and then go in whatever direction he wished career wise. He agreed, dropped out, obtained a G.E.D., a series of tests a baboon can easily pass (and they frequently do), and then attended a Jr, College obtaining an AA in Diesel Mechanics a job that often pays more than that fraud you call a Doctor receives.
But Mr. Bedric, no matter how one tries, they can never polish a turd. Self school or home school or forget about it

Ray Doyle LFP, WA
Ray Doyle LFP, WA
10 days ago

Outlaw the teachers union. Pit every school board member and superintendent who has supported the LGBTQ programming in schools in prison for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Make a law that say any open display of sexual subjects in public schools is a felony.

Further test every child on standardized test every quarter. any teacher with a class receiving less the a 90% passing level get no raise and looses two days of vacation per quarterly test in which their students fail.

Require colleges to make a educaiton masters degree take at least 6 real quarters long, require 6 quarters of math, 4 quarters of economics, 4 quarters of biology, require 86 credit hours as well as a b+ gpa, they must comply with all DEI quota’s and a final exam written and managed by a third party.

that way teachers with masters degrees will actually have an education as compared with the teachers today.

Neil Gipson
Neil Gipson
9 days ago

You speak of a classical education, but you show the traitor Lincoln sitting on Satan’s throne. What’s that all about?

10 days ago

We were founded by a few guys who didn’t want to pay taxes, a tradition that carries on today.

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