Friday, August 12, 2011

I command you to take a course on freedom

Erik Voeten reports on a study allegedly showing that “exposing students to an enhanced civics curriculum increases the students’ knowledge of the constitution and civil liberties but it does not increase their support for civil liberties.” From the study’s abstract:
More than 1000 students in 59 high school classrooms were randomly assigned to an enhanced civics curriculum designed to promote awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The results show that students in the enhanced curriculum classes displayed significantly more knowledge in this domain than students in conventional civics classes. However, we find no corresponding change in the treatment group’s support for civil liberties, a finding that calls into question the hypothesis that knowledge and attitudes are causally connected.
As much as I’d like more people to take civil liberties seriously, I’m uncomfortable with using instruction to try to indoctrinate kids into certain political beliefs. The goal of the school should be to encourage intelligent, informed discussion of different value choices, not to dictate which values are right and which are wrong.

That said, this particular attempt at indoctrination must be the lamest ever recorded. Confine the kids to an institution dominated by authoritarian practices, deprive them of virtually any civil liberties of their own, and then require them to take special civics classes. Darn, why doesn’t it work?

The sorry state of schoolchildren’s civil liberties is partially surveyed here. If we wanted to accustom kids to a world without civil liberties, we couldn’t be trying any harder than we are, with or without an “enhanced civics curriculum.”

Can I suggest another study? Forget the civics course, and try giving the kids the right to some privacy, some freedom, and some due process in school. Then see if the civil liberties thing catches on. Doesn’t every parent know that modeling is a better bet than lecturing?

Related posts here, here, here, here, and throughout the site.

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