As the election results in Virginia and elsewhere demonstrate, many parents are upset with how American history and civics are being taught in schools. And it’s hard to blame them.
Some feel we are tearing down our nation’s past. Others believe we are not doing enough to tell the history of all Americans, particularly those in communities that have long been marginalized.
The good news is that discussions are taking place in school districts nationwide over what we should teach our children. The bad news is that those debates may not resolved anytime soon.
In the meantime, while those debates are working themselves out, parents can take an active role in ensuring their children receive the education they want them to have.
Of course homeschooling is always an option, but short of that commitment to fully take on a child’s education, there are three great tools for parents who care about raising well-educated children and maintaining our self-governing republic:
1) Monuments and national historic sites.
Nothing brings home the beauty and force of the idea of “a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” than seeing it inscribed in giant letters inside the Lincoln Memorial. While the nation’s capital has the lion’s share of museums, monuments and memorials, every state in the country has its own sites, where children can experience history firsthand. For a sampling of some of the best sites in the country, see the Living Civics Map (levelup civics.org/living-civics).
2) Family history.
Every American is a part of the American story, it’s just that we don’t all make it into the history books. But we can write our own histories. Helping children discover their own family history can be a great way both to make up for what the history books don’t contain, as well as to bring our country’s broader history alive. Paula Spencer Scott’s “An Oral History” provides kid-friendly prompts for questions that children can ask of parents and grandparents. Smartphones provide an easy tool for recording conversations about family history.
3) Online resources.
A growing number of websites are providing free, high-quality resources on American history: the Bill of Rights Institute, (billofrightsinstitute.org), the Ashbrook Center (ashbrook.org), 1776 Unites (wdt.me/1776unites), which focuses on elevating the stories of African-Americans, and the James Madison Institute’s Celebrate Freedom civics curriculum (jamesmadison.org).
The past couple of years have generated a lot of discussion around our history, sparked by protests, debates over statues and initiatives such as the 1619 Project. Two of the key lessons from this tumultuous period is that civics is more than merely the mechanics of government, and history cannot be cut to make room for STEM.
As Mark Twain wrote, “Citizenship is what makes a republic; monarchies can get along without it. What keeps a republic on its legs is good citizenship.”
If we want to keep our republic on its legs, we would do well for parents to bring civics and history into the home. The good news is that it has never been easier.
Katharine C. Gorka is the Director for Civil Society and the American Dialogue at The Heritage Foundation.