Curriculum

Public Says Teach Good and Bad of History

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 25, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Despite a wave of patriotic fervor washing over the country during the past year, most Americans expect schools to teach children the bad as well as the good about U.S. history and government, a survey by Public Agenda reveals.

Read a condensed version of the study ” Knowing It by Heart: Americans Consider the Constitution and its Meaning,” from Public Agenda. The full version requires free registration.

“Put together, these findings show a deep-seated love of country coupled with a realistic view of America’s weaknesses and mistakes,” says a report on the findings, released last week. “And that’s what Americans would like schoolchildren to learn about their nation.”

The survey, “Knowing It by Heart: Americans Consider the Constitution and Its Meaning,” asked a random sample of 1,520 Americans this past July about their knowledge and interpretation of the founding document and how its principles apply to contemporary life.

Nine in 10 respondents said “it’s better to teach the bad with the good, warts and all.” Just 9 percent said that schools should always portray the United States favorably.

That overwhelming response surprised some educators in light of recent calls by some scholars and pundits to promote the positive about America in explaining the events of last Sept. 11.

“This survey suggests that we are certainly much more open and invite looking at multiple perspectives on issues. That’s refreshing,” said Jesus Garcia, a professor of social studies education at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Constitutional Literacy Lacking

The survey also found that while most Americans understand the ideals behind the U.S. Constitution, a gap persists in their recall of the details of that bedrock of American democracy. Many of the respondents, particularly the youngest—56 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29—said that they could not remember how they were taught about the Constitution, or that it was not taught in an engaging way.

“There is evidence that many young Americans are not being turned on to the excitement of early-American history and the gripping tale of the writing of the Constitution,” the report says. “There is also ample evidence that Americans of all ages don’t understand, nor can they articulate, the Constitution’s basic tenets.”

Schools and parents, the report says, would get a disappointing grade for the way they have taught young people about the Constitution and its history.

But Mr. Garcia, the vice president of the National Council for the Social Studies, based in Silver Spring, Md., said many respondents demonstrated impressive insight into how the Constitution protects their collective and individual rights, suggesting that schools are doing a good job of relaying the spirit of the document.

In an attempt to improve history and civics education, President Bush last week unveiled an initiative, “We the People,” calling for an increase in projects that explore history and culture, an annual lecture on “Heroes in History,” and an essay contest for high school juniors. The effort, to be directed by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is not related to the national competition of the same name sponsored by the Center for Civic Education.

The Public Agenda survey was commissioned by the National Constitution Center, a Philadelphia-based organization created by Congress to promote active, informed citizenship. Though conducted this past summer, the poll was commissioned before Sept. 11, 2001.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty