I recently had a Fourth of July-themed letter to the editor in the Falls Church News-Press regarding civic education in Falls Church. Here it is in full:
The best way Falls Church citizens could honor the spirit of the Fourth of July would be to encourage Falls Church City Public School officials to take a serious look at bolstering the role of civic education in Falls Church schools.
I commend the work of Mary Ellen Henderson’s Rory Dippold in implementing a Civics program at the middle school. However, the rest of the school system should take a page out of Mr. Dippold’s book and implement a strong civics curriculum for the whole school system.
The current state of civic education in our schools falls short in two ways. First, our civic education needs to be broader. If knowing the tools of democratic participation is as important as knowing the tools of literary analysis, why is the latter taught for 13 grades and the former is taught for only two? Civic education should be present in every grade’s curriculum and the values of public activism should be engendered across subjects.
Second, our civic education needs to be deeper. Service learning and knowledge of the branches of government is not enough – Falls Church students need to know how to play active and effective roles in our community and democracy. If we can set standards that ensure that every Falls Church student can read, practice the scientific method and understand algebra by the end of senior year, surely we can set standards that ensure that every student can file a Freedom of Information Act request, hold a press conference, build a coalition group, utilize their civic imagination, and identify and actively take on community problems by graduation day.
Our schools should not only train students for their role in our economy – they should also help develop students’ public spirits and empower them for their role in our democracy. A good place to start the Falls Church civic education renaissance would be to ask the school board and Superintendent Berlin to initiate an official comprehensive review of the current state of civic education in Falls Church schools. If they were to do that, it would be a first step towards ensuring that all Falls Church students could play active roles in our democratic community. Now what’s more patriotic than that?