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DeVos Espouses Civics, Civility

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a Constitution Day appearance in Philadelphia that the nation's schools are giving short shrift to civics and history, in part because of the pressure to focus on reading and science, technology, engineering, and math—the STEM subjects.

And she criticized colleges and universities for putting what she described as severe limitations on students' freedom of speech and expression, citing conservative students who say their views were sidelined by more-liberal college administrations.

During her speech last week, DeVos said that schools need to teach students to engage with others with whom they might disagree. And she said that needs to begin at the K-12 level, where she noted that civics education hasn't been a priority.

"But I think it's really important that students learn about the history of this nation that they are here to actually protect and enhance from this day forward," DeVos said at the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan interactive museum.

Her comments echo those of more than half the principals surveyed earlier this year by the Education Week Research Center. Fifty-two percent said their schools devote "too little" time to civics instruction, while 48 percent say they give about the right amount.

At the postsecondary level, DeVos said, colleges aren't allowing students to hear perspectives that administrators may disagree with.

"Administrators too often attempt to shield students from ideas they subjectively decide are 'hateful' or 'offensive' or 'injurious,' or ones they just don't like," she said. "This patronizing practice assumes students are incapable of grappling with, learning from, or responding to ideas with which they disagree."

The secretary also said social media makes it easy to lower the level of discourse. "It's easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles,"she said.

During a question-and-answer session, a high schooler asked DeVos whether "the idea of hiding behind screens and hiding behind social media, don't you feel that example should be brought to our current government?"

In response, DeVos reiterated her previous point. "We're best off when we're able to sit down and talk about things that we may agree on or disagree on and talk about them face to face or in a small group setting."

Vol. 38, Issue 06, Page 5

Published in Print: September 26, 2018, as DeVos Espouses Civics, Civility
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