Campaigning is the Easy Part …

It’s very easy to focus civic engagement and civic education on voting. As such, we could take real satisfaction that the hard work is over, what with the 2020 elections behind us.

But the real work is must beginning. Now educators must focus on what comes next and who best to keep students engaged.

We explore the topic on TrumpEd for the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen here – https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/the-election-is-the-easy-part-the-challenge-is-what-comes-next/

Voting Is The Easy Part …

Election Day 2020 is officially over. Now, all that is left is the counting and the waiting. We are doing, barring the unforeseen, with the speeches, the commercials, the emails, the texts, the fundraising, and the angst that comes with an election year.

So as we wait for the remainder of ballots to be counted, it is essential that we teach that voting is the bare minimum we should expect from our citizenry. True civic education only began yesterday. Now the hard work must continue.

I discuss it further on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!  

What We Have Is a Failure to Communicate Civics

In recent years, we’ve seen that “civic education” is the new hot topic in public ed. With politically diverse states from Massachusetts to Florida now requiring civics instruction, many are seeing civics as the new STEM.

But with all of the talk about civics, and all of the dollars spent by philanthropy on civic education, we are seeing very little when it comes to concrete actions and measurable outcomes. Not only do we not know how to measure progress, but we likely see funder interest in the subject shrinking if the 2020 elections turn out a certain way. After all, then the voters may have addressed the need themselves.

Why are we struggling so with this supposedly important topic? One major reason may be our collective inability to define what civic education actually is. To some, it is government and politics. To others, civic activism. And to others, a watered-down version of history light.

Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we discuss the topic and how we need a common understanding if we are to take the subject seriously. Give it a listen here – https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/are-we-paying-enough-attention-to-civic-education-should-we-care/.

It’s Patriotic

This fall, President Donald J. Trump callee for a return to “patriotic” education when it comes to teaching history, civics, and government.

While many were quick to attack POTUS for it, he isn’t entirely wrong. Particularly if we truly consider what it means to be “patriotic.” Over on the BAM! Radio Network, I explore how patriotism can be found in much historic learning, including those instances we often don’t teach in the classroom.

Give it a listen here – https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/patriotic-education-accurately-teaching-what-america-was-is-and-can-be/

A Dad For Change

“Untold” offers a unique take on American history. From talking about gun control and how the census has changed over the years, to DJ Kool Herc and the history of hip hop – the videos seek to engage and educate young people.”

From Patch, reporting on dear ol’ Eduflack’s work to make history learning more interesting, relevant for today’s young people.

https://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/princeton-dad-wants-change-way-history-taught-school

Train Wreck as Teachable Moment

After a week, are we ready to accept that the first presidential debate can indeed be a teachable moment in our classrooms?

On the latest for BAM Radio Network, I explain how the performance was both the personification of our social media world AND a chance to teach how our society just doesn’t agree on basic issues (and that that is OK).

Give it a listen!

https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/time-to-teach-students-and-ourselves-to-accept-that-everyone-doesnt-agree-with-us/

We Need to Change How We Teach History

“Educators are struggling to teach enough basic history for their students to survive a trivia night. But, we are also struggling to teach our students what happened, why it happened, and what resulted because of it.”

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest on the XQ Institute’s blog, focusing on the need to confront the messy, complicated, and dark sides of American history as we tell the full stories to the students seeking truth

“A Historical Reality Check”

With statues continuing to come down around the nation, the need for understanding the history of why those statues went up in the first place becomes more and more important. One only needs to look at recent actions that tore down a statue of abolitionist  Frederick Douglass as proof of that.

On a recent epidote of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore how we don’t need to waste too much time lamenting the loss of statues, particularly those honoring Confederate generals, and instead need to focus our efforts on dramatically improving how we teach our nation’s complex history and how we make sure today’s learners and activists understand both what has happened in our history and why.

Give it a listen here.

Declaring Our Independence from Ineffective History Instruction

Two hundred and forty four years ago, our nation first celebrated its independence. Had July 4, 1776 happened in our current environment, we likely would have watched Paul Revere’s ride via a Facebook Live video. Thomas Jefferson would have offered up the Declaration of Independence through a YouTube post. And Alexander Hamilton would have issued a call to arms to his colonial brothers and sisters on TikTok.

What we see as history should adapt to the time and mediums in which it occurs and also in which it is taught.

While George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union addresses orally to the U.S. Congress, Thomas Jefferson changed the protocol and simply submitted a written address. That tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Harry Truman’s 1947 SOTU was the first to be broadcast on television. Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 address was the first to be broadcast during prime time, and 1966 was the first opportunity for the opposition party to also be granted a prime time slot.

FDR was known for his fireside chats, bringing the radio to presidential history. JFK introduced the nation to televised press conferences. And Donald Trump will go down in history as our first “Twitter” president. All adapted to the mediums that were most popular with the people at the time.

Despite all of these changes in how U.S. presidents have told their stories, how we teach history has largely remained the same as it was when public education was optional and provided in little red school houses. American history is taught through dusty textbooks. We still spend the first semester teaching about the American Revolution, and teaching it primarily through the lens of the white, male landowner. The winter and early spring are a lesson in the Civil War, taught through that same lens. Then after state testing, classes do a quick run from Reconstruction through modern times.

So we should not be surprised when those lessons don’t stick with today’s learners. Last year, I led a national research effort that explored what the average American knew about American history. Using multiple-choice questions from the practice tests for the U.S. citizenship exam, we surveyed 41,000 people nationally. We found that fewer than four in 10 could pass the test (meaning getting at least 12 of 20 questions correct). Passage rates were even lower for women and for people of color. And for those under the age of 50, only one in four could demonstrate a basic understanding of historical facts.

Late last year, I followed that history test with a national poll of American high school students about their attitudes towards American history. The results were disappointing, but not surprising. The average high school student found the learning of American history both boring and irrelevant. Historical knowledge played little value in their plans for college or for life.

Of course, learning American history isn’t about passing a multiple-choice test or doing well during a trivia night. Recent events have demonstrated how important it is for all of us to know our history – no matter how complex, confusing, or ugly it may be – and to think like historians. It is about asking tough questions and analyzing even tougher responses. It’s about beginning to understand what figures and moments and movements in American history we aren’t learning in class and asking why not and exploring what else hasn’t been taught. It’s about learning to think critically and focus less on just what happened and more on why things happened and the impact it had.

It’s about teaching a different type of history in a different way.

That’s why I am proud to officially announce the launch of the Driving Force Institute, a startup non-profit organization committed to transforming the teaching and learning of American history. This important work is based on a few key principles. First, video is the most powerful medium for teaching history to young people today, particularly video that is modeled after the YouTube videos learners are watching in their leisure time. Second, it is about making history more interesting and provocative for today’s learners. And finally, it is focused on telling our full history, with a particular emphasis on those important historical figures and moments that have been neglected for too long in our public school classrooms.

To launch this important work, DFI has collaborated with XQ Schools and its Rethink Together Forum to explore some of these important historical questions. We begin the month looking at the significance of the year 1619. Each week in July, XQ will share new DFI videos on the forum, exploring a range of issues important to today’s discussions of civic engagement.

I’m also proud to formally unveil “Untold,” a project of DFI produced and distributed by Makematic in collaboration with the USC Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education. We will provide an open-source collection of short, compelling history videos and animations designed to start new conversations shining a light on the stories that don’t always make it into the classroom and questioning what we think we know about those that do.

As the son of an historian, I was raised to appreciate the importance of history and to constantly ask questions about what happened and why. As the father of a teenage son whose lack of interest in history can be tracked to how poorly it has been taught in the classroom, I’m committed to seeking solutions to make history more interesting and relevant to young people today. And as an education advocate and agitator, I’m committed to breaking the learning models that have failed too many students for too long.

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining,” Teddy Roosevelt once said. Our collective lack of American history knowledge is indeed a problem. Hopefully, the Driving Force Institute is a solution for improving the teaching and learning of history.

Tearing Down Statues, Remembering History

These voices called out curriculum experts who they believed limited the study of anyone who wasn’t a white male landowners to February — Black History Month — and to only use those 20 or so days of instruction to study the same stories of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. every year, ignoring the vast contributions that Black America has made to our nation, our history, our society, our community, and our nation. Ignoring the importance of weaving those stories into the context of the times they lived and happened, and not as stand-alone examples to check a box.

In essence, these young leaders were calling for a learning environment that moves beyond the basic names of generals and battles and the dates where they happened. They wanted an approach to American history that allowed them to ask why. An approach that explores understanding what happened, questions why society allowed it to happen, and probes what we can learn from it so it doesn’t happen again. They were urging educators to let them think like historians.

From Eduflack’s latest on Medium, Removing Statues Does Not Abdicate Us from Teaching History