On college campuses across the country, students have called for the firing of professors and the suspension of fellow students with whom they disagree. Controversial speakers and groups are met with increasingly normalized violent resistance.
As kids go back to schools, we must strive to influence the development of educational systems so that they present balanced curricula.
– Roger Ream, President of The Fund for American Studies
Amid the increasingly hostile debate over free speech rights on campus, an important root cause is being overlooked. School curricula are failing to provide children with a balanced education, one that emphasizes competency around civics, economics and critical thinking.
Our First Amendment is arguably the most precious of our rights and is fundamental to the fabric of our American society and democracy. So the question we should be asking is where this misunderstanding of our First Amendment comes from.
Up until the 1960s, it was common for high school students to take no less than three courses in civics and government, according to a study done by Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. Today, those courses are rare. A mandatory course on “American government” remains – but most students don’t take it until their junior or senior year of high school. As a result, our children are receiving high school diplomas with an insufficient understanding of our country’s system of government.
Civics classes are just one example of the troubling gaps in secondary education. The biennial Survey of the States by the Council for Economic Education found that the number of states that require high school students to complete a course in economics has dropped over the last two years. Personal finance education in the upper grades also remains stagnant.
The consequences of a lack of civic and economic education in our schools are reflected in a myriad of surveys conducted of Americans of all ages. To commemorate our 50th anniversary, TFAS commissioned a Freedom Index survey to measure the level of support for freedom and attitudes on economics. Certain items in the survey demonstrate fundamental misunderstandings of freedom and markets.
Nearly a third of Americans support greater government control of private property and would allow warrantless searches. Support for government control of prices for gas and life-saving drugs, as well as for tariffs, were quite strong. This reflects a deficient understanding of how free markets and international commerce provide incentives for invention and innovation, leading lead to lower prices for consumers over time.
We believe that this disjunction between a theoretical belief in freedom and a support for the economic policies that enhance prosperity is due to our education system’s failure to properly teach economics and civics.
It’s time to bridge this gap. We must reevaluate our school curricula.
For 50 years, TFAS has provided an educational foundation which teaches young people free-market economics and the founding principles of our constitutional democracy. Through our strategic partner organization, the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE), we directly and indirectly reach more than 200,000 high school students annually through programs that teach economics to high school students, and we work with teachers to develop lesson plans and exercises for teaching the economic way of thinking.
As kids go back to schools, we must strive to influence the development of educational systems so that they present balanced curricula. Parents around the country are tremendously concerned not only with weak educational outcomes, but with their children’s competence in civics, economics, and the foundational freedoms on which this nation is built. It is imperative that we continually reevaluate what our children are learning, to ensure they receive the best education to prepare them for the road ahead.
The article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.