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What Kids Aren’t Learning

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The National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) hosted a panel this week discussing free speech on college campuses.

Penny Rue, one of the panelists and the vice president for campus life at Wake Forest University, said that many students simply do not understand the importance of free speech. Another panelist, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, went a step further stating that although “students were traditionally the best constituents for freedom of speech,” on today’s campuses “many more students are demanding that speakers be disinvited.”

And it’s not just pushback on campus speakers that is troubling. On campuses across the country, students have called for the firing of professors and the suspension of fellow students with whom they disagree. And there have been multiple occasions when students have resorted to violence to shut down speech entirely.

Our First Amendment is arguably the most precious of our rights and is fundamental to the fabric of our American society and democracy. So, where does this misunderstanding of our First Amendment come from?

Many are pointing to a lack of civics education in our elementary and secondary schools. Up until the 1960s, no less than three courses in civics and government were common in American high schools, 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 a very basic understanding of our country’s system of government.

Civics classes are just one example of major educational gaps. 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 remain stagnant.

These classes make a huge impact on a national level. To commemorate our 50th anniversary, TFAS commissioned a Freedom Index survey to engage in a national discussion on the importance of freedom and to determine how our country defines it. Certain items in the survey show fundamental misunderstandings of how specific policies affect economic freedom. While Americans strongly support a reduction in government regulations over property rights, they also support an increase in government through regulations of industries.

For instance:

  • A majority of Americans (66%) believe that the government should regulate oil companies to keep gas prices at reasonable levels
  • A majority of Americans (79%) believe that the government should prevent drug companies from increasing the prices of life-saving drugs
  • A majority of Americans (56%) support tariffs on goods that Americans buy from overseas

We believe that this disjunction between a theoretical belief in freedom and a support for the economic policies that create freedom 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 curriculums.

The Fund for American Studies was formed to do just that. For 50 years, TFAS has provided an educational foundation which teaches young people free-market economics and the founding principles of our constitutional democracy. Our programs emphasize the importance of all aspects of freedom, including exceptions many Americans are too quick to make, such as speech on campus, the minimum wage and intrusive government regulations of business.

I’m proud to also serve as president of TFAS’ strategic partner organization, the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE), where we reach more than 201,000 high school students annually through programs that teach economics to high school students and work with teachers to develop lesson plans and exercises for teaching the economic way of thinking. Our newest FTE program, Economic History for Leaders, takes a step further in bridging the knowledge gap by incorporating engaging games and simulations to help students understand how economic reasoning principles apply to key points in American history.

Together, TFAS and FTE are doing our part to help set America straight. With the price of a college education skyrocketing and the landscape of the American economy rapidly changing, we must be vigilant. 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. Our children depend on us for that.

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