Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ross Izard Perpetuates Myths about Civics/Citizenship

The nice thing about the Denver Post is that they publish community views and op-eds. The downside is that they occasionally give platform to questionable claims like those made by Independence Institute writer Ross Izard in "Make Civics Test Mandatory for Colorado High School Grads." There are countless problems with Izard's argument, not the least of which is that he mistakenly equates facts with knowledge. And, he seeks to support his call for a single mandated test by pointing out that a required class doesn't guarantee understanding of civics. If a semester in a class doesn't resonate with kids in terms of memorizing arbitrary facts, how will the test change that? Certainly he is aruging that a punitive approach to threaten kids with no graduation if they don't pass the test will have the effect of inspiring a deeper pursuit of civics knowledge. And, that, of course, is a bit ridiculous. Might many students memorize the info simply for the test ... only to forget it a short time later ... until they show up on video for a late night talk show unable to answer the same questions? Sure. Might this test also have a negative impact on struggling students who could see their entire academic record tossed aside over the inability to regurgitate facts for a test? Most definitely. Might this entire exercise be a waste of time that will unnecessarily cause civics and government teachers to shift attention of an already short class to contain a unit of "citizenship test" cramming, so students can simply pass this test ... and then forget the facts later? Of course.

Despite Ross's belief that a single test is not a big deal, it's not really about the testing time. It's about the naive emphasis and misguided faith placed on standardized tests. Ross Izard's argument lacks the precise type of critical thinking that we hope students and voters display. Objective standardized tests - especially ones that emphasize arbitrary factual knowledge like length of rivers or numbers of justices - do not in any way validate knowledge. Facts are not knowledge, and mandating memorization of them will not improve civics knowledge or understanding. This test is a symbolic red herring that seeks to deceive the public into thinking that passing the test will guarantee "an educated electorate." It will not. As a representative of the Independence Institute, Ross Izard should himself be much more knowledgeable about the basic ideas of civics, government, and education. Many people forget civics facts after they leave high school? Would he and Senator Owen Hill mandate that adult voters pass a refresher test every couple years to prove they are competent to vote? If so, has he forgotten how the Jim Crow South used "poll tests" to deny citizens basic suffrage. This whole bill reeks of faux patriotism and naive advocacy. "Mandating" the Pledge of Allegiance does not make people love their country, and mandating a citizenship test of arbitrary facts will not make people more knowledgeable or wise.

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