SAILOR And KISSEL: Parents Are A Vital Part Of Kids’ Civic Education


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When it comes to civic education, parents matter.

A new Heritage Foundation survey asked more than 1,000 parents: “Who should primarily be responsible for the content of a civics curriculum” — parents, teachers, schools, civil society or state or federal government?

Respondents’ views varied significantly by age, experience, education levels and party affiliation. There was one constant, however: Fewer than 10 percent of any of these sub-groups said the federal government should be the lead player in civics education.

Compared with their peers, those most likely to say parents themselves should be primarily responsible were over 45 years old (36% of this sub-group took this view), Republicans (37%), those with some college (36%), and those holding college, but not advanced, degrees (34%).

Just 31% of parents aged 35-44 said parents should bear primary responsibility, but those under age 35 strongly prioritized schools over parents (34% vs. 22%).

Only a fourth of parents holding advanced degrees said the primary responsibility resides with parents. Instead, a plurality of this group (35%) said schools should lead the way.

As did Republican parents, those identifying as Independents were most likely (35%) to assign primary responsibility to parents. But Democratic parents selected schools over parents by a margin of 8 points.

In forming the U.S. Department of Education a generation ago, Congress recognized that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children.” The survey shows that many American moms and dads still hold that view, but are they up to the job?

If parents are to assume responsibility for their children’s civics education, it is critical that they have the necessary tools to evaluate their schools’ curricula and to personally instruct their children in basic concepts of freedom, virtue, self-government and the fundamental rights and obligations that accompany citizenship.

Yet other surveys suggest many adults lack knowledge about the most basic facts about the American government. Last year, for example, marked the first time the annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey found that more than half (51%) of the respondents could name all three branches of the federal government.

Seeing the need, parents are organizing to help more parents make sure their kids get a solid grounding in civics.

Moms for Liberty is one such group. These Moms, aided by some “Mad Dads” and grandparents, see their mission as fighting “for the survival of America” by “unifying, educating, and empowering parents.” Lately, they have focused on opposing Critical Race Theory (CRT), the idea that American social problems boil down to power struggles among stereotyped oppressor and oppressed racial groups. But they also read and discuss the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence in regular Madison Meetups.

Parents Defending Education organizes parents, too, helping them take on activists who divide and stereotype Americans by race, sex and other characteristics. In addition to providing parents with “know your rights” and activism guides, it provides litigation and state and national policy services.

The Education First Alliance tracks and fights curriculum wars at the grassroots level, empowering parents and students with instructional boot camps. Based in North Carolina, its model is worth emulating nationwide.

The new Free to Learn Coalition fights CRT in the context of student success—how to help every student get a solid education.

Finally, local groups of parents are taking back their districts, and some are winning school board seats. Notable here are parents in Loudoun County, Va., who have organized as Fight For Schools, and Southlake Families in Southlake, Texas.

Historian Bill McClay reminds us: “Civic education should be an initiation not only into a canon of ideas but into a community; and not just a community of the present but also a community of memory — a long human chain linking past, present, and future in shared recognition and, one hopes, in gratitude.”

Flourishing communities start with strong civic life, and strong civics start in our families. That’s why parents matter.

Children benefit when empowered parents drive better civics education and pursue community-level solutions that educate all ages about the art and science of self-government, the benefits of individual liberty, and the value of civic and personal responsibility.

Parents need not do this alone. National and local organizations, political leaders, and teachers are helping increase the understanding and appreciation for American values among our youth. But primary responsibility still resides with parents. It’s encouraging to see so many now waking up to their responsibility and taking action.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, Angela Sailor heads the think tank’s Edwin J. Feulner Institute. Adam Kissel is a senior fellow at the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.