Friday, July 19, 2024

Opinion | Civics class is more than memorization

Opinion | Civics class is more than memorization

I love history. I studied it in college, taught it to middle school students for years in Virginia and then prepared college students to teach it. But I do not support increasing standardized testing in social studies — even after learning about the concerning drop in national U.S. history and civics scores, as noted in the May 3 news article “Students’ grasp of U.S. civics, history in decline.”

I agree with the saying in education circles that “what gets tested is what gets taught,” but I can’t advocate more testing in these subjects if tests perpetuate the misunderstanding that the value of learning social studies lies in the memorization of facts.

Social studies and civics are most meaningful when we use past and present events to teach students how to evaluate the credibility of sources and evidence with healthy skepticism. Historical thinking and news literacy skills should form the foundation of social studies and civics standards and evaluation. Students need these skills to navigate the increasingly complex information landscape, skills that will serve them well in a whole host of career choices. New technological breakthroughs, including generative artificial intelligence, will only intensify the need for everyone to know how to fact-check information.

We need to refocus our social studies graduation requirements and standards around robust civics instruction with an emphasis on historical thinking and news literacy skills. Then, and only then, should we consider increasing testing.

The writer is manager of educator support for the News Literacy Project.

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