CURMUDGUCATION: John King’s Civics Lesson


The slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: John King’s Civics Lesson

Posted by Peter Greeene: 20 Oct 2016

The e-mail from the charter-shilling group Center for Education Reformannounced breathlessly that John King “joined the chorus of education leaders, elected officials and respected members of the African-American community in criticizing by the NAACP‘s decision to demand moratoriums on charter schools.”

He didn’t. He spoke in front of the National Press Club at a luncheon this week, said many things about civic education, and answered some questions, one of which may be my absolute favorite question asked of a federal official ever– but we’ll get to that along with some other things he did. But King did not go after the NAACP.

The full text is twenty pages long, and I’ve read it, but nobody really needs to. But I am going to compress severely.

Jeff Ballou gives King an introduction that mentions his ” emphasis on making sure all students are receiving the same level of education, regardless of race or zip code,” and notes that he is today returning to “his roots as a social studies teacher” and I am reminded that as abused as the mantle of “Teacher” has become, lots of people sure do want to claim it based on the thinnest of experience (like say, teaching for just a year or two in a selective private charter school.

As always, King opens by invoking tales of Mr. Osterweiler, the gifted teacher who changed King’s life and who would never be allowed to do half of what King credits him with doing in  today’s climate. It remains the central irony of King’s career that it rests on such a powerful story of powerful teaching, and yet King cannot or will not see how the policies he pursues guarantee that the Osterweilers of the world will be stifled, straightjacketed, and pushed out of teaching.

But on to his point.

Civic education is a big deal. King leads with some history of civic issues like voting and an appeal to the importance of knowing that history, but says there are more important things like “being willing to think beyond our own needs and wants and to embrace our obligations to the greater good.” Yeah, don’t wait for me to say something snarky about that, because he’s correct.

Next some scare stats about Kids These Days and how they don’t know their Constitution or Joe Biden and Schoolhouse Rock explanations of how a bill becomes a law (and that’s before we even get to stuff like “How a federal agency uses its enforcement powers to rewrite or circumvent laws it disagrees with.”

So King wants teachers to cover civic duty– and he wants teachers to do it in a non-partisan manner. And it tells us something about King that he says the civic engagement is not a GOP or Democratic Party issue, as if the two parties do not cover (and also fail to cover) a wide range of philosophies and ideologies that create a fairly wide and complex tapestry on which American citizenship plays out. It’s the view of someone who is looking at the political gamesmanship of DC and not the actual ideas and understanding that drives the worldviews behind policy positions.

But Kin knows these conversations could be “uncomfortable,” so he calls for “support and training” for teachers because heaven forbid we teachers try to talk about Hard Things.

Then we’re on to specific examples, including some student service groups and the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, because there’s nothing political about that. And he talks about the new Museum of African American History and Culture. And he works his way around to an absolutely strong and even moving argument in favor of civic knowledge and civic skill, that wraps up here:

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