ACTA in the News | Civic Literacy

Everyone seems happy with ASU promoting civics – except for Gov. Katie Hobbs

The governor's proposed budget reallocates money earmarked for ASU's civics school and deposits it in the lump sum for the university.
AZCENTRAL.   |  March 1, 2023 by Karrin Taylor Robson and Steven McGuire

Arizona leads the way in promoting civic education.

From requiring all high school seniors to pass the same test immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens, to the establishment of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) at Arizona State University, the state has set a tremendous example for others to follow.

Taking inspiration from SCETL, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Board of Trustees just voted to create a new center, the School of Civic Life and Leadership. Universities in Florida, Tennessee and Texas have also followed the SCETL model. 

Despite the influence SCETL is having, Arizona’s new governor has proposed a budget that would reallocate funding for the school and deposit it in the lump sum allocated for university.

This would jeopardize SCETL’s funding by placing it up for grabs during the internal university budgeting process.

Few students are proficient in civics

As a nation diverse in our origins, ethnicities and religious beliefs, our future rests on understanding the idea of America, and that, sadly, is in short supply in our education system.

Surely, the governor recognizes how troubling the data documenting civic illiteracy are.

According to the most recent report card issued by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 24% of eighth graders are proficient or above in civics. The last time the NAEP tested 12th graders, which was in 2010, the results were the same: Only 24% demonstrated proficiency or above.

This is hardly encouraging, especially when trust in many of our institutions is at or near all-time lows.

Perhaps Arizona’s new governor does not appreciate the contributions SCETL is making. This is plausible, since she does not seem to understand what the school does.

Hobbs mischaracterizes what the school does

Her proposed budget says it “teaches a combination of philosophy, history, economics, and political science based on libertarian free-market values,” but that is a poor caricature of the school’s mission.

SCETL offers a deep and broad preparation for citizenship and public life that transcends contemporary ideological and partisan divisions.

Giving students a “foundation to succeed as lifelong learners and future leaders in political, economic and social life,” its programs “blend transdisciplinary study of the liberal arts and classic texts with examination of American ideas, institutions, and civic culture.”

Students also receive “experiential learning in leadership and civic affairs” and are taught “the practice of civil discourse” – something that is sorely need in America today.

Although a relatively new program, in the last academic year, SCETL had a total enrollment of 1,200 students in its courses, and it currently has about 70 students majoring in its degrees plus 60 minors. We need more students to receive this kind of education, not fewer.

Why fix what’s not broken? Keep funding as is

SCETL also makes contributions beyond the classroom, as it “provides civic programming for the broader community and supports renewal of K-12 civic education.” Many of its events, including annual Constitution Day and Martin Luther King Day lectures and a Civic Discourse Project, are open to the public.

Off campus, SCETL produces a Civic Literacy Curriculum, provides workshops for members of the Arizona State Board of Education, and offers summer institutes on civics and leadership for high school students. These are important programs that leaven civic education and public life for all Arizonans.

Other than Arizona’s new governor, everyone seems happy with the existing arrangement, including ASU President Michael M. Crow, who told the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 18 that the “school has become a pride and joy at ASU.”

When asked about its funding, he said, “we happen to like the way we get it,” adding that “a slightly separate budget allocation for it gives us the protective shields of advancing that school in a unique way, which we think is a net positive for ASU.”

This article was posted on AZcentral. on March, 1 2023


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