Civics education should be about more than just facts

Finn laments that the report espouses a view of civics education in which knowledge doesn’t really matter. That isn’t what the report says. We agree with Finn that building a strong foundation of knowledge is essential. In our view, a well-rounded civics education develops students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

Developing skills and dispositions alone—without instilling a basic knowledge of government, history, and more—would leave students with the desire and skillset to participate constructively in political life without having a core of information and context to guide that participation. That isn’t a desirable outcome, and the report is clear on that point.

Where we disagree with Finn—strongly—is his apparent view that preparing students for civic life is really just about instilling facts. We think that an honest, careful look at the country right now exposes that view as misguided and even dangerous.

The list of what ails the U.S. politically today is long and complicated, with problems as different as vast economic inequality .But if we’re honest with ourselves, many of the country’s most serious problems exist within us, in the hearts and minds of its people. We shelter ourselves from perspectives and facts that disagree with our own.

Our politics seem more rooted in contempt and schadenfreude than empathy and reason. Politicians exploit racial, ethnic, and class divisions, leaving many Americans feeling even more targeted and disenfranchised. And a foreign adversary disseminates false information through social media because it believes that Americans cannot (or won’t really care to) distinguish reality from manipulative fiction.

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