OTHER VOICES

Better civics education needed

Posted May 19, 2011, at 10:26 p.m.

“Pathetic.” That’s what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called the results of the civics part of a test given last year to thousands of fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade students in public and private schools across the country. American Bar Association President Stephen Zack said the results are “a wake-up call we cannot ignore.”

According to the recently released test results, 77 percent of fourth-graders, 62 percent of eighth-graders and 64 percent of 12th-graders scored at the “basic” level. They show partial mastery of grade-appropriate knowledge and skills related to civics topics.

Only about a quarter of the students in each grade scored at the “proficient” level. If developing good citizens who have detailed knowledge of the workings of government is a national goal, schools need to do better.

It’s not clear how students today compare to their parents and grandparents on civics knowledge. Suggesting that the test reveals a “crisis” may overstate things.

But if civics knowledge is valuable, civics education must be valued. That means hiring better-trained teachers; making better use of local resources such as bar associations, courts and politicians; and carving out more time in already busy school days to teach about government.

The Toledo, Ohio, Blade (May 17)

Debate among Catholics

Two years ago, the University of Notre Dame was criticized by some Roman Catholics for inviting President Barack Obama to speak at commencement. Obama, who supports abortion rights, was criticized for speaking at an institution of the Catholic Church, which considers abortion “an intrinsic evil.”

This time, it’s House Speaker John Boehner and Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., on the hot seat. Boehner is to give the university’s commencement address May 21.

In response, more than 75 professors at Catholic University and other Catholic colleges criticized the Republican lawmaker, a Roman Catholic, for GOP budget proposals they say violate his faith by harming the poor and elderly.

“Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress,” the letter says. “This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policymakers. Yet even now you work in opposition to it.”

In a particularly ironic twist, the letter calls Boehner’s proposals to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program “anti-life.”

It’s a welcome change to see a Roman Catholic politician challenged for a position on an issue other than abortion.

The Syracuse, N.Y., Post-Standard (May 18)

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