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Dr. Karen Hiltz: Time to Define Civics in K-12 Education

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Given the most recent testing scores reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, U.S. Department of Education), it’s no wonder civics is on the radar.

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According to Merriam-Webster, civics is “a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens.” From that definition, it seems pretty clear that children should be taught what being a responsible citizen is all about. They should learn the basics of the founding of our nation and how our government is structured, including reading the founding documents that provided the genesis to our constitutional republic. They need instruction that informs them there are three branches of government as well as federal, state and local levels.

So why do progressives want to rename the subject to action civics or civic engagement? Do they want to cancel American culture?

Call me skeptical, but I believe there is an ongoing effort to continue to take advantage of the situation. Remember a statement saying something like never let a crisis go to waste? Our republic has been enduring a virus that shut down our economy, schools, businesses, and quite frankly, our lives.

Given the most recent testing scores reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, U.S. Department of Education), it’s no wonder civics is on the radar. These numbers reflect on a scale of 100 the percentage of students tested that are proficient in the subject.

Grades 4th 8th 12th
Civics 27 24 24
Mathematics 41 34 24
Reading 35 34 37
U.S. History 20 15 12
Writing 28 27 27

Of the reported subject areas, civics ranks 27 or the second-lowest in 4th grade. However, by the 12th grade, it remains the second-lowest score (tied with math), but drops three points to 24. Fewer than 25 percent of graduating students understand how government operates. Given the role of government in our lives, this truly is alarming!

One recent effort to highlight is the announcement by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month regarding the Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative.

“Let me be clear, there is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory,” DeSantis said. “Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money. We will invest in actual, solid, true curriculum, and we will be a leader in the development and implementation of a world class civics education.”

This is a worthy effort to curtail the woke-ness that’s invading education, but implementing it is where the rubber will meet the road. It will be critical to understand the policy and how it will be interpreted and put into practice.

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While the governor is introducing this initiative, the Florida Legislature is mulling over proposals on civics education but the bills offer different language used to identify what civic education means. The House bill speaks specifically to “civic engagement” while the Senate bill speaks specifically to “nonpartisan civic literacy.” These phrases are understood by many to support differing outcomes.

Stanley Kurtz of National Review noted, “Texas is target number one in the Left’s play to turn the red states blue with a radicalized version of “civics.” What is variously called “action civics,” “civic engagement,” or “project-based civics,” requires K-12 students to engage in political protests, lobbying, and internships with advocacy organizations, all for course credit. I’m all for First Amendment rights, but the K-12 education system should not be providing instruction for these types of skills. Civic engagement is a parental responsibility.

Kurtz also noted that Texas legislators have proposed bills modeled after laws in Illinois and Massachusetts. The Illinois legislature passed laws in 2015 that included “Alinsky-style community organizing” and recently supplemented statewide teaching standards. Kurtz also identified that “top-quality history standards” were gutted in Massachusetts.

Initiatives like critical race theory and the 1619 Project and other such efforts, including the current administration pulling the plug on the 1776 Commission, continue to divide our constitutional republic and focus on the perceived woes many on the left are decrying. Could it be that civic scores are already low and presenting facts doesn’t benefit the left’s agenda? Simply put, children learning about our nation’s founding critical to the sustainability of our great constitutional republic.

The good news is that leaders across the state, including DeSantis, and parent-led organizations are offering bold solutions while legislators are being spotlighted for the anti-American legislation they propose.


Dr. Karen Hiltz served in the U.S. Navy and retired from a career in Federal Acquisition and Procurement. In 2009, she began teaching business courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her experience includes serving on a private school board, multiple education non-profit boards, has written numerous articles on education, and is a published author. Dr. Hiltz holds a BS and MBA in Management and an Ed.D. in Leadership Studies. She has been married to Chuck Hiltz for more than 40 years. They have three children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. They currently reside in Sebastian, Florida.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Barney Bishop III

    April 7, 2021 at 5:25 am

    Thank you Dr. Hiltz for your column which is both timely and on-point. Teaching civics is critically important but the indoctrination by teachers that children are receiving is instilling the wrong values. As you pointed out, we don’t need more protesters, what we need are children who can accept diversity of thought and speech without having to go to a “safe zone” or be offended by “micro-aggressions.” Unfortunately, this style of teaching doesn’t stop with institutions of higher learning as they do the same exact thing. Which is why Sen. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Spencer Roach’s bill on Intellectual Freedom is so very important. Please keep sharing your views as there are many of us who support your position!

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