Restoring Greatness to History and Civics Instruction Across America

In October 2023, Pioneer Institute released Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. Our book is a compilation of years of research into how Massachusetts and other states developed and instituted high-quality curricula for teaching about the nation’s founding — as well as some of the trends that are threatening to erode that progress. Drawing on the wisdom of the founders, great historians, and the architects of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, the book outlines how Massachusetts and other states can reclaim excellence in the study of history and build the next generation of active, involved citizens.

In a series of podcasts, Jamie Gass, Director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer, and Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Pioneer’s October 2023 book Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools, discuss the importance of rigorous history and civics instruction, the elements that help shape excellence in history instruction in our schools, both in Massachusetts and other states, how partisanship and ideology have at times eroded that excellence, and why it is important that parents fights for the restoration of high-quality history and civics instruction.

The Sherry Sylvester Show: Restoring the City on a Hill

In this discussion, Sherry Sylvester of the Texas Public Policy Institute and Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Pioneer Institute’s book “Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools,” discuss voting patterns and trends among youth, the decline of civics participation, the state of instruction in public schools, and what steps can be taken to reinvigorate the teaching and learning of U.S. history and civics — in Massachusetts, in Texas, and elsewhere.

The Sherry Sylvester Show
Produced by the Texas Public Policy Institute

“Restoring the City on a Hill with Chris Sinacola”

Recorded February 28, 2024

Sherry Sylvester: I’m Sherry Sylvester and welcome to the podcast. We are taping in late February and the state of Texas is currently engaged in the second week of early voting in the 2024 primary election. Election Day is March 5, Super Tuesday. Analysis from early voting turnout indicates that the conventional wisdom from many past decades holds true again this year — only a minuscule number of young people, those under 30, are voting. High school principals in Texas are required by law to serve as deputy voter registrars for the county in which their school is located, ensuring that Texas high school students who are eligible are registered to vote. So, this is not an access problem. Logistically, young people are registered and they know how to vote in Texas, but Texas young voters are not bucking the national trend. A recent survey found that less than half of young adults across the country are planning to vote in the next general election in November. Texas has fought to ensure that identity politics and the critical race and gender theory studies that have traditionally replaced civics curricula are being eradicated in our public schools, but the impact still lingers and that fight goes on. Knowledge of U.S. history has plummeted nationally. Just 14% of 8th graders are proficient in history, and most young Americans tell pollsters that high schools don’t adequately prepare them to be voters. My guest today believes that it’s time for a call to action. Chris Sinacola has co-edited a new book, Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. He highlights the saga of many states that created world-class public school history and civics programs in the 1990s which were then in abandoned  in favor of the left of the leftist ideology of DEI identity politics and grievance communities. He’s going to tell us how bad it’s gotten and what we can do to turn it around. Chris, thanks for joining us on the Sherry Sylvester show.

Chris Sinacola: Well, thanks Sherry glad to be here and to join you.

Sherry Sylvester: Well, so I yesterday I heard a young man talking from El Paso El Paso being the 8th or 9th largest city in the country and he had found in an analyzing their early vote that less than 1% of the people who had turned out — we can analyze our vote every day — less than 1% of the people who had turned out were under the age of 30 in that metropolitan area. So, as you said — as I told you — in Texas we register. people to vote in high school. So what — how does it look to you?

Chris Sinacola: Wow, that’s amazing. Well, when you were doing the intro and mentioned that that principles are deputy registrars in Texas that was amazing to me. So, you’re quite right it’s not a question of access and we have heard this for years, right, that oh voter suppression here and there — Georgia being one of the prime examples of that — there was so much talk about that, but when you get beyond the rhetoric and look at the actual turnout, it turned out there was no voter suppression going on in Georgia. They voted in large numbers than ever before. But the trends are interesting. When you analyze that it’s the youth who aren’t voting and so often we hear all the youth are going to change the world and or women are going to change the world or this group in that group you know because I think the media loved to slice and dice people into little boxes and claim that this group or that group is going to have an outsized influence on election, but when you do that sober post-election analysis or in Texas case even day by day you can look at the numbers, it turns out to be not so good, and those trends are concerning — that’s an unbelievable number less than 1% under 30. I know the older folks love to vote. I personally couldn’t wait till I could vote. It was 1980, and I missed the voting by a month. I wasn’t old enough to vote in the presidential election when Reagan was first elected — at the time I don’t think I would have voted for Reagan but that’s another story — but as soon as I could vote, I went out and voted and I voted in every election, local, state, federal, ever since. I love voting. So, it’s a very different mindset, I think, today.

Sherry Sylvester: Well, and maybe that’s part of it — your parents voted I assume?

Chris Sinacola: Absolutely.

Sherry Sylvester: My parents voted too, and we talk a lot about what schools can do but I wonder if there’s also a change in the culture, the family culture of voting. I mean, it would never have occurred to me not to vote as soon as I was old enough to vote — like getting your driver’s license.

Chris Sinacola: Absolutely. It’s a rite of passage. My mom’s folks who lived locally here in New England and went way back, you know, deep roots in New England — my grandmother was a Blue Dog Democrat and my grandfather was a Republican and after he passed away my grandmother continued to vote Democratic, even though she was about as Republican a person as you ever wanted me she thought she was a Democrat. And on my dad’s side, you know, immigrant Italians and they voted proudly as soon as they were able to vote became citizens assimilated you know part of the American dream a story that we’re all familiar with. So, you’re right it makes a huge difference to have those family traditions to make that part of what it is to be an American and when you raise your kids to inculcate in them the importance of voting because it’s precious. And it’s — you look around the world, you look at places like Russia and other place,  it’s you know it’s something we take for granted and we should not take for granted. It’s a precious right.

Sherry Sylvester: And it’s not just been one battle I mean there was, my grandmother told me when she voted for the first time in 1920 that we all saw the civil rights movement and what a huge battle that was to make sure that African Americans had rights, the right to vote as well as Mexican Americans here in Texas. So, where are we now? Why is this? I mean, I know that our president is trying to reach out to the younger vote on TikTok — I’m not sure how successful that will be — but where is it , just that they’re not interested? Our politics, they are pretty toxic what do you think the problem is?

Chris Sinacola: I think it’s a number of things. Some of it is definitely in the schools. The lack of emphasis on civics — or maybe I should say good-quality civics and history instruction. I think most states, including Massachusetts and Texas, I’m sure, have something that they call civics history or social studies depending on where you are. And I certainly remember being in school and having all three of those labels at one point or another. Usually civics was part of a history curriculum. But the question is really how in-depth is it? How rigorous is it? Do they emphasize things like the American Founding and documents and, look, these documents are hard, right? The Federalist Papers are not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination so you need really well-qualified teachers to lead students. And my wife teaches — she’s a Latin teacher so it’s a different discipline — but certainly that process of teaching is hugely important and if you don’t have great teachers, well that’s one strike against you. If you don’t have intact families where you know two-parent households who really care and are taking the time to make sure their students are doing the homework, that’s another strike. And then you have a culture — some of it is the media, usually the mainstream media, I have to say, who are not really giving you much. They want to give kids things which are fun and easy, you know, and you mentioned TikTok — social media platforms are great, don’t get me wrong. You know I love my podcasts but I don’t love so much that moment when I find myself I think like all of us you know scrolling through some social media and you just stop yourself and say well wait a second I could be reading a great book instead of this. And I think young people, you know, that generation has grown up with screens — my own children grew up with screens, I think they’ve come out OK — but yeah, it’s a very different world from the one that we grew up in you know where you had books and you were limited how much TV you could watch. You had to you know eat your carrots and you had to do your homework and then you get some screen time, maybe, if you were good. So there’s a lot of things competing for kids’ attention today, and I think history and civics gets shunted to the side often because, you know, you have to pass the math, you have to know English language arts, and then there’s some science — STEM —emphasis on all that so by the time you get down to history it’s almost like well there’s no time left sorry kids.

Sherry Sylvester: Well, we work on it a lot in Texas. We’re working now to reform our civics curriculum we try to when we took our critical race theory out of the schools, we bolstered our history curriculum added much more on African American history, Mexican American history, Native American history. We’ve got very strong backgrounds that way, but I’m still I’m not sure that that medium — and that’s why I was interested in your book — I’m not sure if the medium of the classroom is the way to get to kids, but I’m willing to be convinced if you think it is.

Chris Sinacola: Well, I have a lot of thoughts on this topic — how to reach kids. And thinking of my own experience doing homeschooling which is, we did maybe 30 years’ worth of homeschooling kids combined. They went to different — they went to some vocational schools some private parochial that sort of thing some public charter schools, so it was a real mix. The one school they didn’t go to was the local district regular public school, which aren’t bad where we live, but we always felt we can do more, we can give them a more, you know, enriching academic experience. And we would use a variety of things, online courses, great courses from The Teaching Company that were very popular and still are, I believe. We would take them you know on field trips and get together with other families so there’s many ways to reach kids I fear that sometimes folks who are on the political right view it as we have to force feed the Founders to folks. Well, the problem with that, of course, is that, as I said earlier, I mean I just went through The Federalist Papers cover to cover for the first time — I mean, I dipped into them over the years, but I thought I got to read this cover to cover.  It’s hard going, you know, for educated adults — it’s probably impossible for kids. So, you need those guides, and you need ways to present it that frankly are going to be palatable to kids who are grown up in an era where they expect everything to be instantaneous and moving pictures and all the rest. So, in the book we talk about some of the problems with say, video game civics — well maybe we need to examine that a little more carefully to discriminate between what can be a good use of those media and what is a shallow use of those media, right? Because you can reach kids many different ways. So, as I say, my wife teaches and she uses some games. There are number of apps that she can use with her students that are terrific for teaching Latin vocabulary and quizzes and so forth, but you have to be careful to keep the focus on the quality of the curriculum, to make it rigorous and real. So ,you mentioned, you know DEI. And it’s very interesting to hear what Texas is doing and folks, of course you’ve heard this, we’ve all heard these criticisms coming from folks who defend DEI on the political left and they say ‘Oh well, you want to throw out all the diversity!’ Well, nothing could be further from the truth. What we want is exactly the opposite — we want to focus on diversity and the wonder of this country and its diversity in all the peoples who belong here in a way that’s real, that really focuses on who they were, what are their stories, what were their contributions. Well, DEI and critical race theory is all this layer thrown on top. It doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, I’ve read Ibram Kendi’s books, I’ve read a lot of books that are on the left — and it’s not that they’re wrong so much as it’s basically useless nonsense. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is — in my view, at least.

Sherry Sylvester: Well, it divides us up, and one of the basic premises of our country is about our individual freedom and how we individually make up the the republic and so, it’s very counter to what we’re trying to do. And yeah, the more you see it, the more you see how shallow it is. The history is shallow. We joke about — at the University of Texas they do these acknowledgements to the indigenous tribes, you know, we want to thank all the tribes that were here beforehand, you know. But who was in Texas for the longest time were the Spanish, you know, so probably we should be thanking the king of Spain, at some point, you know, for turning the land over. So, but we’ve got these kids so we get we’ve got our opinions about it and we know that we’re right but we’ve got kids as you as you see from the polling that they’re kind of how they see themselves in the world they’re pro-labor union they tend to be they tend to kind of have a leftist tinge to them and they are separated from their own economics, you know, in a lot of ways. I’m not sure if they see now if inflation and the economy impacts them and would be a motivator to vote, or if it’s just a something that resonates for them as how helpless they are.

Chris Sinacola:  Yeah that’s – it’s an excellent question and a hard one to figure out. I do detect when I talk to young people — and by that I guess I mean anyone younger than I am, but let’s say under 30 or 35 — a lot of them don’t vote. And a lot of folks you would expect to vote who hold jobs and pay taxes and so forth, you think, well, they should be invested. And then it comes to Election Day and the day after and you say at the office, well, you know, did you go to vote? And they’re like ‘Oh yeah, I forgot’ or ‘Oh yeah, I had something else to do.’ And to me that’s just, you know, Election Day the 5th of March Super Tuesday that’s the day I go and look I live in Massachusetts does it matter how I vote? Sometimes I wonder! But it matters that I vote absolutely. And I think one way to get to kids is, you know, you think back to your own days in school whether it was a film strip — remember film strips? — or overhead projectors that sort of thing or occasionally you’d see a documentary film and you would see some of the struggles in the civil rights era I mean that stuff is moving. Or as moving as when you watch films about the Holocaust. You can’t watch that stuff and come away not caring at all about what happens to those people, because it really is the human story, right? These stories of struggle and heartbreak and people overcoming enormous odds just to survive to get an education you know in the South during segregation so forth. So, if you can reach kids that way and then have them have a little you know Q&A afterwards, a little discussion, like, well how does that make you feel? You know, don’t you want to go out and vote once you’re 18 years old? Maybe you reach them that way a little bit. And a lot of great reading. But I think another problem is the displacement. There’s only so many hours in the day in the classroom and we always talk about, you know, time on task, and over-testing, too much too little, that sort of thing you have to get these kids when they’re young and they’re formative years and you have to fill their brains with really high-quality stuff because if instead you’re checking a bunch of DEI boxes they’re not really getting anything. That’s not something you can grab on to. It’s not going to stay with you the way that a great story — even some of the stories we heard you know young about George Washington chopped down the Cherry Tree OK some of that turned out not to be true but still and all, it’s inspirational and then you go back later on you know when you read stuff like I mean I read everything left right and center so I can read Howard Zinn and say OK I I get it I know where he’s going I know why he’s writing this book and OK there’s a corrective here but that’s not the first thing kids need. Kids need to know the story. They need to know the country was founded for very good reasons, that it was unique in human history, and it has endured for 250 odd years for a very good reason. And once they know that story there’ll be plenty of time when they get to college and into their adult years for them to delve into all this other stuff, you know, and argue about how terrible things are and they need to get that.

Sherry Sylvester: Yeah, that piece of not being taught not to love the country. You miss those little details like the first anti-slavery meeting anywhere in the world was in Boston, I believe, or Philadelphia can’t remember, but in the U.S. You know, I read a poll preparing for this — it said that the voters between 18 and 29, their approval rating of the president is not any higher than anybody else — that’s in the low 30 — but still the president will — you ask them who they’re voting for, you know, he’s way ahead. So there’s a way that the Republican side is not appealing to young voters. Do you see a partisan split that way the young people that vote — do they vote Democrat or?

Chris Sinacola: I think they probably do. It’s interesting in Massachusetts everyone thinks oh very blue state which is true but when you look at party affiliation Republicans are something like 7 to 10% registered Republicans and Democrats probably 25 or so 30% maybe and everyone else is unenrolled and when I look at that I think they’re in that great persuadable middle right and I look at this choice like a lot of folks the last four to six years I mean there was a bumper sticker giant meteor 2020 and I wish I had one Giant Meteor 2024 because I’m not real happy with the choice we have right but I think like a lot of people I’m just looking for some normal Americans and we’ve got to do better than this. You know, 330 million of us there must be some sane folks who don’t say crazy things and who are not, well, octogenarians, perhaps. Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is, but as to the question is there a split? I think there is. You know, I think younger folks kind of naturally feel oh they usually start out liberal you know the old sayings you know no heart you know I’m at 20 I’m a liberal and then no brain if you’re not a conservative at 40 or whatever the saying is, and certainly I went through that myself you know when I was much younger tended to be more liberal in my views and you know you grew up you pay taxes you start getting children of your own and family and a house and you’re like ‘Oh well, wait a minute, you know, I really have skin in the game now, maybe I don’t want to vote for all those programs and maybe I want to control the size of government’ and so forth. So, that’s part of the story, and I guess you could say well thank goodness they don’t vote in such large numbers sometimes! You know, everybody says, oh we want everyone to vote, and on paper that’s true — we want to get everybody out there and wanting to vote, but what dismays me is when you talk to people who just pull a lever for D, R, or Libertarian, Green or what have you simply because their parents did or their grandparents did. They haven’t given it much thought they’re not really invested in that. They’re not thinking things through. And I guess in my more cynical moments I say ‘Well, I hope they stay home.’ And that’s a terrible thing to say. You want them to vote, right?

Sherry Sylvester: Yeah, I think we’re seeing a transition at least on the ground and this may also be affecting the voting of the political parties. The political parties are really not what they used to be that in a big state like Texas and probably in Massachusetts as well the voters are organized by the candidates. The governor organizes the voters. The senators organize the voters. They’re the people that have the statewide list. The party is like a rump group of folks and they’re always at war for who’s in control of the party, but the party doesn’t really influence anybody. It wouldn’t be something that you would want to stand up and say yeah, I’m with those guys over there and and I think that’s just a transition that has happened. But I wanted to ask you something else that I wondered in in terms of what you put in the book and what you suggested for people are elections when you go in to vote are they too hard to follow I don’t know what the ballots look like in Massachusetts, but now when there’s polling I get a call every day. And someone says to me ‘Sherry, you’ve got – “ First of all we elect our judges in Texas so you’ve got to tell me you know who should I vote for because nobody can — if you’re in an urban area there may be 30 judges on your ballot and in these primary elections each party has partisan issues on the ballot and then in general elections we have constitutional issues do you think it’s — you know real smart grown-ups can’t figure this out!

Chris Sinacola: So, yeah that there can be a problem. I mean, I know for the presidential ballots they draw lots to see who’s going to be on the top and some folks I’ve heard — and I don’t have reason to disbelieve this — will simply go in and check the first name at the top of the list, which is bizarre. We all remember the famous butterfly ballot which caused so much confusion in Florida, but here in Massachusetts we often have two, three, or four ballot initiative questions, and the wording of those can be very difficult, very hard to puzzle out and what does a no vote mean, what does a yes vote mean, and you need a Philadelphia lawyer to figure that stuff out sometimes. So, you know, you’re getting mailings from both sides so when you go to the polls, you’d be prepared to vote the right way, but it’s hard to know what the right way is even if you’re firm in your political beliefs and convictions, because the language is so convoluted. So, this can be a problem and it may be another reason that young people just throw up their hands and say ‘Well, I’d rather watch the latest, you know, the latest episode of my favorite TV series or play a video game with my friends.’

Sherry Sylvester: I was at a media panel in Houston yesterday, and there was a panel of Gen Z and asking them why they weren’t engaged in voting, and the conclusion with all of our conversations here was that they just couldn’t be bothered, they were too lazy. One young woman just said, I just, you know, it’s not something that I care about. But you called your book Restoring the City on the Hill, so how do we do that? But I remember one quote from that time we were mentioning, you know, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded there in the first 30 or 40 years the literacy rate was in the 80 percentile. People were very involved, they voted.

Chris Sinacola:  Well, it’s an interesting title because of course it’s ultimately scriptural and then it was John Winthrop who used those words to encourage, you know, other like-minded folks to go with him to the New World. And if you read the rest of that quote it’s, you know, you can’t hide you can’t hide from this, right? If you’re sitting on the hill you’re going to be seen. The example you’re setting for the nation and for the world will be seen. And I think folks misinterpret that. You know, there’s a lot of discussion about that particular phrase but they seem to think, oh, it’s about American exceptionalism and so forth. Well, maybe that’s what it came to be understood as, but I like to say to folks when, you know, you set yourself up as an example for the nation you better get it right, because if you don’t get it right then everyone’s going to see that you failed. And Massachusetts for a long time had it right, you know, from 1993 when we did the Education Reform Act the deal was a lot more money for public schools in exchange for a couple of things — high-stakes testing and a system of public charter schools which were very successful. And we’re supposed to be examples, you know, a city on the hill and there was actually a charter school with that very name — but the district public schools rather than looking upon them as allies or examples to emulate viewed them instead, of course, as rivals and something that had to be suppressed and capped and enrollments limited, and so forth. So, that’s an old story — power struggles in education, you know, who would expect that? As to how we do it — a lot of hard work, right? You’re going to have to get great teachers. I think we’re going to have to focus a lot of attention on the urban school districts which are, frankly, dreadful in many parts of this country. And this is a story that goes way back, and a lot of commentators left and right have pointed that out, but I think we disagree on how to go about it. You know, left folks like Jonathan Kozol have written very eloquently about the problems but their solution seems always to be, well, more money, more resources. But then fast forward 30 or 60 years from the time he was he was active — he’s still around but — and you ask yourself, well, if Boston is spending $30,000 or $35,000 per student what are they getting? And the answer is they’re not getting very much. And that same $30,000 or $35,000 being spent in one of the suburbs is getting a lot more. I think of New Orleans, rather, after Katrina — basically remade their entire school system into charter schools and the results have been dramatically better. So, you need to get people invested in this, and I think you need to break that old thinking that teacher union, monopoly public school mentality where everything, you know, nothing could be really achieved because we have to go through the union, we have to go through this and that. So, one of the things Pioneer has done and is doing is developing what we call a Civics 2.0 curriculum, which would be about history and civics and take that directly to parents and homeschoolers and microschoolers and private schools, because you’re never going to get such a thing approved by the bureaucrats in education. They have a big head start and they have a lot of money and a lot of inertia, so you have to take the fight, you know, directly to the kids, because this who has time? You know, your kids are kids for a few years and then they grow up and they go off out with the world and if you don’t get them well, you lose.

Sherry Sylvester: Yeah, that’s the piece that the bureaucrats miss we’re engaged in that battle here in Texas on school choice, ironically you know we’re a conservative state but we have not passed choice and our governor is actively engaged in the election to elect legislators who support options. We have a good charter school system in Texas. So, let me ask you one more question. You recommend in your book a couple of things. One is requiring kids to pass the U.S. Citizenship Test and how does that work and how has that worked and does anybody do that?

Chris Sinacola:  There are a handful of states I think maybe 12 or 13 at last count that do use the U.S. Citizenship exam as one test, you know kids have to pass it in order to graduate. In Massachusetts we have MCAS the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests and they don’t include history and civics so we’ve recommended that that be made a requirement part of the testing regimen in addition to English, math, and science. But the U.S. Citizenship Test would be at least something it’d be a fairly easy way to get some idea of what people know the passing grade for aspiring Americans is 60% most do much better they get 90% because they really are motivated to be here, right, they want to come here, the ones who are coming here legally and taking the test to become citizens. So, Pioneer did a poll last year which found that 400 folks in Massachusetts you know citizens took this the average score was 63% so the good news is they get to stay as citizens you know not going to kick anybody out if they fail this test of course the  sad part about that is it was only 63% and the questions are not particularly difficult things like how many senators are there and you know what is it senator’s term, basic stuff which in time most people do get a handle on that. You know they go to pub trivia nights they read books here and there they listen to you know The History Channel. I think they get it eventually, so I don’t throw up my hands in despair when I see low test scores, because I think well these are teenagers, after all, there’s a lot going on in their lives. But you’d like to think that a poll of 400 you know citizens in Massachusetts would do a little better than 63% on average. So, we think if that were in the schools it would be one way, sort of a lowest common denominator if you will, kids would at least know those few things right. So, it would be a way to start and maybe it would open the door to some other reforms and convince policymakers and lawmakers even in deep blue Massachusetts, you know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we tested history after all.

Sherry Sylvester: You know, it’s a terrific idea. Maybe you could partner with, I’m sure they have it, if their DAR goes down every week to the federal courthouse and when people are sworn in you know give them cookies and American flag pins and people that have studied for that test who barely speak English and can pass it. And it again gives you an idea of what an honor and a value it is to be in this country and to vote. What other advice before I let you go, what other advice do you have for those of us here in this in this big red state from that old blue state? What other advice do you have for us about what you should do about history?

Chris Sinacola: And it’s always dicey right when Massachusetts folks you know recommend something like a presidential candidate for the country because it doesn’t these work out well. So, I don’t want to be perceived as you know the liberal blue state telling Texas how to run its affairs certainly but one piece of advice that we do emphasize in the book we review some of the states that had really good history and civics curricula over the years and how they’ve slipped a little bit and did some backsliding. So, when it comes to creating those curricula or revising them which Texas seems to be doing at this point, it’s super important that parents and activists and groups PTOs and so forth and get out and make their voices heard. I spent 30 years doing reporting you know local news reporting and there is nothing more powerful and nothing more beautiful to see for a reporter sitting in the audience — and nothing more frightening to public officials — than when really motivated parents who are angry about something speak up at a public meeting and say ‘You know we don’t like this curriculum we don’t like what you’re doing with our kids, these are our kids, this is our tax dollars!’ So, I would say anyone listening to this any parent if you’re not satisfied and you don’t feel that your kid is getting what he or she should be getting in the public schools, by all means speak up, go to one of those school board meetings get together, you know have coffee with some of your neighbors, band together and go out there and demand some change, because they will ultimately listen to you and that is democracy at its finest, in my view.

Sherry Sylvester: Great. Chris, thank you so much for joining us.

Chris Sinacola: Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure.

Sherry Sylvester: Thank you all for joining us today for the Sherry Sylvester podcast you can get this podcast at Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts if you want to sign up for my newsletter 9th and Congress you can do it at the Texas public policy website .

Thanks so much.

How to Make Good Americans

In this discussion with Mark Bauerlein of First Things, Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Pioneer Institute’s book “Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools,” focuses on how to get the basics about U.S. history and civics right and giving young people a sense of what makes the American experiment in representative democracy unique in world history. The discuss the shortcomings of today’s curricula and how parents can lead the way to reform.

First Things, with Mark Bauerlein

“How to Make Good Americans”

Recorded in December 2023 and posted February 12, 2024, at

Mark Bauerlein: Chris Sinacola is Communications and Media Relations Director at the Pioneer Institute. He has edited several volumes of essays by diverse contributors for the Pioneer Institute over the years, and the latest one is called [Restoring the] City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. It’s co-edited with Jamie Gass. Welcome. Buona mattina, Signor Sinacola!

Chris Sinacola: Grazie, Mark! Buona mattina e buon Natale. It’s great to be with you.

Mark Bauerlein: Well, OK, first, why this collection now? I mean, what motivated anything particular motivated the project other than just sort of the general condition of civics education in the United States?

Chris Sinacola: Sure. Well, I think that’s probably about right, the general condition of civics education in the United States. And to say “abject horror” might be too strong at this point, I mean — but it might not be. Depending on where you look, you see a fairly consistent decline in standardized test scores, things like the national — the NEAP scores, the nation’s report card, if you will — and then, state by state, when you look at different test scores depending on what regimen the states use, things seem pretty dismal. And also, the move away from things like the SAT, deemphasis on standardized testing for admission to college makes it all the more difficult to gauge how young people are actually doing.

And in the case of civics and history specifically, it’s extremely difficult, because it’s not tested even in a state like Massachusetts, which prides itself on a long history of strong public education and innovation in education, charter schools, and so forth, there is no high-stakes test. There’s no component in our — what we call the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, the MCAS. We’d like there to be, Pioneer advocates that. So, it makes it very difficult to know what do young people know about the origin of the country? You know, it seems to me that we did — Pioneer did a poll not too long ago, and the poll asked several hundred Massachusetts residents questions that the new immigrants would face trying to become Americans the average score was 63 percent So the good news there —

Mark Bauerlein: D-minus?

Chris Sinacola: Yeah D-minus. You know you’re looking at 60% to pass if you’re an aspiring American. And of course, aspiring Americans generally score 95% to 100% on these tests because they’re very motivated to become part of this country and they want their piece of the American Dream. And that’s the good news. But not so good news is that Americans who are already here, who in some cases may have been here from many generations, don’t know things like what branches of government we have and how many years a senator serves and so forth. So yeah, I would say that’s part of the reason that kind of dismay at the decline and the decline both in the teaching of this, the decline in reading about history, the use of primary sources, in favor of an entire new industry of things which are trendy, and which are surface, I would say.

Mark Bauerlein: Give me an example of the trendy that might be sort of crowding out the civics instruction.

Chris Sinacola: Sure, so one very simple example. You know, I think growing up people of a certain age learned about George Washington, and they learned a few things that probably weren’t true about the axe and the cherry tree, but nonetheless they did get around to things like, OK, Washington was the first president, the father of his country. And that when he left office, he left office, and that was a really important moment in U.S. history because it established this very long tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. So, one of the reasons that people still come to this country is because they understand that here there is that tradition. They’re not going to be attacked and set upon by mobs and ousted by a coup d’etat and so forth. So, people used to learn things about Washington. And instead, today, young people — some of them in some school districts — about all they know about Washington is that he held slaves. Well, if that’s all you know about Washington, you’re missing out on most of the picture. And, you know, the criticism that, well, U.S. history for a long, long time was sort of this, you know, dead white males and all the rest of it. Okay, fair enough, there are some criticisms to be made and to be leveled, and they’re fair criticisms in some cases. But if young people don’t understand the origin story, if they don’t understand the basics of it, they’re being asked to take on things which are way beyond their years, they don’t have a context for them. And this leads to, well, it leads to what a lot of people, even myself in college, experience, where you go in there as a freshman, you know, you don’t really know that much. You haven’t necessarily studied Western Civilization, the Greeks and Romans sufficiently, and you suddenly are taking a bunch of courses that are tearing down the West and tearing down Christianity, and that trend has continued, and I think has become more and more acute over time, so that young folks don’t know very much about history at all, and this is a real problem.

Mark Bauerlein: Yeah, we are hearing more about it in the last few years, some civics education projects are popping up. So, I think that your book is timely even though it could have been done five, 10 years ago, it’s timely now. I think very much so, especially all this talk about our democracy and most of which is pretty thin and superficial and poorly informed the title of the forward is by former governor William Weld and legislator Tom Birmingham. It has the title “Ignoring U.S. History at Our Peril.” Why is historical knowledge so important? I mean, this is the twenty-first century, Chris, uh, you know, it’s the digital age! What does that old stuff really have to do with us? Haven’t we crossed a line that really separates us from the past to make it obsolete and irrelevant?

Chris Sinacola: Well, we’ve passed several lines, I think, Mark, right? One of which is, you know, you hear the argument, and there’s some truth to this, I suppose. People say, well, you don’t need — you know, you have the internet, you have Wikipedia, you have this, that, and the other thing. And you don’t really need to have all that knowledge stored in your brain. After all, you can just look it up. Well sure, you can look it up in the privacy of your home, you can look it up while you’re sitting on the train or in traffic or what have you, but you can’t look it up when you’re in a job interview. And you can’t look it up when you’re at a cocktail party or trying to make an important deal with someone or trying to impress someone or a first impression of a potential spouse. You can’t make it up when you’re on a podium standing there addressing 300 people because you’ve been the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce, what have you. There is a value in folks at any age having background knowledge, the cultural knowledge, the antecedents, a common language if you will, and if you don’t have that it makes life more difficult, and you come off as less authentic and less informed and people take impressions away. But for young people particularly, the problem becomes that you have these enormously powerful tools, you know, ChatGPT and other AI engines and the internet and teachers are trying to fight this battle of plagiarism, right, to keep ahead of one step ahead of their students and try to detect when the student has cheated or used someone else’s material — we even see that, goodness gracious, at Harvard University and the president lately — but the problem becomes that if you don’t have the context, if you can’t generate something from your own brain and think back, OK, what informs my opinion? What were the historical antecedents that I’m drawing upon to write my essay, my five-paragraph essay or my ten-page essay or my job application, then it shows. People notice that. And I still think that content is king, always and everywhere in the media and whether it’s electronic or print and people do take note. They find false notes, and in this age when you sound one of those false notes or you’re called out on something it can be not just embarrassing, not just brutal, it can be something that destroys your career, if you make such a false note or you — just this week you know Nikki Haley was asked something about the Civil War. Her answer was something less than it might have been, shall we say! And you know, is it the end of the world in most cases? No. But over time this kind of ignorance of history shows, and it shows, too, in what Bill Weld and Tom Birmingham were talking about in the foreword to our book — it shows a lack of civic knowledge leads eventually to a lack of civic participation, and that leads to a state, a town, a country, getting less than the best in the positions of power. There are innumerable Americans today, what, a year out from the next presidential election, who throw up their hands and say, “Oh, if only we had better choices!” OK, well, that process begins with civic education. You know, it begins with people on the ground floor looking around and finding talented folks and supporting them, and not putting up with candidates who are less than the best. And, you know, whether one ultimately votes for the Democrat, the Republican, the Libertarian, the Green or what have you, you want to think that the ballot presents the best and brightest available talent. And that’s not always the case at any level in government. And we can always do better. So, part of that is knowing our history.

Mark Bauerlein: Yeah, yeah. You know, you say it shows, you know, it’s almost to say, well, you can always look it up. It’s, that’s to convert the materials of the past in just information, right? And not something that can really be meaningful, can be inspiring, you know, role models that people would find. Great events, great sacrifices, you know, forms of epic loyalty and epic betrayal as well, that really should go to form a sensibility, right? Not just be, oh, those are just facts, information, and when I need it, I take it. You know, you should have some of the cadences of Lincoln’s speeches in your head. They should be sort of part of the air that you breathe. George Washington’s great acts of withdrawal, those should be part of the story of civic virtue, right? That’s the memory that you hold onto that and, come on, the past is more than that. It’s more than just stuff in books. That’s what we hope. And actually, in the next contribution — it’s by Paul Reid — he has a good saying by Winston Churchill, quote, Churchill said, “In history lie all the secrets of state craft.” Now, do schoolteachers, would they buy that? How would, how would, I mean I know you don’t want, we don’t want to knock teachers, but sort of the general, the general civics teacher attitude, would they say, you know, one of the things we want to do is bring out the secrets of state craft. Is that a goal?

Chris Sinacola: That’s a good question. I think, you know, one of the reasons, at least in my view, for the retreat from the history of teaching, serious teaching of history and civics, and the testing of it, is that history and civics are instantly controversial in our age, right? I mean, math, you know, trig and calculus and pre-calc and algebra, pretty straightforward. A right answer and a wrong answer. Even English grammar, as complex and maddening as it can be sometimes, there’s usually a right and a wrong answer, or something fairly close. This is, you know, the comma goes here and so forth, but once you cross that line into history and civics or current events — or however it’s cast in the particular classroom depending on what level they’re in — it becomes very controversial and it’s very difficult I think for teachers to focus strictly on the past. My wife teaches Latin for many years and for her it may be a little easier because everything is sort of action completed in the past, right? And you can argue, well, did Caesar do this or that, and was it right or wrong? But the historical record is fairly clear. And we have writings, and we can study them, and we can argue about it. But it isn’t like we’re arguing about something which is happening right now, and has something to do with our tax rates, or who’s going to occupy the Oval Office, and so forth. So, yes, it can be very difficult. But as to state craft, I mean, you pose that question, and then some are going to say, ‘No, no, don’t teach them about statecraft, because we don’t want them, we don’t want to be creating young Machiavellis here, we don’t want to be creating leftists or rightists, we just want kids to know things.’ But in knowing something, as you said a few moments ago, you get inspired by these stories, these archetypes. I mean, when I listen to, you know, on tape — it helps put me to sleep some nights — I listen to things like the Odyssey, you know, a great recording of the Odyssey, and you hear something that has echoed through the ages, and you take something away from that, and those internal cadences and rhythms in your mind. This is the reason that, once upon a time, students were asked to memorize things because the things that you memorize stay with you, they become almost a part of your DNA. I know scientifically that’s not accurate, but I think you know what I mean. I mean, I can still recall lines of Virgil that I was asked to memorize in 11th grade, and that’s been — it’s been some years. Now, what do I do with that? Not much. But does it enrich my life? Absolutely. And it gives you a common language with other people as you go through life. You connect on so many levels, whether you’re traveling, meeting new people out in your job, et cetera, because you have something you can talk about beyond, ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful day today, or how is your latest sports team doing?’ That sort of thing. So, it’s hugely important. And I think ultimately it does contribute for many young people, particularly those who go into political science or public service of some kind, with the goal of becoming a legislator and maybe aspiring to being president, who knows. I think it does help and make a difference for them.

Mark Bauerlein: Yeah, the next entry is by Robert Pondicio, Gilbert Sewell, and Sandra Stotsky. I’ve worked with Sandra before on some things. They start with test scores in in the field and it’s really bad, right? Aren’t all 12th graders now at NAEP scores in US history aren’t they mostly below basic, which is sort of an F?

Chris Sinacola: Yes, absolutely.

Mark Bauerlein: And that hasn’t changed for decades, has it?

Chris Sinacola: No, it’s not getting better. And I don’t think there’s a lot of reason to expect that it would get better unless one does the old trick of changing the test, if you will, or adjusting or recentering it. You may recall, I think it was in 1994 that the SAT was recentering the test because tests were, let’s say, stagnant to be charitable, and they just said, “Well, we’re going to recenter this,” so that the new scores, whether they were higher or lower, I think only someone with an advanced degree in mathematics could have told you with any certainty. But they were certainly not comparable to what had come before, so it complicated the job of journalists, which I was at the time, of figuring out, “Well, are we doing better or are we doing worse?” You just change the standards. But that aside I think it’s fair to say as you mentioned that scores are bad and not getting better, at least, which is certainly a cause for concern.

Mark Bauerlein: Well, one thing they note is that when you look at textbooks those have deteriorated they’re not as good as they used to be I’m sure there there’s you know the occasional exception Bill McClay’s book on U.S. history, but overall the quality of historyin civic textbooks has declined. How would you, I mean, would you characterize some of those materials in terms of what their drawbacks might be?

Chris Sinacola: Well, I think the primary drawback, and this is probably common to all of them, that is, regardless of ideology or where they’re coming from — and, of course, one hopes that the text isn’t written from an ideological perspective at all — but whether it leans right or leans left, the problem is a lack of depth in most cases. You don’t get the kinds of stories that you used to get. You know, I think back to the textbooks that I had in classes, they were pretty good, I thought. You know, there’s a main narrative and then you might see an inset or a sidebar over here and I have a few pictures and it tells you about the Trail of Tears or tells you about the Oregon Trail or it tells you about Andrew Jackson and some of the horrible things that he did and so on and so forth. But you do get a sense of the flow of history. And I read a lot of history and I keep going back to original sources like, you know, Francis Parkman. Not I suppose an original source but a certainly great historian. And when you read Wolfe and Montcalm, about the events in Quebec, you really get a sense of, it puts you right there. And I understand that modern textbooks can’t do that because they don’t have the time to do that, they don’t have the number of pages, but they could certainly do a much better job of faithfully taking quotations and extracts from the great works of the past, putting them into a comprehensible sequence, and saying to students, read this and think about this and then reflect on it. How does this relate to your life and your circumstances? I often think there are so many great books out there that are unknown. Books about specific states, writers from, you know, regional writers from certain states, narratives of — the New England area, of course, is loaded with these wonderful old narratives, but they exist for other places, the Pacific Northwest, and Texas and the South, and if those works could be folded into a curriculum, maybe you don’t have one curriculum or you have a national curriculum with regional variants or state-by-state standards, which is, you know, really the idea behind federalism in our country. But that is one of the problems, as you suggested earlier, is this lack of depth. And the other one, of course, is the bias that comes in. In books like — and we refer to this elsewhere in Restoring the City on a Hill — Howard Zinn’s work, for example. And I hesitate to, you know, attack Mr. Zinn, the late Mr. Zinn. The fact is that there’s a lot of information in his book that I guess to be fair and charitable isn’t wrong, because there are legitimate criticisms to be made. The difficulty is that if you present that to young people without first giving them the basic story, they come away with a very warped perspective on the country. They come away thinking that the country was founded for all the wrong reasons and did nothing but terrible things to other people. While, in fact, the founders were very different people than we were and their sensibilities and their religious sensibilities, particularly, their intentions were really good. And we have to understand that the system they set up was genius, because it’s lasted for 250 years, right? So this is very important.

Mark Bauerlein: You know, Pioneer Institute has done a lot on Common Core. Did Common Core have an effect on history and civics instruction?

Chris Sinacola: Well, I think so. I think Common Core, like a lot of trends in in our society, made things worse by dragging them down. I would call it lowest common denominator, really. And sometimes, you know, here we are a number of years out from Common Core. And I say to folks, if only they did teach Common Core, if only that lowest common denominator were actually taught to and tested, things might not be quite as bad, because while Common Core is far from the best, far from what it could and should be, it does at least do something, right? But a state like Indiana was the first to turn away from Common Core because they recognized quite rightly that it wasn’t strong enough, that our children deserved far better than Common Core, to just have this sort of mediocre lowest common denominator to share that it can be much richer and more challenging than that. That’s something I think you’ve probably done a fair bit of reading of old textbooks and we’re talking turn of the last century, 1800s into the 1900s. Some of the material that students were asked to master back then is truly daunting. It’s extraordinary stuff. And I think of an education system that is flexible enough to recognize that if you put a really high bar here and ask students to strive for it, you don’t need to then give them a D or an F because they didn’t get all the way there. They did really well. They may not have reached the gold standard, but they did really well. So, teachers need to have the flexibility to grade in accordance with what the students have actually achieved in relation to a very strong curriculum. But there seems to be, in our day and age, this idea — and maybe it’s a result of the digital age — that, you know, how many quizzes have you taken online while you’re doomscrolling on a Sunday morning, and it says, “Oh, you know, how well do you know your US and civics?” And you hit it, and you think to yourself, “I hate myself for doing that again,” but you hit the link and you get seven out of ten or eight out of ten and it gives you a smiley face and tells you you’re a wonderful person. Well, what if you only got four you’d never heard the other six questions? Are you a bad person? No, you just haven’t read enough you know so I say high standards and let the kids strive for this but today the standards are so low you know they get their participation trophies and there was a comic, some comic strip I saw some time ago saying participation — existence trophies? You know, in my day we had to participate. You get an existence trophy?

Mark Bauerlein: Well, the next entry is by one of the great heroes of American education in the last 100 years, I think, E .D. Hirsch, who says at one point that civic and political discourse in the U.S. at the current time is in a terrible condition. What is his prescription to fix that?

Chris Sinacola: Yeah, the downward path, right, that he talks about at the end of that chapter where he says American education started up on a downward path when “the fuzzy ideas of Dewey replaced the hard-nosed ideals of Madison.”  I think it would be hard to come up with a better line than that to describe just what he’s what he’s aiming at and he doesn’t give a blow-by-blow prescription, if you will, on what to do but it’s fairly clear that in this particular chapter Hirsch is pointing and as he does in his books pointing toward a long movement away from quality and away from rigor towards this touchy-feely, call it what you will, it has had many names over the years, right? It expresses itself today and things like SEL and DEI and again, there are kernels of truth and all these things there are you know,it’s nice to be nice to people I get that you know, we want to be inclusive. Well, I think we were pretty inclusive. And when Hirsch points to things in the curriculum that’s failing the curriculum may be failing because it has moved away from what was at one time really the best that it could be. I think, for example, to illustrate this, when you think about the history of the civil rights in the United States, we see this long history leading up to MLK and the Civil Rights era, activism marches and insistence on rights for all. I think and I thought then and still think today that America got it about right with MLK’s idea of judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And yet what we see today is almost a cottage industry within education that is trying to force us backward, trying to say to people, ‘Because we need to recognize your unique identity as someone whose skin is not white, whether it’s black, brown, gray, yellow, what have you, we need to put you over here in this little box and have you only associate with folks who look like you and think like you.’ But that’s not what MLK was saying, and that’s not what America should be saying. We should be one nation under God. You know, that’s the idea. Get everybody together and forge a common idea and put aside the divisions, and I’m afraid that instead we’re going in the opposite direction, and Hirsch points to some of that. You see some of that symptom in test scores that are going down and staying down, because we’re focusing on all the wrong things. We’re focusing on identity and grievance and division rather than on what unites us as a people and that’s what should be at heart of a great curriculum.

Mark Bauerlein: You and Jamie Gass in the book with a piece entitled The Enduring Wisdom of the Founders, enduring wisdom, what is what is your prescription in that conclusion?

Chris Sinacola: Our prescription is that folks — it really is one page, the concluding page, it kind of gets at this and this is something I’ve kind of preached, I think it’s probably not too strong a word, to different media outlets since the book came out — is that you need, parents need to take charge. They need to look around and assess what’s going on with my child’s school and understand that waiting for bureaucrats, waiting for states to make change — as important as that is and as much as we advocate that states should improve their standards — if you are a parent and you’re sitting here on your holiday break and you’re not too happy with what happened during the fall, you need to go to the next school board meeting and make some noise. If you are a parent of a child in an inner-city school which is just plain terrible and has been for, oh, decades, you need to go to your local lawmaker and say, you know, what? I want a choice, a real choice. I want an educational savings account program. I want a school choice program. I want a new charter school or here in Massachusetts, for example, I want the cap on charter school enrollments to be lifted.” Now, when you put those things out in the ballot box, anything can happen and usually does, right? But change can happen in many other ways, directly and more immediately, if parents will simply take command. And with our own children, for example, we did a lot of homeschooling and at a time when homeschooling wasn’t as cool or hip or popular or necessarily in every case legal. We didn’t have any difficulties, but people, you know, need to be pioneers, no pun intended, in this respect, and understand that their children have a very narrow window in terms of a few years in which they’re in that mode where they’re listening to you and they’re open to learning and you’re still somewhat in charge of their lives and you need to make sure they have the absolute best educational opportunity available. You can go to all the school board meetings you want and sit there and say nothing and watch the process play out, but by the time it plays out in your favor your child will be off to college or beyond. So, you need to take action right away. And that last chapter is intended to describe the impatience that parents increasingly feel as they choose alternative schools. And we see alternative schooling and choices expanding exponentially in this country, which is a great thing. And hopefully that will send a message to the traditional public schools, kind of hidebound, that they need to change as well or they’re going to lose lots and lots of customers.

Mark Bauerlein: The book is “City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools.” Chris Sinacola, thank you for joining us.

Chris Sinacola: Thank you so much, Mark. It was a pleasure.

Why Is It So Important for Schools to Teach Civics and History?

Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, joins talk show host Lars Larson to discuss the changes to U.S. history and civics instruction over recent decades, and the importance of restoring high-quality instruction in order to bolster Americans’ understanding of federalism and strengthen the institutions of our representative democracy.

The Lars Larson Show

“Why Is It So Important for Schools to Teach Civics and History?”

Recorded in December 2023.

“Jamie Gass: Why Is It So Important for Schools to Teach Civics and History”

Lars Larson: Welcome back to the Lars Larson Show I’ve got to tell you something. I loved history and I loved a social studies and civics, but that was back in the day. These days you will be told by teachers and public education — that is the education that’s run, not very well run, but run all the same by government — and never forget that public schools, we call them public schools, they are government schools. And why is that important? Because the teachers who teach in them for the most part unionized teachers will tell you all day long that they’ve got time to teach your kids about transgender, about LGBTQ, about diversity, equity, and inclusion — that they have plenty of time to tell your kids, if you have white skin you’re an oppressor, if you have brown or black skin that you are the oppressed. And all this other nonsense that they shove at kids, but apparently, they don’t have a lot of time to teach your kids about actual American history and world history and civics. I thought we’d discuss that with Jamie Gass, who’s the director of the Pioneer Institute Center for School Reform. Jamie, welcome to the program.

Jamie Gass: Thanks for having me on.

Lars Larson: So, have I got any of that inaccurate. Did I properly state the idea that that we’ve got a lot of kids who are coming out of public school who don’t seem to know what’s going on when it comes to government?

Jamie Gass: No, you’re exactly right. I mean, the whole point of education in this country going back to the founding era is really the founders’ vision of what education and citizenship look like— is that schools would perpetuate the principles of our republican form of government. And, you know, the reality is we are pretty good at it for a while, but in recent decades it’s all been kind of shunted aside and in favor of a lot of heavy political agendas and a lot of those things that don’t have much to do with making sure kids are prepared for civic participation.

Lars Larson: And it’s funny, because, Jamie, I notice this on almost a daily basis. I mean, God bless the people who listen to my show. I’m glad they do and I wouldn’t insult them, but I’ll have people call up and say why we need to fix schools we should have the Congress do that and I said well you know for the most part the Congress has nothing to do with education; pump in maybe 10% of the budget in various places in America, but for the most part they don’t call the shots. And they’ll seem perplexed by that. And I’ve had I have people on a local basis say well the state should take care of that and I said no that’s a city or county function and you say well OK so how much difference does it make if they don’t know what part of government does what job. I said well it’s kind of a big problem because if you don’t realize who’s supposed to be fixing the problem, then how do you get a problem fixed when you don’t know who to hold responsible? Would you mind giving my audience some of the statistical stuff that you’ve determined at the Pioneer Institute about what people — and especially young people — actually know about the government and how it works?

Jamie Gass: No, it’s so true. It’s one of the reasons why we launched this book, Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools, because the fact is, is that for many decades as poorly as our public schools seem to be doing in comparison to international competition in math and science, we do even worse in terms of translating, or having kids, young people know the basics of civics and history and I think you’re right a lot of people assume that these are the kinds of topics about the founding documents, the founding fathers, the Civil War, Lincoln, two world wars, the Cold War, civil rights — they assume that these things are being taught, but the fact is that they’re not and they haven’t for been for a long time. And the whole reason why you want to have a country that’s based on principles like federalism — which is, of course, where the rubber hits the road in terms of education — it’s all at the state and local and parental level — in order for people to understand that they have to have the vocabulary of our republican form of government. And, you know, it’s leading to an enormous amount of misunderstanding of what the federal government does, what state governments, what local governments are supposed to do. But the fact is that students and even adults need to be taught. Even in Massachusetts — and Massachusetts is a pretty wealthy state, it’s a pretty well-educated state  — we did a poll just you know about a month or so ago that, where, essentially huge portions of the population — and they essentially got a D — didn’t even know that the, you know, that there’s 100 U.S. senators or these basic elements of checks and balances so you know the fact is is that we’ve gotten some things right in Massachusetts but the reality of it is that across the country there’s just a great deal of misunderstanding about the basics of what government does what it’s supposed to do, what’s what it’s limited and prevented from doing; and I think that’s why this topic is just enormously important .

Lars Larson: Well, and when it comes to then, it allows people in government who are so inclined, especially elected officials, to get away with murder, because an elected official can say ‘Well, you know, Donald Trump blew up the budget,’ and I have to remind people ‘No, well, Trump may have signed off on the budget, but the Congress passes the spending plan.’ And they say ‘Well, Trump can veto it,’ and I said, ‘He can, and he can shut the government down and that usually works for 10 or 20 or 30 days at most and then it goes on as before.’

So, if you want to blame somebody, blame the Congress. Except the Congress, all the members are happy to have somebody else take the blame for it, so you get politicians saying, you know, that this president or that president outspent the budget or, you know, spent too much, you say they don’t — presidents don’t spend anything they can say yes they can say no but even when they say no they don’t have much power to say no, because after a while about 10 days the government shutdown and everybody’s you know agitating to get a budget in place. And the Congress spends the money but if you don’t understand that — and members of Congress are happy to have people not understand that because then they don’t get the blame —

Jamie Gass: No it’s so true and I think you see this in the in states all over the country, is that it’s not just the federal level the lot of governors a lot of state legislators they’re not providing much leadership at the state and local level about making sure that kids know the fundamentals of our Constitution, or the founding documents or you know why someone like MLK drew from the founding documents even to make arguments about civil rights. I mean, there’s just, I mean, Ronald Reagan said it, you know it’s like the loss of liberty is just one generation away and all you have to do is not teach people about their rights and it becomes a lot easier to take those rights away.

Lars Larson: No, in fact, my favorite part of the Dream speech is not the part that gets played once a year — you know, it’s a nice part of the speech — but my favorite part is when he referenced, you know, we’ve come here to enforce a contract and the contract is the Constitution, and it’s a contract between the government and the people. And I appreciated the fact that MLK — who was at heart a conservative, although he’s cast as a liberal by liberals these days — he saw that as this is a contract, and it can be enforced, and we can tell the government this is what you have a right to do, these are the things you don’t have a right to do, and he viewed it that way. I’m wondering: When you’ve got, you know, the survey results you showed — fewer than half of Americans can name the three branches of government — executive, judicial, and legislative — a quarter can’t name any branch of government. Two out of three Americans can’t pass a citizenship test. They’re never going to under — if they don’t know those basics — how are they ever going to understand the idea that government has limited and enumerated powers at the federal level, everything else goes to the state level?

Jamie Gass: No, it really is true. In that poll that we did in Massachusetts we used citizenship questions as the citizenship exam questions and it was it’s amazing, I mean it you know these are things that these are topics that 90% or higher of incoming immigrants can pass, but that many people can’t. And it’s really kind of a startling development, because the fact is that it’s we’ve been we’ve been observing this slowly, slowly for years and I think for people it’s starting to get real. That if you don’t pass on these fundamental principles and the fundamental elements of history I mean not to mention things like world wars, understanding military history, understanding who Blackjack Pershing was, or understand who George Marshall or Dwight Eisenhower was.

Lars Larson: And that’s Jamie Gass. He is the director of the Pioneer Institute Center for School Reform. The book is called Restoring the City on a Hill. Jamie, thank you very much for the time.

On the Decline of Civics Education in America’s Schools

Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Pioneer Institute’s book “Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools,” joins Naomi Schaefer Riley and Ian Rowe for a wide-ranging discussion of American public education, including how and why education excellence is created and can be lost.

Are You Kidding Me?

“Chris Sinacola on the Decline of Civics Education in American Schools”

Posted February 7, 2024, at

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Are You Kidding Me? I’m Naomi Schaefer Riley, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ian Rowe: Hello Naomi, and I am also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and I’m Ian Rowe.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: And today we are excited to be joined by Chris Sinacola. He’s the Director of Communications at the Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts and he is also the co-editor of a new book that we want to talk about today called Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. Welcome, Chris, thanks for joining us.

Chris Sinacola: Well, thanks so much, Naomi, pleased to be here.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: So, I wanted to talk a little bit about — first I wanted to ask you about the title City on a Hill, it actually was the name of a of a charter school that was founded in Massachusetts a long time ago one of the first charter schools in the country but obviously the phrase “city on a hill” has a much older connotation we want to talk about let me ask you first why you chose that as the title for the book?

Chris Sinacola: Yeah, that’s a great question Naomi, and we had more than a bit of debate, I would say, in our offices as we were looking to title the book, because as you correctly note “city on the hill” is really Biblical in its resonances and was a phrase that was used by John Winthrop when the Pilgrims were setting off from England way back in 1630. And the intent — I think over time that phrase “American exceptionalism” and a number of scholars have looked at that and said ‘Oh that’s all wrong ,that’s really not what they were talking about. The Pilgrims were setting out just for themselves for religious freedom.’ And I’ve done a fair bit of reading about early New England and the Pilgrims and I have to say that when they talked about religious liberty they meant for themselves and they didn’t necessarily mean for anyone else. If you were a Quaker or you were a Protestant — not a Protestant, a Catholic — or someone who didn’t toe the line, well, you were invited to go someplace else. So. But over time it’s fair to say, I think, that that phrase “city on the hill” has come to be thought of as a beacon of hope and we use the image of the Massachusetts State House, which is high on Beacon Hill. So that’s what we settled on, and I think when I look at that and think about it I think too about what Winthrop said and the rest of that phrase where “the eyes of all the people are upon us.” So, the idea that he was trying to get at was that if you messed this up, folks, everybody’s going to know. And in a sense that makes sense for education, because Massachusetts has always been a leader in education in one respect or another and if we don’t get it right, well, we set a terrible example and a lot of other states will look and say well that’s where Harvard started and that’s where common schools started and they’re not getting it right, so what hope is there for the rest of the country? You know, we don’t want to tell them how to live their lives but we do want to bear a good example, right, for others. So that’s where we came down on the on the title and the image.

Ian Rowe: And so, that’s where your book comes in. Are we getting it right in K-12 education?

Chris Sinacola: Sometimes we are, that’s the good news.

Ian Rowe: Oh, let’s start there. Where are we getting it right?

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Ian loves good news!

Chris Sinacola: That’s good, that’s good to hear. So, I look at the education landscape and I come from a background, you know, I had a lot of great schools. I was privileged to go to a prep school for high school and went on to college and so I’ve had a lot of advantages. And my wife and I taught four kids, 30 years of combining home schooling with some Catholic school and some private schools some choice high schools some charter public schools and vocational schools, so we’ve had a little taste of pretty much every flavor of education there is. And in my former days as a reporter I covered a great number of education stories, so I look at that landscape and I say there’s a lot going right when it comes to choice and freedom and parents asserting themselves these days and saying you know our children who, you know, come — we have these lives entrusted to us for a few precious years and if you don’t get it right you’re going to you’re going to lose out, you’re setting them up for failure later in life. So, I look at that landscape and how it has changed dramatically in the last 10, 20, even 30 years — homeschooling has grown enormously, microschools have grown, school choice, charters in Massachusetts have grown — unfortunately they’re now capped — so I think the momentum if you will is there for of the public schools that just aren’t up to the standards they want and are willing to wait any longer so they are taking direct actions that’s the good news there are of course good stories to be told in many public schools across the country. Generally, it must be said, those in the wealthier zip codes where they have lots of advantages and the parents have lots of resources for enrichment and so forth. The less good news, of course — and I use the example of Jonathan Kozol’s book Death at An Early Age, you know classic account of his year teaching a fourth grade class in Boston in the inner city in the 1960s. And, at the end of that book there’s an interesting letter from the lawyer for the district which concludes saying that it is “hoped that Mr. Kozol will develop his latent talents and concomitantly develop an understanding and respect for the value of working within the acceptable codes of behavior.” And so, I read that and I think, had our founding fathers and mothers adhered to the acceptable codes of behavior, I’m not convinced that we would be an independent country today. So, what Kozol was trying to get at and what so many other educators and reformers throughout our history have tried to get at, is that you need to shake things up a bit and you need to change and challenge the status quo. And, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in my view nearly enough in most public schools today.

Ian Rowe: Got it. And now one of the things that I think really spurred the whole creation of the book is you were doing research and looking at just how much knowledge do our kids really know. So tell us a little bit about that and the manifestation of saying we should put pen to paper and come with solutions to address this issue.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Did you do some Jay Leno man on the street interviews to find out how little our students know, unfortunately?

Chris Sinacola: Well, we did something like that. Pioneer commissioned Emerson Polling to do a survey of 400 — I believe was 400 — Massachusetts residents and we based the survey questions directly on the U.S. Citizenship Exam. And you may know that in order to become a citizen, you know, aspiring Americans need to get a 60% or higher and generally they do very, very well. I know a young woman who recently applied and got her citizenship and scored a perfect score on that citizenship exam. Now, unfortunately, the folks who responded to our poll averaged 63%. So, if you’re in the mood for more good news, Ian, that’s a passing score but not by much! And there were some disturbing results in there so that qualified as our man on the street portion of the study if you will.

Ian Rowe: I mean, what’s interesting some people would say ‘Wow oh, I think that number would be 20%!’ So, was this 400 randomly selected adults?

Chris Sinacola: Yes, they selected them to be representative demographically in terms of age and political affiliation and so forth, so it’s very scientifically done with the usual margin of error. But I think it’s probably a fair reflection. In fact, I brought home the questions and asked my wife and my son, and they got a couple of them wrong and then they quickly corrected themselves. They said, ‘Oh yes, I know that a senator is six years and I know that there are 100 senators not 50, I was thinking of the number of states!’ I’m like I’m going to give you a pass on that, but uh — because they’re family, right? So, there these questions are not terribly difficult questions for those who are well versed in history and have studied and so forth, and certainly I think for highly motivated folks who are seeking to become new Americans they find it not terribly difficult and that’s the good news. It betrays, of course, a deeper ignorance of some of the principles of the country if you don’t know the basic things like you can’t name even one branch of government — we hear that quite often in polls, where organizations will go out there — and you also see lots of stuff on social media. You know, the late night talk shows have a great time with this, but the serious part of that is what is it doing in our schools? What do people really know and what do young people know? And there’s been a move — and we talk about this in the early chapters of the book — about what happened to U.S. history instruction over time. And some of that is an emphasis on modern U.S. history at the expense of the early years because after all it’s exciting to talk about World War II and Vietnam and Watergate and 9/11 and, you know, on and on. And that’s what’s on our minds most recently, and a lot of people were saturated in the media and social media with such topics and themes constantly. And it’s just sometimes less interesting to go back and learn about John Hancock and John Adams and Jefferson and Lincoln. But all that matters greatly, because young people need to understand what it is that made this country so different and so unique in the annals of the world’s history, really, as well as the problems that we had.

You know, there’s no sugarcoating the fact that U.S. history is littered with mistakes and missteps and injustices. And those are part of the story that need to be told. And no one is advocating that we — I hope no one is advocating that we paper those over or cover them up — but you do have to understand something of how the country started and what drew people to this nation and why they continue to come here.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: When would you say that the decline in teaching U.S. history really started? I mean, you know, I have to say it’s interesting what you’re saying about the focus on more modern topics, because if I think back to sort of my American history education I felt like we sort of never made it past the middle of the 20th century. You know, everything was about the American Revolution, the Civil War, or something like that and then we sort of you know got lost somewhere in the Great Depression and that was the end of it. And I think a lot of people sort of never understood the cause of Vietnam War or, you know, even frankly some of World War II. So, I’m curious when you think the emphasis, the reemphasis happened and how much of it is just sort of driven by a sense of this is what kids will enjoy studying and teachers will enjoy teaching and how much of it has a more kind of ideological agenda behind that switch?

Chris Sinacola: Yeah, that’s a great question and a hard one for me, because I’m not a classroom teacher and it’s been some time since I was devising curricula for my own kids or seeing what they were learning in school.  But thinking back to my own experience — and that may not be terribly representative — because, you know, I started in the local elementary public school, and thinking back to those days the extent that we did cover history it was pretty solid stuff. You know, you would have Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday — there was no Presidents Day — we would celebrate them both. And we would do all kinds of projects and you learn about history and I had you know Golden Book of the American Civil War — some of them still the shelf behind me — and so I really enjoyed history and read a great deal and as you explained, Naomi, in yor own experience, you did get pretty much a sequential tour of U.S. history and then the school year would run out and spring fever would set in and you might get up to maybe World War I or World War II and then that was it.

So, unless in later grades you took on a specialized course you might never get to some of that material, whether it’s the earlier or the middle or the later periods of U.S. history. But there are other factors going on, and I think some critics and scholars would say that the decline — if you want to call it that — began with the Progressive Era, with Woodrow Wilson and those who wanted to socially engineer the society. Well, I obviously wasn’t around in those days, I read about that era, of course. I think they made some missteps certainly but there have been some enormously you know tremendous historians since then you know people like David Hackett Fischer and Samuel Eliot Morison who’ve written remarkable books of history and have examined and explained trends throughout the years. And some of that work filtered into the curriculum in K-12 and in college, if only indirectly. You might look, too, at the 1960s and the rise of some of the left wing left-leaning or left-wing historians, folks like Howard Zinn and others who came in wanting to give a different viewpoint and there were some good reasons to do so, obviously. I think the argument that a lot of folks have or the difficulty they have with that approach — and certainly I think I share this — is that Howard Zinn and his ilk, if you will, may have a lot to say that has value and needs to be considered but it’s very difficult for young people who don’t understand the origin story to know what it is that they’re talking about and why the criticism is important to consider. I think requires that you be older more mature and have perspective. It’s hard to know the whole story if you don’t know where the story began and kind of in the middle of the story.

Ian Rowe: Well, that’s why one of the recommendations that you put forth you know Howard Zinn you know generally textbooks — those are not necessarily a reading of history it’s a reading of someone’s interpretation of history. And so, one of your recommendations going forward is how can primary documents become more the focal point so we talk about that in terms of how we can actually have kids actually understand what was being grappled with at the time through the words of the people grappling at the time.

Chris Sinacola: Right. It’s an excellent point. We talked in the book, for example — we’ll pick on The Federalist Papers, which I recently read. It’s a long book, 500, almost 600 pagers, and I was struck as I read through them — and I read some of the highlights before in history courses and then, you know, doing a column here there over the years — but I never read the entire book cover to cover. And I was struck by just how difficult it is, how challenging it is. And that is true not only of the Federalist Papers, it’s true of the U.S. Constitution, which is argued vociferously at the Supreme Court every single year years. It’s true of the Declaration of Independence. It’s true of any of the early documents in American history, because at the distance of nearly 300 years or more — if you go back to Colonial history in early New England we’re talking 400 years — language changes and what the meaning of words changes and sensibilities change and we don’t really appreciate even as adults how different we are today from those who came before us, and certainly kids don’t have that perspective. So, if we are to use these primary sources in schools — which I think we should do — we need to have guides. And those are the teachers. They need to be highly competent, highly versed in this, they need to understand it so they can re-present it to the kids in ways that make sense.

Ian Rowe: Do you have evidence that teacher knowledge of U.S. history is far superior than that of the average American?

Chris Sinacola: I do not.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Ian, do you have evidence to the contrary?

Chris Sinacola: However, I wish that were true, Ian!

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Leading question!

Ian Rowe: Yeah, it’s a leading question, yes.

Chris Sinacola: Fair enough.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: I want to sort of ask you about kind of how the rollout of all this going, you know, how the reception has been and, you know, kind of what your plan is I mean obviously I think we you know there seems to be general agreement that civics is important I think, you know, you see articles every couple of years from people who want a big push in that direction, you know, and different people mean different things by you know just like you know people who say like we need to more to get people to understand democracy and often they have a whole agenda underlying that. But I think there is broad agreement about civics, but what is it going to take to sort of get people you know off their rear ends to kind of actually do something about it and what are, what do you think the biggest obstacles at this point?

Chris Sinacola: Wow, that is a great question. It’s my opportunity here to solve the civics crisis in America! As to the book’s rollout, which is the most immediate way that we’re beginning to have impact, we have had, I think, 18 or so radio interviews and two or three podcasts. You know, national stuff, the Heritage Foundation is one example of that, and a number of op-eds we’ve been able to place in places like the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, big papers, plus a bunch of smaller papers around the country. So, we get our reports we might see that we’ve shown up in a small paper in Iowa or Ohio or some other places in the country but also had the opportunity to speak to a lot of I would say right-of-center you know talk show hosts who have big audiences and kind of want to grab you and draw you into other controversies you might not necessarily have signed up for. I’m a little leery of that, because I don’t think there are any really glib, pat answers in these matters. I think it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a question of restoring an understanding that history is good for us and it’s important to know I think probably both of you recall things like Multiplication Rock and “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill,” and other duties back in the day and they seem silly in some ways but they also were remarkably effective in many ways so those kinds of maybe subversive campaigns to get kids familiar. I think we need more of that and you know we do in the book talk about video games civics and we kind of dismiss it and I think there’s a brand of that that can be just superficial and not helpful but when you look at the resources that are available online and, you know, learning language apps and other things like that there are just a wealth of things out there that the kids can and should use. My wife teaches Latin, and her students use a number of games which are very effective in getting to learn grammar and history and so forth they really enjoy it. It’s a good adjunct to kind of the drier material that they have to learn. So, the rollout’s gone pretty well and having that impact it’s really hard to measure because you don’t know who’s listening and what they might take away from it, but you hope that they are listening, certainly.

Ian Rowe: So, one thing. You know, I started running public charter schools in New York in 2010 and that was the year — you may know this, that New York State decided to eliminate the social studies exam at the end of the year right in elementary school I think at the end of 8th grade — and what was extraordinary to observe is that over time that there became such a focus on testing for ELA or English language arts and math you know, sort of content-agnostic perspective, there was more of a push to populate especially elementary school curriculum with more time for literacy and reading. So social studies, which may have been a class that occurred five times a week, 45 minutes per class, suddenly shifted to maybe two or only one time per week so I wonder — because that wasn’t a big recommendation — what do you think it plays in states in end-of-year expectations around specific knowledge of historical content that the state says, you know, must be mastered in some way.

Chris Sinacola: Yeah, there have been changes — and you correctly point this out — in what we call the study of history broadly right sometimes it was history and then there was a shift to call it social studies. I remember when I was in school — don’t hold me what year it was — but suddenly it was social studies it wasn’t history and then later on in high school and college it was suddenly back to history, and social studies was that thing we did back in middle school that no one really understood. And it seemed less focused on content, certainly, than just straight up history.

So, we do touch on the book a little bit that was a shift that was palpable and not necessarily a good shift, but you also identify a real problem in terms of testing and I look at the testing in two lights. Early in the book we note that one of warning signs of the decline of civics and history knowledge can be seen in like the NAEP stores and the SAT scores and MCAS scores in Massachusetts and other places although we don’t test history directly in Massachusetts in MCAS, but if you look at any other state or any other measure those scores go down. And people say well that that means that kids don’t know much history. And that’s probably true, but the question is what do you do with that knowledge? There seems to be among those who follow this a lot of hand wringing over test scores as if test scores were in of themselves a thing. Well, test scores are just a measure of children’s performance at one point in time and kids especially in middle school, have a lot going on in their lives. So, I tend to look at it that it’s an opportunity. A diagnostic, yes, just as MCAS is a diagnostic and we’d like the state to test history as well, but we don’t want to invest too much emotion and fear into the declining test scores; rather. we want to focus on improving the curriculum and time on task and some of that erosion of time on task is probably because there’s a lot of testing going on. So, it’s kind of a catch-22 you don’t know what quite what to do. Naomi, you mentioned earlier,. you know, that sense that you were going to get the whole book you only get up to the Coolidge administration. I just read about the college administration. It was a fascinating book. But if that’s as far as you got you missed a lot of the story, of course, you want to hear more. So, we need to improve our curriculum everywhere, and we give in the book, one of the chapters is devoted to states that have done it well, at least in the past, and then the move towards Common Core which we think was not a great move. But ironically over time as we think about Common Cores as I think more and more about this topic I think if only they did teach Common Core if they at least have that much even if it’s not great it’s kind of sort of bland vanilla here it is and it’s not terribly in depth but it does cover quite a bit. And I had the same reaction when I looked more deeply just before we went to press and did our final checks on the book and so looking at the AP history curriculum and what it contained and the paper that we based that chapter on was an early draft. It looked at an early draft of the AP U.S. history which was improved quite a bit after the public comment period. So, there is the possibility, there’s that hope that, you know, if parents and teachers stand up and say no this isn’t good enough, we have to improve that they can effect change. They can do that at the state level and they can do that at the local level particularly.

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Well, we encourage all of our listeners to go out and do that, of course. Thank you so much, Chris, for joining us today. We really appreciate it and we encourage everyone to go check out the book, City on a Hill, and as I said, you know, definitely try to change things at the local level. This has been another episode of Are You Kidding Me? You can get episodes of this podcast on the AEI podcast channel or wherever you get your podcast. So, with that, I am Naomi Schaefer Riley.

Ian Rowe: And I’m Ian Rowe. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Sinacola: Thank you so much, both.

What the Founders Knew: History and Civics Indispensable

Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform, is spearheading a drive to bring history and civics education back to the classroom. Only eight states require a passing grade for citizenship for graduation. On this episode of The Boomer Effect podcast, Jerry, Rose, and Jamie discuss the importance of knowing our history and share some great American history stories.

What the Founders Knew: History and Civics Indispensable

Posted January 30, 2024, at

The Boomer Effect Podcast, transcript

Aired January 30, 2024.

Rose: Welcome to The Boomer Effect. Joining us today is Jamie Gass, he’s director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform and he’s spearheading a drive to bring history and civics education back to the classroom. That’s so very important. So, welcome Jamie and thanks for agreeing to join Jerry and myself today, we appreciate it.

Jamie: Oh, thanks so much. It’s my pleasure.

Rose: So, alright let’s talk about this. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform?

Jamie: So, Pioneer Institute’s a nonpartisan think tank in Massachusetts. It’s been around since the late 80’s. It essentially uses high quality research and data to help drive decision-making and public policy in Massachusetts, and we were one of the big drivers behind Massachusetts historic K-12 education reform that was initiated in 1993, but it sort of taken us from middle of the pack to number one in the country and internationally competitive in in math and science.

Rose: Impressive, very impressive. So, when we talk about this show Jerry and I like to take a look at each generation how each generation has had an influence or an impact on the next generation and that’s a big deal to us because we see that we’ve lost certain things with each generation, and I would think that this is one of the you fall into that category because fewer people in America really understand our history and our government.

Jamie: Oh, absolutely, I mean that’s the thing that really is great about American history and we think it’s important to look at it warts and all — is that it gives young people a connection an intergenerational contract and connection to their parents and grandparents and it’s important again to look at the history with all of its complexity but there’s a basic vocabulary of democracy, there’s a basic understanding of the structure of government, the separation of powers, the powers of the various branches, the Bill of Rights that is unifying. And, you know, one of the best examples of that is Martin Luther King, who drew heavily on the founding documents and a lot of the touchstones of American history to make his arguments on behalf of civil rights. And so, that’s an example of there’s a kind of continuity, a thread that goes throughout and is gradually improved upon, hopefully, through generations, that binds us together as people. It really binds us together as citizens and it gives us a shared understanding and a common past even though that some of that past can be complicated.

Jerry: Yeah let me ask you this, Jamie.Aa lot of times on the show we’ll talk about how information about the country trials and tribulations of the country’s past from generation to generation and over time when it came to the future generations they relied more on that information being passed through the school systems, through the media. And so what you’re really kind of telling us right now is that when we look at the loss of that information going from, physically from one generation to the other, because people are busier now and things like that, and we’re relying on things like our educational system as one of those legs of educating the future leaders of America, that that’s kind of changed now, you know the picture is changed is how that that educational process is happening. Is that kind of what you’re telling us?

Jamie: That’s right. So, the Founding Fathers really viewed public education going back to the beginning and a lot of these state constitutions were very clear that those rights and responsibilities is at the state and local level and that that that public schools and schooling more generally is supposed to be a wellspring of democracy. It is supposed to have shared knowledge, shared civic knowledge and literacy that connects us as a people. And so, the kinds of arguments, for example, and the kind of structure of government that the Founders put in place was something that Lincoln carried forward during the Civil War. There are arguments about basic civil rights and democracy that were — you know, one of the reasons why people fought in World War I and World War II was to preserve democratic ideals, not just here but abroad and our politicians whether it’s the founders or Lincoln or FDR or MLK, across time they use that language of democracy and those historical touchstones to connect us. And the reason why people have been willing to die on behalf of preserving democracy or people have been willing to work as hard as MLK and leaders in the civil rights movement did in order to preserve democracy and perpetuate and expand our rights and democratic ideals is that they understood it’s precious and fragile. And that’s an important lesson for the schools to teach and it’s an important lesson and message for families to teach one another because it connects us between generations and in a way forces us to look at hard areas where we haven’t fulfilled our democratic ideals and where we can do better and the figures that sacrificed enormously to do better. And so, you know there’s a lot of politics and a lot of the culture these days is not very uplifting, but a lot of it, I think, is ignoring that there are common threads that bind us together as people and in spite of our differences that there are things that we can agree on and they may just be the, you know, the power of the presidency or the power of the Supreme Court or the Congress or it might be, you know, the basic ideals articulated in the Bill of Rights. People can argue about them but they have to have the basic vocabulary that bind us and connect us as a people across different ethnicities and different regions and different races that pulls together to say hey we’re Americans we share things in common not only as Americans but as people. And that I think is what schools need to be doing more of.

And so, you know, again, I think we have not seen as much of that in the last 30-40 years that I think we’re looking at an environment both with our politicians but also in the civic culture that’s a lot less unified and robust than it could be.

Rose: We’re talking to Jamie Gass, he’s the director of the Pioneer Institute Center for School Reform. We’re going to, we’ll ask you later on in the podcast how people can get in touch with you but you mentioned a few things you talked about how history connects us and how important that this and I think I was one of the last students to go through public school to learn history and I have to tell you, Jamie, that one of the things that I love the most, one of the classes I loved the most, was history. And even when I went on to college I was involved because of a paper I wrote invited to an honor seminar and the paper was called the case of heaven against hell and that was about the Revolutionary War. But the thing is, that if we were truly taught history there is so many cool things about it. One of the things that really made me feel connected to those Founding Fathers is when they were drafting the Declaration of Independence, which was a very bold move, and naturally they were afraid. They talked about it being something that by doing so they were risking their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor. They knew the magnitude of it we’re not taught that. When I read that, when I read in the old history books where they didn’t censor out the fact that after those men signed it in fact they didn’t even — while everyone in the room agreed it was a great idea — they were so afraid and they were so concerned and it was Witherspoon who stood up and said ‘You know there is a tide in the affairs of men do you perceive it not before you? To hesitate is to agree once again to our own slavery.’ And that was just a portion of what he said. What he said was so powerful that they understood that yeah we agree and we agree now we all agree that now is the time. If not now, when? And when they signed it, some historians in the books that I read years ago, reported that many of those men these strong men, these influential men, actually broke down and cried while others got on their knees and prayed because they understood the magnitude of what they had done. That connected me to them. I had tears in my eyes as I read those passages in those history books. They don’t have that any longer in the schools. They don’t know what people sacrificed. It almost makes me want to tear up again right now right now when I think about the sacrifice, what it must have meant to them, the cost of doing what they did. And they were normal men. They were men like you and I, men and women. They knew, they were afraid, they had fear, but it was Witherspoon who took them beyond that fear and to that act of courage to declare that independence from a tyrant. So, when you’re not learning these stories how can you have any sense of connection with those who gave so much for you to have what you have today? How in the hell can you have that? You can’t!

Jamie: No, look, human beings are the storytelling animal stories and passing along those traditions and those narratives are fundamental to what it means to be human and you mentioned Jonathan Witherspoon who was a great example of both statesman but an educator he was the president of what became Princeton University which is where James Madison studied and you know incidentally framed the Constitution and drafted the Bill of Rights. But he, Jonathan Witherspoon, was a great articulator of the Enlightenment ideals about well-educated, rational, and industrious citizens sitting down and crafting government based on the consent of the governed. This was a radical idea. You are absolutely right. There is a world of difference between the world of Englishmen, which all the Founders were, they were subjects of the king —  and transitioning to citizens where there are self-governing and autonomous and well educated so that they’re able to perpetuate what James Madison called the sacred fire of liberty and the fact is that students need to learn this because it’s very difficult for them to love or to appreciate a country if they’re not talked about the figures like the Founders, warts and all, that sacrificed enormously. The reality of it is that if the Founders or people in the revolutionary generation had been captured by the British they would have been brought back to England and they would have been tried and then they probably would have been found guilty and then likely — certainly likely — drawn and quartered there and you know in some instances their limbs would be sent to all the different far reaches of England. I mean the British crown was incredibly brutal and they were violating the basic rights that these men felt were guaranteed them as Englishmen. But it was their own knowledge, Jonathan Witherspoon, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams. It was their own grounding in the Judeo-Christian tradition in Greek and Roman history and law it was these enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Montesquieu and others that they took all these lessons and we are really fortunate because it’s rare. I mean, that’s the thing that I think it’s hard for young people and people to realize — is that the kind of government that we have is a rarity,  because most of history is governed by kings and princes and monarchs and Jefferson and these guys were some of the most, you know, radical in some ways and some of the most conservative because they were trying to preserve liberty. But they understood you had to do it with a sound Constitution, and they just sampled across history all the best lessons from all the most successful civilizations to set up a Constitution that would be stable and endure in order to perpetuate liberty. And so kids really need to learn about it. They have to be schooled in the learning of liberty, and it can something be taught and it can be taught to anybody. And the fact is that’s why people come from all over the world to be here and to work here, because there’s something unique and different that’s offered here that is profoundly different from much of what you see across the globe. And so we have to be appreciative of the uniqueness of it, and it’s fragile and it needs to be perpetuated.

Rose: You only know that, though, if you’re taught that. That’s part of the problem, right? You only know that and when you talk about freedom and you talked about you know the bloodlines in Europe when those men those Founding Fathers came here from Europe they knew they lived in a society where you could only amount to something based on your bloodline and that was it then you had no other opportunities so when they came here they believed that there was greatness that resided in every person and all that was necessary to unleash that greatness was freedom. If we truly taught, if we were really teaching our children what they need to learn about our history here, particularly this country, our Constitution is the most amazing document that’s ever been drafted in all of history. By the way, I wanted to bring up something, too. There is one example — Abraham Clark,  he was a signer of Declaration of Independence. He was from New Jersey. He had two sons who went on to fight in the Revolutionary War. Those sons were captured by the British. They were put on the ship called the Jersey and that was a prison ship that was right off of the shores of New York, and because of the brutality that that was known about this ship against the patriots on this ship, it was eventually referred to as the hell ship. Abraham Clark’s sons experienced extremely difficult times there, and they were treated so poorly on there. One son was put into solitary confinement without food, and when the war was just about over, the British made Abraham Clark an offer. They said, recant and come out in favor of the king and we’ll release your sons. Now, any one of us who are parents, I mean, we love our children more than we love our own lives. And he said no. He answered with a firm no. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? To love freedom, to love what you were doing for this country to make a sacrifice that’s why they said they but if people don’t know these stories that’s a story that changes your life when you read that that’s the story that anybody can relate to the you know?

Jamie: Absolutely. You know, one of the best examples of — King George III, when he heard that George Washington, after the success of the Revolution of Independence, heard that George Washington had resigned his commission as commander in chief of the continental army. His foe, King George III, famously said, if he does that he will be the greatest man in the world. And that was his opponent. And the same was equally true toward the end of Napoleon’s life who you know he said they wanted me to be another Washington. That ideal of a political leader, a military leader relinquishing power not just when he was commander in chief of the Continental Army but also really after his two terms as president. There was no obligation at that point to serve more than two terms, but the bottom line is that George Washington had learned from the it’s almost a legendary figure from Roman history, Cincinnatus, about relinquishing power. And he learned these lessons from the Greco-Roman figures. It’s one of the reasons frankly —

Rose: We have our Senate?

Jamie: And it’s one of the reasons also why his aide de camp, his right-hand man when he was leading the Continental Army, but also when he established his first government was Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton was a guy who was born on the island of Nevis he came from very humble background but Washington recognized that this guy was brilliant in harmonizing the world of constitutionalism, of trade, of banking. And he was, you know, indispensable, but he was not — he was exactly what you’re talking about. He was a man of talent and was allowed to rise to the highest, you know, peak of American government and serve George Washington because Washington recognized that this guy was talented and it didn’t matter that he was from Nevis, it didn’t matter where he was from, or who his father was. He was a man of talent and genius. And so, that’s the thing that Hamilton is an just an excellent example of what you were saying where the Founders wanted to have a government and a society based on merit and virtue and talent and virtue and not hereditary rule, not endless ministers and bureaucrats that can micromanage or abridge people’s rights — because they learned from Englishman that that’s what ends up happening when you have these entrenched interests around the king with these ministers — that they’re self-serving and self-dealing and that they compromise liberty.

Rose: You’re right that’s exactly right.

Jerry: So, let me ask you this Jamie. To me it appears that there’s kind of three issues and wanted to get your opinion on this you know you’ve got some people out there that want to believe that the stories that you’re talking about right now that they were slanted towards a narrative at the time. So they don’t want to that they want to look at it like there’s an issue with those stories. Then you’ve got people today that they actually want to slant them and move history in the direction that matches their narrative. And then we’ve got a situation where we have a lack of discussing history at all! And so, you know, when you’ve got people that want to say maybe history wasn’t right, people that want to say well we think it should be written this way, and then you got a lack of educating people on history altogether — I assume that’s, you know, that’s the battles that you face in trying to get an educational process back in the schools.

Jamie: Yeah, I mean one of the most influential statesman and thinkers on the Founders was the Roman statesman Cicero. And he had a profound impact on the Founders and, in fact, was probably one of the most influential figures across Western history. And he said, I think it well, he said to not know about the world before you were born is to ever remain a child. And that’s why understanding history and all these lessons from history are just indispensable, because these — this is knowledge that we need to know in order to make good decisions. That’s what the Founders were drawing on, the example of the Roman constitution, or some of the failings of the Greek city states, or some of the failings of the British government. Or, you know, it was a main source of a lot of conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton about what the future of the Republic was going to look like.

Bu the fact is, I mean, from my point of view and I, you know, I remember over the last several decades that we haven’t been doing a good job of teaching history and not to mention civics so you know I think the thing is you’re — when you don’t teach kids history you you’re consigning them to like a perpetual adolescence, and I think we see that in a way. You see them lacking the same kind of maturity, because there’s something about learning history and learning civics that tempers you when you have to have some kind of humility in front of historic figures. When you think about John Adams who wrote the 1780 constitution of Massachusetts — the oldest written constitution in continuous use in the world, it’s eight or nine years older than the U.S. Constitution and he was an unbelievably learned guy. But you know the thing about it is it look history also teaches you to weigh and evaluate new evidence as it becomes available and I do think it’s important that we look at the Founders not as demigods, but as humans. You alluded to it earlier. They were men with failings. They were ambitious, they were petty, they were fractious. I mean, and they had, you know, a horrible alliance that they had to make with slavery. And the fact is that as awful as it was, the country would never have been independent from Great Britain if the North and the South hadn’t made compromises in the constitutional convention or in the Continental Congress. But they also set up institutions that could be amended and gradually changed over time, so that you could put slavery on a road to extinction. And it took the Civil War, 620,000 people, a million casualties for the country to resolve that topic and we still deal with some of the legacy today. And I think it’s important for people to look at it, but that’s part of what kind of grounds people — that politics and political decisions are not they’re not utopian and they don’t change overnight. And, you know, whether it is the rebellion from Great Britain or the process to develop the Constitution or whether it’s the contentiousness that led up to, you know, the enormous loss of life in the Civil War, or all the other elements that you find in the civil rights movement — this is what kind of grounds us as human beings that helps us to understand that we’re imperfect we’re all imperfect and to understand ourselves to understand even our greatest figures as people that were human and have failings and shortcomings and that we all do the best we can, as I think they did, the Founders did, and Lincoln and others across our history — to uphold the rule of law and constitutionalism for liberty. And it’s just enormously important, and kids need to understand it. But they have to be taught it, it has to be grounded, civics has to be coupled with an understanding of history because history is sort of philosophy teaching by example, and that that’s the way kids are going to understand it.

Rose: I know you’ve had a lot of success in Massachusetts, but what what’s the outlook for the rest of the country? Can we expect reform? Is it too late?

Jamie: No look, I think we all have to remain optimistic, it’s never too late. I mean I think if you one of the lessons from the Revolutionary generation is that you wouldn’t put a lot of money that a ragtag collection of farmers were going to take on the largest empire in the world with the largest navy in the world and win. And one of the lessons from Washington is that he kept together — he lost a lot but he continued to fight — and I am optimistic enough to think that there there’s a lot of examples of the country has enormous capacity to renew itself and that people gravitate towards perpetuating liberty. And I don’t think it’s too late. Massachusetts has done a lot of things right. We are a real high performance state. That’s not really the case in history and civics. We have really good standards, they chipped away at them. We have a standardized test in Massachusetts, which is correlated with all these national and international gains in English and math and science and — but these battles are kind of never won entirely you have to keep pushing for the higher academic expectations and some basic accountability to measure the performance and so, you know, what I think needs to happen is in, you know, the book that we have produced is Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. It’s got an introduction from Paul Reid, the New York Times bestselling biographer of Winston Churchill, who, you know, people remember Churchill’s mother was American — who’s half American —but if there’s anybody that did a great job in the 20th century would be the best job of anyone in the 20th century is of articulating what the ideals of democracy are against authoritarianism and totalitarianism both in terms of Nazi Germany but also the Soviet Union and Communism is Churchill and he was he wrote 50 books — there’s very few politicians say they write 50 books, and he articulated this larger vision and MLK and the civil rights did the same thing. They drew from history to explain to people a larger vision of what democracy was about and what is at stake when you’re facing Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or you know segregationists that are trying to abridge people’s liberties.

And that’s what I think we need to do, is we need to push our politicians and our educators to serve a much higher purpose of educating kids around these democratic ideals so that they can cherish them, that they can be the kind of citizens that emulate the Founders and sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to perpetuate something that their children and follow on generations can benefit from, too.

Jerry: You know when I when I look at this you know when I listen to you, one of the things that becomes apparent to me is when we look at American history, it was all about overcoming adversity. And so, when we don’t teach our kids about that history it seems that we’re also not educating them on how to overcome adversity, which when we talk to a lot of generations — especially younger generations right now — they feel like life’s tough. And they don’t know how to overcome certain adversities. They don’t have that inner strength to be able to do that. So, I kind of correlate the teaching of civics and American history — because it’s the story of overcoming adversity — to educating children on how to overcome adversity as adults. That’s why I thought it was interesting when you made the comment about them staying children when they’re not taught about their history.

Jamie: No, you’re so right. I mean one of the best examples of that is Frederick Douglass, who was born in servitude and, a slave in Maryland. He was able to, with assistance, ultimately get to freedom. Settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and was very active became very active in the abolitionist movement. Was one of the most prominent, maybe the most prominent African American abolitionists and he wrote five autobiographies. They all start with the same thing and it’s heartbreaking actually here but he didn’t know his birthday. I mean it’s a fundamental thing. He didn’t know his birthday. He starts off everyone’s saying I don’t know when I’m born. The life of a slave is that they don’t know that their birth date or their who their parents are any more than an animal would. But what you can see is that he overcame those obstacles and those barriers,  and very few kids or people today have that kind of deprivation that they don’t know when their birthday is, and it’s enormously inspiring, and of course he went on to push Abraham Lincoln and push the political leadership, prior to and during the Civil War and afterwards. And it’s an enormously inspiring story and you know the people forget too about the Founders is that most of them, I mean Washington did not go to college. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson many of these folks, Benjamin Franklin did not attend college. And yet he became this great statesman, this great scientist, this great inventor, but many of the Founders were the first generation in their family to go to college there were very few people in Virginia that were like Thomas Jefferson that were reading Greek and Latin and knew history and designed their own buildings and home designed later the University of Virginia the buildings, the Rotunda there, which is one of the greatest pieces of architecture. So, he was a very, very unique figure even for his time, but it was their knowledge and their education, and the examples of figures across history that inspired them. And I think that’s the thing, that the stories of historic figures, whether it is Cicero taking on the tyranny of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, which he lost his life for. Or whether it is the the Founders risking everything for the opportunity to govern themselves, or whether it is abolitionists like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass, you cannot read these stories and have them not move you. They are — because they’re human, and they had enormous obstacles that they many of them overcame, but they did it and that’s what’s inspiring about it, that’s the, you know, the utility of having generations of people, whether it’s parents or grandparents or great grandchildren or schoolchildren — understand that there are things that are human in these great heroic and notable figures that connect us. Like, we can share in the hardship and the success of Frederick Douglass, but we have to read his autobiography. Or we can share in the hardship of Benjamin Franklin leaving Boston because he thought it was too restrictive a place and he went to Pennsylvania, and he helped change the world.

Rose: And now it is a restrictive place!

Jamie: I mean, well the British government regarded him as the most dangerous man in the world. You know, he didn’t go to college. So, I mean, it’s just the point of it is that they’re these are inspiring stories and I think in previous generations we did a better job of passing on these stories because they’re human stories. And they’re certainly American stories, too, but they’re human stories. Those kinds of stories and that narrative and that history is important you know to read about Martin Luther King and all of which he sacrificed it and you know ultimately lost his life for is just enormously inspiring. And he died trying to help sanitation workers in Memphis get a little bit more money so that they could be seen as human beings and live a decent life and he was killed in Memphis. But that’s what he was doing and, you know, you can’t read about that man’s life and not realize it’s a very American story and it’s in a heroic story. And, you know, this this month, another couple weeks, we’re going to be celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, and kids, you know, kids need to know more than just ther “I Have a Dream” speech. They  need to know that there’s larger spiritual messages and historic messages that in a way transcend politics like politics is just sort of it’s important to understand it but there’s a larger quality of life that young people can draw from these, you know, heroic figures across history.

Rose: I’m glad you mentioned the spiritual aspect of it too because first of all the Revolutionary War period the idea of freedom was greatly influenced by the Great Awakening of that time. Additionally if you go, if you jump ahead to the Second Great Awakening, which was around the time that there was a movement against slavery, there was the women’s movement. When you think about, first of all, and that’s why I love that story — I’m glad you brought up Douglass, Frederick Douglass because he truly is an inspirational figure but what women don’t know young women today don’t know is their history because Susan B/ Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who were very dear friends they were first of all influenced very much by the Second Great Awakening, they were, they worked passionately against slavery. As a matter of fact Susan B. Anthony just railed against slavery she made very strong speeches against slavery during her time and it was because of that because of her work against slavery that at one point you know she’s talking to her best friend Elizabeth and they decided, wait a minute, we believe that all men are created equal and because we believe that, that means women, too. Why is it just men is it not women? So, they believed that all men were created equal and that is what propelled them into their work against slavery but at the same time realized that wait women were created equal as well. So they were A) influenced by religion, spirituality, B) worked passionately against slavery, and C) they fought for future generations of women. Now let me tell you something Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B, Anthony died before the women had the right to vote but because of their work and they and I think I can’t remember which one wrote which one but I think Susan B. Anthony wrote Elizabeth and said little did we know that after all these years what was it, 40 years, 50 years of working on equal rights for women and the opportunity to vote — that they would have to pass that on that battle on to the next generation. Here we go again with the generational thing. I just got chills. They couldn’t finish the work that they started it was a battle for them for many, many years. They were passing that battle on to the next generation of women who picked up the baton and they went ahead and finally we saw the right to vote for women. But they didn’t give up. And here’s the other thing, too, and I think this is such an important lesson when we talk about generational issues: Not only did they not give up they could have given up and said ‘You know what, we’re never going to see this in our lifetime I’m done we’re done.’ No, they understood the importance of it so much that they even said in a letter to each other we will pass this on to the next generation of women. And essentially the Founding Fathers did the same. They knew they would never, ever appreciate fully the fruits of their what they had just done; they were never going to fully appreciate that, but they did it for generations of people they didn’t know and I think that’s something that really ties in to this show and I think we’ll end on that note can comment on it is all of these people throughout history they were not sure that they would see the results of their efforts and their labor, but yet they did it anyway, they did it anyway, for future generations.

Jamie: No, you’re so right. I mean that’s the thing, is that one of the things about studying history is that you realize it’s almost always in the balance and nothing is, you know, engraved in stone and you’re absolutely right I I grew up around Mount Holyoke College. It’s the oldest women’s College in the United States. It was founded in 1837, one year after James Madison the man who framed the Constitution, wrote the Bill of Rights, died. That’s a remarkably short period of time to have an all-female institution established, and you’re absolutely right. There’s a larger it could be the First Great Awakening, The Second Great Awakening. It could be the abolitionist and a lot of them are religiously inspired folks it could be on both, you know, some of the figures in the Civil War. It could be right on through to World War I and World War II and the civil rights era — I mean, MLK and the main drivers of it were Baptist ministers, right? That spirituality has been interwoven with American history and there’s no question that you know when the women’s movement which really, you know, goes back to the 19th century is — it’s exemplified by people like Abigail Adams who was, until recently, the only woman in American history to have her husband and her son as president. That’s a pretty unique accomplishment. And the common connection is Abigail, who was a remarkably religious woman and a very moral person, but these kind of larger spiritual messages — they matter. And I think that you’re absolutely right that’s what should be the kinds of messages that would bind generations together.

Rose: Yeah, that’s really good and even Restoring the City on a Hill, is the book that you talked about which, by the way, where can people get a copy of that, Restoring the City on a Hill?

Jamie: so there’s more details about it on our website which is, but it’s also available on Amazon and so it’s a great book and we’ve worked hard, it sort of culminates 10 years of research or more and we think it’s really good quality and it could be helpful to policymakers and educators and families when they’re trying to pass on these ideals to their follow-on generations.

Rose: Even the idea of America being the city on a hill which goes all the way back to our Founding Fathers and beyond, in fact that’s scriptural that is completely scriptural. So yeah, they were heavily influenced by scripture and the desire for freedom for all people. So, all right, you know what, this has been great I really enjoyed it and so did Jerry, I’m sure.

Jerry: It was great, I loved it.

Rose: So, we were talking to Jamie Gass, he’s the Director of Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform. Also check them out at pioneers, I’m sorry, yeah and also the book Restoring the City on a Hill. We talked a lot about this about U.S. history and civics in America’s you can get that at Amazon or also at Jamie, thank you so much.

Jerry: Thanks for your time, Jamie.

Jamie: Thank you both. Thank you both I really appreciate it enjoyed it a lot.

Rose: Thank you, we did, too.



Campus Unrest and Sandra Day O’Connor’s Legacy of Civics Education

Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform, joins Midwest conservative talk show host Steve Gruber for a discussion of the state of U.S. history and civics education in America today, what students need to know, and what they aren’t necessarily getting in their current public school courses.

The Steve Gruber Show: The Fearless Pursuit of Truth

“Campus Unrest and Sandra Day O’Connor’s Legacy of Civics Education”

Posted December 11, 2024.



Solving America’s History and Civics Crisis

In a podcast conversation with The Daily Signal’s Virginia Allen, Chris Sinacola, co-editor of Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools, makes the case that Wilsonian-era Progressivism and left-wing ideology in academia have contributed to the decline in students’ grasp of and respect for the American founding. The explore some what schools and parents can do to restore greatness to history and civics curricula nationwide.

The Daily Signal Podcast

“Solving America’s History and Civics Crisis”

Posted December 15, 2023, at

Virginia Allen: This is the Daily Signal podcast for Friday, December 15. I’m Virginia Allen. History and civics education in America is languishing, and a troubling number of Americans cannot even pass a U.S. citizenship test. The Pioneer Institute based in Massachusetts is working to correct this, and today Chris Sinacola of the Pioneer Institute is joining the show to share about the brand new book. Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. Stay tuned as we talk about the solutions that can fix this crisis of history and civics education in America’s classrooms.

It is my pleasure today to be joined by the Director of Communications and Media Relations at the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, Chris Sinacola. Chris, thanks so much for being with us today.

Chris Sinacola: Well, thank you, Virginia. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Virginia Allen: Well, congratulations on the new book. You all have a brand-new book out called Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools, and we’re going to dive deep into this book, into the solutions that you all offer for a crisis right now that we’re seeing within our schools related to knowledge of history and civics. But before we get too far into that I want to ask you just to share a little bit about the work and the mission of the Pioneer Institute.

Chris Sinacola: Sure, well I’m glad to do so. So, pioneer was founded in 1988. We are a nonpartisan and I would think fair to say slightly right-of-center think tank, and we focus on several areas — economic opportunity, which means limited government, low taxes, government transparency, and so forth — but about half of our work is in education where we’ve really focused over the years on things like high standards, accountability, opposing Common Core, and promoting school choice of all kinds really both in Massachusetts and across the country. We also have a very active life sciences group, which is important in Massachusetts because we have a huge sector of life sciences in Cambridge and elsewhere, doing all kinds of cutting-edge research. So in that sector we try to do things like highlight the dangers of price controls and the Inflation Reduction Act and so forth. And we’re also doing some work in immigrant entrepreneurship trying to show really the stories of people coming to America for the first time, first-generation entrepreneurs trying to get a piece of the American dream and reminding the rest of us why we all came here originally, I guess it’s fair to say.

Virginia Allen: You all are busy, up to a lot of things in the area of education. Well, why do you think when we look at the landscape as it relates specifically to civics education and to history, why do you think we’re at this point right now within the education system where those two elements specifically are really languishing? What’s happened?

Chris Sinacola: Well, I think a number of things have happened over the years I’m old enough to have had four kids go through high school and college, and we always did a combination of things like homeschooling and private schools, local schools, what have you, and some vocational. And the reason for that — or at least one of the reasons — was a reluctance to settle for what we viewed as mediocrity. Not that the schools are terrible where we live, they’re not. It’s just that you look at the landscape and you think is that all there is? Can’t we do better than that? And I think for a lot of parents who look at that they say we think we can, you know through a combination of tutors and enrichment programs, online learning and so forth. And, of course, those choices have really proliferated. But as to why and how we got here, I would say, well, two main things.

One is the real pernicious influence of left-wing progressive thought in American universities for very long time, going back to well, really the Progressive Era in the early part of the 20th century, but really picking up steam in the 1960s with the movement towards left-wing engagement and activism at the expense of teaching young people something about their history and the core values that they have. And the other factor, I think, is a reluctance on the part of teachers today to delve into those waters because they’re so fraught, it’s so difficult to say anything, it seems, without being accused of something ending in -ism. And if we look at math and English and trigonometry those are areas are you know it’s clear the right answer wrong answer you know sine and cosine and does the comma go here, is this a clause and so forth. That’s fairly safe ground, right, for teachers. But as you go into something about the meaning of the country, about the Civil War, and why it started, and who’s on which side for what reason, everyone has an opinion, and no one can seem to agree on the facts. So, I think teachers sometimes are reluctant to go there and school systems and education maybe some reluctant to test it because it’s so fraught and it’s so filled with controversy. So, that may be one reason for the retreat from it.

Virginia Allen: Yeah, that does make sense. How do we move forward? And, well, I want to talk about that more in a minute, but I think before we talk about the movement forward and the solutions, it would be helpful to just sort of have a fuller sense of the problem at hand. How much data do we have? How much knowledge do we have on how students in public schools across the country are faring when it relates to their knowledge of history, their civics knowledge?

Chris Sinacola: Right, so I would say we have quite a lot but we don’t necessarily have enough the right kinds of data quite yet and the reason I say that is that it’s very easy to measure those quantitative topics that we discussed a few moments ago, the mathematics. You know, when you look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or SAT scores, which seem to be less and less popular over time, or PSATs or GREs, or what have, these are measures on standardized tests over time, so we can say ‘OK, so our knowledge say of mathematics for 8th graders has gone from this point to this point, there’s been a decline, there’s been a gain here, there’s been some, you know, even-steven here. And that’s all pretty easy to do. But it’s much harder to measure the qualitative things, the knowledge of history. Pioneer recently commissioned a poll, which was pretty sobering. We talked to Massachusetts residents about knowledge of basic things about American history. These were questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship Exam, things that new citizens, aspiring citizens need to know — and they need to get 60% to pass. Well, the average score among our citizens was 63% so you can say ‘Yay, we passed! We can all remain citizens!’ But it’s kind of an indictment of — you know, when you ask people how many senators are there, and they don’t know, or how long a senator’s term is, and they don’t know, it’s a bit of a warning sign.

Look, I’m not the kind of person who looks the glasse and says it’s half empty. I tend to think that a lot of young people and adults who may not be able to do really well in those tests nonetheless find their way forward, right, over time — through a combination of things — whether it’s their social media feeds, their friends, their trivia pub nights, this sort of thing. You know, people do read, they do engage, they watch The History Channel, and they watch Netflix and so on and so forth and who knows what other channels, and they do get a sense, they do become curious about history. So, they get what they need eventually. Not everyone is just going to the voting booth and pulling a lever for D, R, or G, L, or whatever the other letters are these days, you know, reflexively. I do think they are generally thinking about it. But there are warning signs as well among people. We know there’s not enough emphasis on history, and the emphasis that there is, is too often, in the first place, saying that America has these problems and was founded in this way for these reasons, some of which simply isn’t true.

Add that’s one of the purposes of our book and our work at Pioneer — is to say to the nation at large, ‘Look, we don’t deny that the United States had a somewhat checkered history, there’s a lot of problem with the country, warts and all throughout history.’ That’s part of history, right. But if you don’t understand the fundamentals of why the country was founded, what motivated the founders, you don’t really get the picture or appreciation for why it is that millions of people in the world are still trying to come here, which speaks volumes.

Virginia Allen: Yeah, it does speak volumes. Well, you mentioned the book, Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools, and one of the things that you all recommend in the book is that within our school system that young people should be required to pass a U.S. Citizenship Test. And I thought that was really  interesting and, of course, you just mentioned that. But it seems practical that we have so many standardized tests that kids take in schools, why not make that a requirement for them to pass a citizenship test? Has that ever been floated before within the public school system?

Chris Sinacola: I don’t know if it has I think it’s something which is a fresh take and a fresh look at this. But it is, after all, a test that millions of new Americans face every year and, as I said earlier, they tend to do very well on it. And, of course, the reason for that seems fairly obvious — they’re motivated to do so, right. So, if you say to a young person you can have more screen time if you eat your carrots and peas, well, they’re going to eat those carrots and peas so they’re going to get that screen time. This of course is at a much higher level and a much more serious endeavor, becoming a citizen of one of the greatest nations on Earth. And I know a young women who recently took it, and she was very worried about it and she was practicing and studying hard and went in all nervous and got like a 99%. And of one of the, I think the examiner said ‘Relax, believe me, you’re doing far better than most who apply for this.’

So, that motivation is very important, and it also speaks to the motivations — I think it’s the same spirit — that brought the Pilgrims to this country, that brought all the groups to this country over time, the great migrations from Europe. And those migrations continue today, right? We see new immigrants coming to America from all over the globe and I’m talking here, of course, about the legal process of immigration, you know, the folks who really want to be here, they want to assimilate, to become part of their adopted nation. And they’re here for the same reasons — they’re motivated to become part of something greater than themselves.

Virginia Allen: If you would, share some of the other solutions that you offer in the book Restoring the City on a Hill. How can we practically be a part of the solution, whether we’re in a classroom and we’re able to serve and teach students or even as parents in the home with kids.

Chris Sinacola: Right. So, in Massachusetts, specifically, and you always feel a little bit funny about this coming from Massachusetts. We have a long history here of offering candidates for president and trying to tell the rest of the country how to think and how to live and how to be governed, so I think we should make it clear that we’re saying this is absolute must this is the only way that one could do it, but we have tried to distill some  of the wisdom through the ages. The book is based upon a whole number of previously published white papers that Pioneer has done, some real deep research into many areas of education. So, among the recommendations here in Massachusetts is one very  fundamental, which is that we would like to see the state impose or promulgate a high-stakes test as part of what we call Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing, or MCAS, as a high school requirement. And right now, there’s a science, a math, and an English component, but there is no social studies or history component. They are piloting one for eighth grade for next spring to see how it goes, but since education reform in 1993 this has been on the drawing board, and the state has never implemented it. So that alone sends a terrible message to young people, you know, that the state can pass a law which it then does not enforce its own law. And we think that if you test it and hold students accountable, they will come out with a diploma which means something more than what it means right now. There’s that assurance to potential employers, to colleges, wherever they may go in life, that this student knows this material, at least at some level. And it’s not a particularly arduous bar. You know, this is a 10th grade level we’re talking about, it’s not like they need to be rocket scientists.

So, that’s one local recommendation for Massachusetts. Some of the others that we have in the book speak to the process of creating strong standards in your state, whether your state has weak ones or has ones which we’ve seen in places like Connecticut, which just promulgated some really not very good standards that are filled with, uh, I guess ‘woke’ is probably the shorthand today.

But we’re saying to folks, have an inclusive process, have a process that’s driven by parents. You know, the power of a few parents to go to their local school board and make a fuss just can’t be overestimated. It’s just amazing how public officials will respond when a few determined people decide to speak up and exercise their constitutional rights. It’s a great thing to see. So, we’re urging states to do that sort of thing, you know, get involved, contact your local school board or your state, find out what the standards say. And look, if you don’t agree with them, make some noise. Tell them, you know, this is — it’s OK to talk about things like, you know, we cite in the book Howard Zinn’s work, you know, well known for his People’s History of the United States. It’s sold millions of copies. I get it. I have a copy right here in my library. It’s not a terrible book. There’s a lot of good information in there, a lot of interesting information, but it’s not the whole story. And he comes at history — as so many on the left do — from an, on, blame America first perspective, or here’s what’s wrong with the country.

Well, I come at history from the other point: Here’s what’s right with the country, here’s why we founded this nation and why it’s important to understand that part of the story first. And then, when students are older and have that background and understanding, they can delve all they want into the other stuff. They’re going to anyway in college, this is sort of what happens as we’ve seen in schools today.

Virginia Allen: It’s true, it’s very true. Well, I think that gets to the point of is there enough desire to bring about the needed change, right? I mean, you have, of course, folks like yourself at the Pioneer Institute who are seeing, OK, we have gaps in the area of civics and history, and we need to fill them. But, of course, at the end of the day there has to be a movement to either pressure the hand of those in authority in public schools or for those in charge in public schools themselves to recognize that we have to change something, that something is amiss here. So, how do we go about, whether it’s fostering that desire within the leadership of our schools or really rallying parents and individuals in communities to apply needed pressure to our school systems?

Chris Sinacola: Yeah, it’s an excellent question and it makes me think back to the days when we were homeschooling our children and many of the families doing the same. And, you know, folks would choose that — call it school choice in the broadest sense — for any number of reasons. Some because the schools were, in their view, havens of secular godlessness and so forth. For us that wasn’t quite it — we just wanted a really great academic experience that we didn’t think we could get anywhere else. But, the quandary that you find yourself in is that a lot of the most active and engaged parents are the ones who are opting out of the district public schools, the traditional, you know, redbrick public schools. And, you know, critics on the left — and they’re not completely wrong on this — will say well you’re taking the best students away from us and making it more difficult for us to achieve our goals.

And my response to that is, well, you may have a point, but we have waited for generations for schools to reform themselves. You know, Massachusetts passed in the 1993 Education Reform Act — it was a grand bargain: A lot more money for public schools in exchange for accountability, high-stakes standards and testing, and a system of public charter schools, which have flourished in Massachusetts, but which remain far short of their potential because of caps on enrollment. So, they were intended to be, I guess, rivals, but also examples of excellence and freedom. And the hope was that district public schools would look across town and see the new charter school opening up and working and posting great grades and say, ‘Hey maybe we can imitate that model and work with them.’

And instead, what we’ve seen is a lot of opposition, denial, and strife and efforts to squelch them and to stop others from opening. So, against that backdrop, you say to parents who have these children entrusted to them for a few short years, precious years of their lives when their minds are sponges, and they say, well, we’re not going to wait any longer. We’ve waited for generations for you to change and you haven’t done it.

Yeah, I think back: There was a book, Jonathan Kozol wrote, in 1967, I believe, about the destruction — I think the title was “The Destruction of the Negro Child in the Boston Public Schools” — that book was revolutionary at the time, it was a call to action. This is a guy who, you know, has gone on to write many other books, and what are we, 50-plus years later? Nearly 60 years later. And if you look at the Boston Public Schools today, pretty much the same conditions apply. Academically they are, with the exception of the exam schools, dismal places to send your children. And parents of whatever background are trying all they can to get their children out, either get them to a charter school, or scrape together the money to go a Catholic school or to a private school program if they can afford it, or to the METCO program, which allows students from the inner city to go to one of the best schools in the suburbs outside of Boston.

Virginia Allen: Yeah.

Chris Sinacola: So, it’s really, it’s a question of what do you expect parents to do? Wait forever? No, their children will grow up. They don’t have time to wait any longer. And that’s why they’re choosing microschools, and home schools, and charter schools and all kinds of alternatives. Now, all that said, the vast majority of America’s whatever-million schoolchildren remain in traditional district schools, and a lot of parents are intent on keeping them there for very good reasons — economic reasons, reasons of distance, time, cost, and so forth, or a sincere believe that these institutions, which are, after all, the descendants of Horace Mann and the common school movement, are very important to democracy.

And I do agree with that role, or with that viewpoint — they do play that role. They are very important for democracy. But we have to reform them. We have to do better than we’ve done, and it’s sad that we have not done so.

Virginia Allen: It is sad. The book is available for purchase on Amazon. You can also find it on the Pioneer website. Again, the title is Restoring the City on a Hill: U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. I’d encourage everyone to check out the Pioneer Institute, that’s the Chris, thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it and appreciate the work that you all are doing at the Pioneer Institute to address these issues within our education system.

Chris Sinacola: Well, thank you, Virginia. It was a pleasure.

Virginia Allen: And, with that, that is going to do it for today’s episode. Thanks for being with us here on The Daily Signal podcast. We will be back with you around 5 o’clock today for our top news edition. In the meantime, if you have never subscribed to The Daily Signal podcast, make sure you hit that subscribe button. And also take a minute to leave us a five-star rating and review. We love hearing your feedback, and it’s really helpful for us to see what you think about the show. Thanks again for being with us. Have a great day and we’ll see you right back here around 5 p.m. for our top news edition.

Chronicling the Retreat — and the Road Back to Greatness

Shortly after the release of Pioneer’s book on U.S. history and civics, co-editor Chris Sinacola joined The Learning Curve podcast for a discussion of how Massachusetts made its way to the head of the academic class. He and co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Dr. Albert Cheng discuss how to preserve the legacy of the American founding and survey some of the warning signs that have begun to erode depth and balance in K-12 history and civics instruction.

The Learning Curve, Pioneer’s new civics book, transcript, October 25, 2023

[00:00:00] Charlie: Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to this week’s edition of The Learning Curve podcast. My name is Charlie Chieppo and I’m your co-host again this week. And once again this week, I’m glad to be joined by Professor Albert Cheng. We’ve been able to work, together in the past, and I’m looking forward to working with you today, Professor Cheng. So glad you’re here.

[00:00:41] Albert Cheng: Hey, good to be here again Charlie be back as a guest co-host I’m as Charlie said, a professor here at the University of Arkansas. I study education policy an emphasis on classical education. So good to be here and good to have these conversations you guys always feature here on The Learning Curve.

[00:00:57] Charlie: And if you run into Professor Cheng, you got to ask him [00:01:00] about pure math, because I never knew until I, until I met him. So, this week this week is interesting because my story that I have that I’d like to talk about this week actually jives with the topic that we’re going to cover today when we talked to Chris Sinacola about civics. We live in — to put it mildly — interesting times, right? We’ve got wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. Taiwan is threatened by China. And at the same time we’ve got no Speaker of the House. We’ve got a presidential election coming up.

[00:01:34] Charlie: And it’s hard to imagine a time when the American people need, more in need of the knowledge to make smart choices. So, Pioneer Institute, where I’m a senior fellow commissioned a poll and asked some questions, some of the same questions that immigrants have to answer in order to gain United States citizenship. And Massachusetts citizens scored a 63 on average in this poll. And I was really struck by that for a couple reasons, one in particular being that in some other work I’ve been doing lately, I discovered that Massachusetts is the only state in which the workforce, majority of the members of the state workforce have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

[00:02:17] Charlie: So, if we are in such a highly educated state and the scores are that bad, it really sort of makes me wonder about the state of civics in this country. Interestingly that the questions that people did the worst on were both questions about the United States Senate. In terms of knowing that there are 100 senators or that a Senate term is six years barely half of the respondents knew each of those things, which was pretty amazing to me.

[00:02:49] Charlie: To me, maybe the most troubling parts of the poll, though were breakdown based on respondents’ age and how many civic classes they had [00:03:00] taken. the group that did the best was those who were 65 and older, who got 75 percent of the questions right, followed by 55 to 64 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds. The three youngest categories 18 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 all struggled to get just over 50 percent of the questions right, with 25 to 34 year olds doing the most poorly. So, it really speaks to our failure really to teaching civics. Now, the other thing that was interesting was that there is indeed a correlation between how many civics courses students have taken and how well they do. And obviously, judging from the scores, I think that it is pretty easy to arrive at the conclusion that we are not offering enough civics courses, or take enough civics courses.

[00:03:52] Charlie: This is one where I go back to the Founding Fathers, largely, I think, in this case, because I agree with them. [00:04:00] I tend to be much more of a the main purpose of education being to enable people to be practicing, contributing members of a democracy more than education is workforce development.

[00:04:12] Charlie: Certainly what the Founding Fathers wanted. And I think that clearly we have a long way to go to achieve their goal, and I think that the time in which we have spent kind of ignoring civics on the education front is one that really has to come to an end. So that’s, that’s what I wanted to talk about this week.

[00:04:31] Albert: That’s sobering news, I guess, about, you know, these polls that usually come up. It actually reminds me of a recent study I did with Jay Greene where we found education’s not even a guarantee, or the amount of education that you had wasn’t any guarantee of having civic virtue.

[00:04:45] Albert: And so, you know, there’s a National Affairs article we wrote about that about a year ago. But you know, I hope to learn a little bit more when Chris comes on here in the next segment to talk about the new volume where they, dig into civic education as well. My article maybe on, at first blush might not seem related to, civic education, but I couldn’t help but think about it as I read it. My article is about AI Charles Towers Clark is a contributor to Forbes, he wrote about his recent experience interacting with Conmingo. I don’t know if you know who that is or what that is.

Charlie: I hope you’re going to tell us!

Albert: Yeah, well, Conmingo and who or what, I don’t know what some words he used it because that’s the Khan academies AI bot tutors folks that log on to their system. So, Mr. Towers Clark here was talking about how he got some writing tutoring with Conmingo and described him as eccentric but whimsical and brimming with a sense of wonder.

[00:05:40] Albert: So, I don’t know. I wanna take a look at what sounds like his dating profile or well, yeah, I guess listeners, if you’re curious, go to Khan Academy. But, you know, in this article the question was raised of would teachers become obsolete now that we have this AI technology that, can essentially tutor kids on, on basic skills [00:06:00] and, it actually raised some interesting points thought and discussion, and I think the article does come out as properly skeptical. Actually, Sal Khan, who is the founder of Khan Academy himself doesn’t think AI is going to replace teaching and the human element of teaching.

[00:06:17] Albert: And in fact, in the article, it describes his framework of thinking about this, right. There are some things that are, Okay. you need a human to do. There are some things that humans can do with the help of machines. And then there are some things that machines alone can do without any human intervention. And it seems like Sal Khan of the camp that we’re not going to be replacing teaching. Certainly AI technology can enhance and augment what teachers can do. And so, you know, I think that comes close where I land on this. In fact, I think the line that really connects with our topic of today, civic education, is from the article ­— is the observation that there are certain things humans can do that AI can’t [00:07:00] and some of these things include judgment. And in my mind, I think about discernment, and I think you alluded to this a little bit when you’re describing your story, Charlie, that you know, civic education more than just knowing how government works, as important as that is, but you know, there’s an important element of being able to discern what good government looks like, what are the worthy ends that we as a society, as a society should pursue? You know, what’s good, what’s evil, what should we be critiquing, what should we be rejecting, what should we be embracing? And these are all questions of judgment, and those are things that don’t know that AI can teach us because it’s at its core a formative aspect.

[00:07:42] Albert: It’s a discernment aspect. So, I think AI might be able to deliver on technical skills, but, you know, some of these larger questions about what’s good, what’s evil, what’s worthy, I definitely think there’s something inherent in human nature that simply can’t be replicated or taught with these sorts of automated systems. So, I don’t know. I think there are people that might disagree with me there, but it seems to me. that’s where I land on this issue.

[00:08:08] Charlie: I think that’s so interesting because one of the things I’m struck by is that one of the real important pieces of American history to me is the fact that at key times in our history the American people have shown the wisdom to elect the right people. You have Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, FDR during The Depression and World War II, and I think that that is exactly right. I think that that’s what that comes down to. I mean, maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think that those things were just coincidence that we happen to have those people in place at those times with all that’s going on today. I kind of worry about our having the wisdom to make those kinds of choices. So, I think that’s, I am totally on board with what you’re saying there. Yeah, exactly.

[00:08:57] Albert: And not even to mention how, you know, we’ve just even seen in the past election cycles, how technology can be to certain ends that we might ought to reject so, yeah, it, it does come down to wisdom, as you say, and discernment.

[00:09:10] Charlie: Thank you, Professor Cheng. Coming up after the break, we have Pioneer’s Chris Sinacola talking about our new civics book that he’s co-edited.

[00:09:40] Charlie: Chris Sinacola is Director of Communications and Media Relations at Pioneer Institute. He has more than 35 years of experience in journalism, freelance writing, and was a reporter and editor at Worcester’s Telegram and Gazette from 1987 to 2015. Chris is the author of Images of America Sutton which came out in 2004 and Images of America Millbury, which came out in 2013. He has also served as editor of Pioneer Institute’s The Right for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation in 2018, and in 2021 A Vision of Hope, Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts and Hands-on Achievement, Massachusetts National Model Vocational-Technical Schools, last year. And now, just coming out Restoring the City on a Hill, U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. Sinacola holds a bachelor’s degree in Italian Studies from Wesleyan University. So welcome, Chris Sinacola.

[00:10:33] Chris: Thank you, Charlie. Glad to be here.

[00:10:35] Charlie: All right, Chris. Well, let’s jump right in. You’re co-editor of Pioneer’s new book, Restoring the City on a Hill, U. S. History and Civics in America’s Schools. Would you share with us a quick overview of the book, a few key chapters, and why its lessons matter so much for K-12 education and civic learning in this country?

[00:10:52] Chris: Sure, happy to do it, Charlie. Thanks for having me on. Sure. The new book, Restoring the City on a Hill, U.S. History and Civics in America’s Schools is a compilation of previously published white papers that Pioneer has done over the last several years, but it’s really more than that. By editing it and putting it together, we’re really telling a story. We’re trying to show a narrative of how U.S. history and civics instruction has declined in Massachusetts, in particular, and nationally, more generally, over the last several years, maybe five or ten years, you could say. And of course, Massachusetts was a model for civics education and education reform in general, beginning in 1993, and really has retreated from that position.

[00:11:37] Chris: That’s the view that’s laid out here in the book, and a lot of evidence is brought to bear on that point. So, we give some history. We give some examples of how various states, including Massachusetts, were successful in building curricula that mattered and that had a real impact and helped propel students to the front of the class, if you will, and then give a report card in Chapter 8 of some of the more popular and widely used civics curricula around the country and just give them a grade, as you would see, you know, when you, with great trepidation, would open your report card, at least in the days of yore.  I don’t know what kids do today. Do they still do that? Or do they, do they get them electronically, perhaps?

Charlie: All electronic.

[00:12:18] Chris: All electronic, that’s what I, feared. And some of those like the 1619 project get a failing grade. Others like Hillsdale College’s curriculum get an A. And really, those grades are, they’re based, you know, of course, they’re somewhat subjective, I suppose, but they’re based upon our analysis of whether a curriculum Is going to do damage, if you will, to the traditional understanding of America.

[00:12:39] Chris: I mean, I think there’s a lot of room for interpretation and different points of view in history and debates are certainly welcome, but some of these curricula come at it from the point of view that America is a fundamentally racist country, that it’s hopeless, and that we have to undo everything and change everything.

[00:12:55] Chris: So, we try in the book to give folks some history and some reason to look forward and also some tips and recommendations on how a state that’s looking to improve their history and civics instruction might go about doing that in an inclusive way, drawing in lots of parents and teachers and all interested parties and have some real debate and put together something that would be a model of excellence really. So that’s sort of the short version overview of the book.

[00:13:22] Charlie: Yeah, I want to pick up on something that you said, which is, you know, you talked about how Massachusetts has generally been considered K-12 education leader, but, has not really distinguished itself when it comes to this topic. I want to get in, into some of the reasons why. I mean, it seems to me that, 30 years into education reform the state’s never implemented the law that required a U.S. history MCAS test as a graduation requirement. MCAS is the Massachusetts state test that you need to take in order to graduate from high school. Could you talk about U.S. history civics in the Bay State in particular what the book says about the decline in its history standards, as well as the civics lesson for young people about political leaders disobeying laws?

[00:14:03] Chris: Sure, you put your finger right on it, Charlie. The MCAS law, the education reform law, which gave birth to MCAS testing and higher standards, made clear that history and civics were to be tested as part of the MCAS system. Well, the state backed away from that in 2009 over the matter of a couple of million dollars, which, you know, it’s real money to you and me, but to budget, it’s really not very much money, right? And never implemented it. And 14 years later, we’re still waiting for that to happen. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, but it certainly hasn’t been for lack of folks like Pioneer Institute calling for it to happen.

[00:14:41] Chris: Because they’re really in a real sense that which is not tested is not taught, right? And there’s no question that you know, if you ask. your students, your, your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews, do you get civics and history in school? Well, sure, they get something called civics, history, social studies — under whatever guise it is. The question is, how much in-depth is that? Does it rely on primary sources? Is it really comprehensive, and is it rather just driven by ideology, you know, whatever faddish ideas are out there at the moment? And I think too often the answer is B, it doesn’t really get into depth very much. Because after all, at the end of the day, teachers are looking at their classroom saying, ‘Well, I’ve got to teach the English and I’ve got to teach the math, for sure. And, you know, we have to have a science component there.’ So history gets kind of shunted to the side. And the result is what you have today, which is it gets less and less attention. And the state, you know, state education officials simply refuse to implement the law. So, you made an excellent point when you say, what lesson is that for young people? What message does it send? Well, it’s a very bad message. It’s that, we can pass a law and then everybody can ignore it. It’s really not the message you want to be sending to young people in America.

[00:15:55] Charlie: Yeah, especially not at a time when. People are already pretty dubious about government, I can see my [00:16:00] own kids just shaking their heads and saying, yeah, well, you know, par for the course or something like that to, that kind of thing. New York Times bestselling biographer, Paul Reed authored a foreword to the book, wherein he discusses the central importance of Winston Churchill’s working knowledge of history to inform his stellar World War II and Cold War statesmanship. Easy to forget that, you know, that’s what Winston Churchill made his living doing, which is basically writing about history. But as our country and world are in turmoil and political leadership seems lacking, would you discuss what Reid has to tell young people and the general public alike about studying history and civics to produce great leaders?

[00:16:38] Chris: I have to tell this story that — you mentioned in reading my bio that I went to Wesleyan — and in my freshman year, I had the I guess it was privilege of having a dorm room which overlooked the Olin Memorial Library, and I could see William Manchester himself, who was a professor at Wesleyan, at work on his magisterial biography of Winston Churchill. Some 40 years ago. And I looked down and asked a few people, I said, who is that old man there? You’re writing in the library every night with the light on. Well, it was, it was William Manchester. So, I had the books for years and years. And I probably should have gotten to them sooner than I did.

[00:17:18] Chris: But last year I said, ‘OK, self, it’s time to read this biography and see what it’s all about.’ So, I did make my way through the three volumes the first two of which Manchester wrote, and the third Paul Reid put together based on notes that he had provided to him. And they are magnificent is really the only word for it. Some years ago, I had read all of Churchill’s World War II six volumes which is an extraordinary piece of work as well. Of course, you correctly note that he made his living writing, in addition to saving Western Europe and some other work, you know, on the side. But, I mean, he won a Nobel Prize in Literature, for goodness sakes, and was, you know, the Prime Minister of England. So, he had a busy, busy career, and [00:18:00] also a prodigious appetite for… Just about everything in life. Exactly. But there’s no question when you read Churchill, I mean, I didn’t major in history, I always had a strong interest in history. But when you read Churchill, you just feel you’re in the hands of a master.

[00:18:15] Chris: You feel like you’re right there. And you take away so much, so many lessons. The warnings of what went on in Europe, leading up to World War Two with the Nazi takeover and, of course, the onset of the Holocaust, you really feel like you’re right there, you have a front seat on it, because his writing is so compelling, it’s so real, and the lessons, they’re just endless lessons that you can draw from Churchill’s work. And Reid did such a great job really finishing that biography. When I set out to get to the third volume and set out to read it, I thought, am I going to be disappointed, is this going to live up to the first two? is it going to have the same voice? And it absolutely does, it’s really a great, great piece of work. So, there’s a lot of lessons there, and in the book, we talk in the introduction that Paul Reid [00:19:00] wrote for the book, it basically focuses on Churchill and says, this is a man who knew history, he wrote history, tons and tons of history.

[00:19:08] Chris: I mean, when you look at the works he put out from his own experiences in South Africa and in Africa,further north, a book called the River War, My Early Life, I mean, his World Crisis on world war one, of course, the six volumes of world war two, which is, more than 4, 000 pages. It’s an incredible output. I mean anyone else would be happy to write, you know, one book never mind I don’t know you put out, but it was an awful lot of words and we’re very long and active life. So, you could do a lot worse I think then read Winston Churchill’s works in any history course. If you read nothing else, but Churchill, for example I think students might be better off than they are.

[00:19:50] Charlie: Well, that would simplify it. Simplify the policymaking, anyway. So, in the chapter, Shortchanging the Future, the co-authors talk about the wider national [00:20:00] crisis in K -2 history and civics instruction over the last three or four decades. Could you talk about that? Some of the reasons why U. S. history and civics lag far behind English, math, and science. I mean, touched on that a little bit in terms of what doesn’t get tested doesn’t get taught. But some of the other reasons in terms of being a priority in states and schools across the country.

[00:20:19] Chris:. Yeah. Well, I think that that first part of it is certainly some of it, and perhaps most of it, that you have a system that emphasizes testing the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teachers, naturally, being pressed for time, having lots of students, are going to focus much of their time on exactly that, and we’ve had long debates, in my household even, over MCAS and how it should be taught, how much it should be taught, and can certainly sympathize with teachers. Of course, in theory, I think the idea behind education reform was don’t teach to the test, right? You want to teach the kids what they need to know, and the test should come at the end of the year as a diagnostic or the middle of the year, whenever they administer it, just to tell, well, did they get the knowledge that they need? It’s not supposed to be an all-or-nothing, make or break kind of thing, the fact is, most students in Massachusetts do pass these tests, and of course, students who are in private schools or homeschooled or there are kinds of education where they may not even take the test, but they’re still getting a really good education.

[00:21:22] Chris: But it is a very important piece of as a diagnostic tool and for accountability. Now why has civics and history instruction fallen behind. Well, part of the reason is that we’re testing the others and not testing history. But I think there’s something else going on as well. And that is that science and computers and the internet and artificial intelligence are things which kids need to know. We live in a very scientifically literate age. And we need to have basic literacy and basic numeracy if they’re to survive and thrive and not fall hopelessly behind. When it comes to history and civics, there’s more, oh, I don’t know quite how to put it, but there’s more interpretation, I guess, would be the word.

[00:22:03] Chris: These debates are very fierce. I mean, I don’t know, Albert perhaps can talk to this a little bit later on, are there huge debates over the Pythagorean theorem or do people get very upset about how math is taught? I guess some of that happened years ago with the new math and the new new math and no one could understand exactly what they were trying to get at with that stuff. But certainly, anything that comes up, you know, when you talk about the origins of the Civil War, the American Civil War, you know, what were the main reasons behind it? And, of course, a lot of folks will say, well, it was about slavery and the extension of slavery to new states. And would it be all slave or all free? And others will say, no, no, it’s about states’ rights. And others will say, no, no, it’s a combination of this, that, and the other and industrialism and the cotton gin. And it goes on and on. So, I think in a sense, teachers might be a little shy from time to time delving into that.

[00:22:51] Chris: Everything is so contentious, you know, if you touch upon a history topic or a civil rights topic, you immediately get people with very strong feelings on both sides of the issue. And I mean, maybe some teachers just say, you know what, if we just teach them math, and we just teach them English, that’s great. And we’ll just cover these other bases as much as we need to, to check off the box and get their graduation requirements out of the way. But of course, if you’re not testing it, then there’s a real question at the end of the day, at the end of the school year, what exactly did they learn and what can they show that they learned? And unfortunately, in Massachusetts, where we’re not testing it, the answer is we don’t really know.

[00:23:28] Albert: Chris, think you’re really on the right track about the difference between teaching civics and history versus math. I mean, I’ve never heard of anyone arguing over the Pythagorean Theorem. I guess we mathematicians might debate over which proof is more elegant! But I think that’s a far cry from all the consternation we get when we start talking about history and civics education. I want to follow up and continue asking you to dig a little deeper in with teacher prep and state standards and classroom curricula.

[00:23:57] Albert: You know, for decades K-12 US history and [00:24:00] civics has struggled with poor academic quality in those aspects. You know, what are the book’s recommendations about using primary sources, for instance, like the founding documents, landmark U. S. Supreme Court decisions, civil rights era speeches. And you mentioned reading Winston Churchill, What are some recommendations to ignite teachers and students understanding of constitutionalism, self-government, and other important ideas?

[00:24:24] Chris: Sure. Well, in the report card, one of the factors that goes into getting a good grade, if you will, on your history and civics curriculum is having some emphasis, at least, on primary sources, original documents. And a parallel effort that Pioneer has this year and next is our American Citizenship Project, which is developing and promulgating a curriculum, which does in fact focus a great deal of attention on primary sources. So, everything from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, looking at things like Patrick Henry, Common Sense and on and Thomas Paine’s work and everyone else.

[00:25:02] Chris: You want to do that because there’s really no substitute for it. There are a tremendous number of really solid scholars, you know, who have made names for themselves throughout our history as scholars of the American founding and some of those names. the late great Bernard Bailyn, David Hackett Fisher, another one, of course, Shelby Foote’s Trilogy of the American Civil War, which is perhaps best described as the American Iliad, and it’s an extraordinary. And all of these are works which are as true as possible — they get you as close as possible — to the original sources because they’re built directly on them. There’s some interpretation, of course, that’s what historians do, but there’s no distortion, I think. They look at it wide eyed and really with a fair, open mind. And I’ve read quite a few of those authors and learned a great deal about them and really come to some startling realizations about the American Revolution, for example, as being more than just one revolution. It was really a series of revolutions in New England and then in the Middle Atlantic states and in the South. And the nature of the war changes, the nature of the conflict changes, and each area of the U.S. The different colonies had really different interests. When you look at it through that perspective, the lens of a really great historian, you come to a new understanding. It’s less likely, I think, if you’re looking at it through a textbook that has been kind of homogenized and pasteurized and distributed through a major publisher in order to satisfy everyone. There’s a real value in tackling those original sources and having students, of course, in a grade-appropriate way.

[00:26:38] Chris: You don’t want to drop the entire Federalist Papers on someone, I imagine. But selections from them. You know, certainly, and sometimes you may need to translate the language because what, you know, Hamilton and Madison and Jay were writing in 1788 doesn’t quite resonate with what a lot of young people, the way they speak today.

[00:26:57] Chris: And I mean, I have a copy, it sits on my bedside and I dip into The Federalist Papers from time to time. It’s a strange habit I have. And it’s tough going. I mean, some of that language is pretty dated and you have to read it again and you’re tired and you’re like, what exactly are they saying here?

[00:27:12] Chris: So, the role of a great teacher, of course, is to serve as a guide to that, but if you have those original sources near to hand and make them available to students, that really is a great way to get them inspired, rather than trying to, say, get through the book. We’ve all had that experience, right? Grade school or high school. And it’s like, Oh, we have to get through the book this year. We didn’t get to chapter 10 or we only got to chapter eight this year, we were somehow failures. But I think that’s the wrong way to look at it in a course like history or civics — or really any course, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience yourself — if you inspire your student, if that student gets it and suddenly their eyes light up and they say, wow, I get that, you know, they want to know more and they start learning on their own. Once you’ve ignited that spark in them, there’s no turning back. I mean, your job isn’t done exactly, but you can say that was a good day. So that’s one way to do it, you know, to focus on primary documents.

[00:28:07] Albert: You’re talking about excellence in curriculum, high-quality curriculum. So, one of the chapters in the book called Laboratories of Democracy profiles states that have developed high-quality state history and civic standards. So, moving from curriculum to standards. And, you know, that chapter as well profile states that have had good standards and allowed them — and others who maybe have allowed them to be degraded and politicized. So, in our current contentious political environment, what are some lessons about state history standards that policymakers and education leaders need to know?

[00:28:39] Chris: That’s a great question, because everything is so politicized these days, the American political dynamic is such that if it isn’t an election year, it’s the year before an election year, which somehow counts as an election year, or it’s six months after an election, and that counts as the honeymoon period for the — whoever is in power. You begin to wonder, well, when exactly is it that we could have the conversation about a reasonable, middle of the road, balanced, comprehensive set of standards? But yes, the book does talk about some success stories. And the good news, I guess, is that we cite New York, California, Indiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Massachusetts, and you can look at that and say, Oh, red state, blue state, blue state, red state. That’s good. Because it proves one point, which is that your state doesn’t have to be all one thing or the other. It doesn’t really matter what the political leanings of the state happen to be. If a state has gone through a process that’s solid, that includes all parties, that is open to teachers and parents and experts and nonexperts, and everyone comes together in a way that doesn’t favor one special interest group over another, the result is likely to be stronger than if you just sourced it out to one group, one special interest group, and said, go for it, and they produce something and, it’s also, I think, a lesson for young people looking at this process, or teachers who may read the book, or policymakers — we hope they will read it as well — of course, having 50 states, 50 laboratories of democracy, if you will, allows America and education interests everywhere to try out new ideas.

[00:30:18] Chris: That’s the genius of the Founders, right? And if something is started in California and it proves to be a great idea, it spreads, that’s great. Other states can imitate it. On the other side of that, if you know, Florida or New York or Massachusetts try something that proves to be not so useful. Well, the damage is limited, if you will, to that one state or maybe one or two other states where it may have been imitated. So, you do have that ability to adjust the experiment in democracy and say, ‘OK, these models work. Let’s do more of them. These don’t.’ almost like an A/B test and in math and science.

[00:30:51] Chris: And one of the parts of that that I like to point to and have over the years, you know, both during my time as a journalist and afterwards in writing columns and so forth, is to focus on the Electoral College and I used to have enormous debates, of course, every time a candidate is elected with the most votes, you know, they don’t, quote, win the electoral college, which is really, or they don’t win the popular vote, rather. Of course, there’s no such thing as winning the popular vote, that’s not how we elect our presidents, but when that happens, folks immediately get upset, and they say, well, we shouldn’t have the Electoral College. I’d like to come back and say, well, do you want to be recounting every ballot in every precinct across the country?

[00:31:28] Chris: You know, there’s certain genius that went on with this. There were reasons that it was set up the way that it was in order to balance regional interests, the interests of large and small states, and to assure at least to some degree that candidates seeking to lead the country would be forced to campaign — not everywhere, that’s impossible — but at least in a variety of states, you know, rural and urban, west, east, north, and south. So, it’s just a great example of some of the things that you learn about as you study history more and more and should be part of a curriculum going forward.

[00:32:01] Albert: Yeah, I mean, you know, it sounds like an excellent chapter, and I was just perusing the table of contents and noticed that you’ve assembled quite a an excellent group of folks to basically make up this volume and so, you know, I want to bring in one of those folks, E.D. Hirsch core knowledge expert, and I think he’s probably familiar to a lot of the listeners here. So, he has a chapter titled “The Sacred Fire of Liberty,” and in it he discusses the vital importance of shared background knowledge as the basis for democratic education and for common civic purposes and actually even mentions a bit about how that why that’s important for bridging achievement gaps. Could you tell us a bit more about E. D. Hirsch’s chapter and what teachers need to better appreciate about why academic content and not simply just action civics is the best way to reestablish civics as the wellspring, so to speak, of our democracy.

[00:32:53] Chris: Yeah, I think one of first things you said in posing that question was pointed out that we had a lot of help with this book. I mean, [00:33:00] we have drawn upon the wisdom of a lot of very smart people in this book, right? Yeah. And it’s great to have those perspectives and that background it was a pleasure to edit it and put it together in one of the great, greatest reasons for that was that I got to read some words of really smart people who know a lot more about this sort of thing that I do, and E.D. Hirsch is certainly one of those people and I think because he’s been around a while, shall we say, he doesn’t take any prisoners, you know, he’s lived through a lot of this from, if you go back to A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report that sounded the alarm and his own books, Cultural Literacy, What Every American Needs to Know, he references Alan Bloom’s, Closing the American Mind.

[00:33:41] Chris: He touches a lot of the bases and the touchstones of the debate over the years, and one of the products of that kind of perspective is you come to some pretty strong conclusions. And one of those is that this is stuff you guys need to know, looking at young people and teachers and saying this trendy stuff, you know — look, there’s a place for, apps, there’s a place for video games, there’s a place for this sort of thing, videos and DVDs and all the rest along the way, but at the end of the day, you need to know some basic facts about history in order to have some, informed opinions and in order to be a good citizen of the United States, you need to know what happened. You don’t need to always agree about why it happened, but knowing who were the presidents and what century did the Civil War take place and why did we separate from England and what were some of the reasons for that? And what happened thereafter? And what was the War of 1812 about? it’s of course, endlessly rich in American history and what it has to offer young people. But if you don’t know the basics of it, or you have no idea what happened with World War I and World War II, who were the Progressives? Who was FDR? You know, why did he keep getting reelected and this sort of thing? It’s really difficult for young people to offer any kind of informed opinion about current events. You know, Charlie led off the program talking about the poll that Pioneer commissioned recently.

[00:35:01] Chris: And sure it was a small set of questions perhaps, but really woeful when you see the questions, they’re not that difficult. You know, these are things which new citizens of the U.S. have to know they have to get at least 60%. And many, I think do much better than that. They almost ace the thing because they’re very focused on becoming citizens. They still want to come to this country and become part of the great American Dream. And when you see how poorly some people perform on those, you have to wonder, how can they then go out to their town meeting? How can they go on the first Tuesday in November and cast a ballot with any assurance that they know what they’re talking about? We all want everyone to come out and vote, of course, but then when you see how uninformed some voters are, you’re like, hmm, what are we getting here?

[00:35:47] Chris: So, a bit disconcerted, shall we say? So anyway, Hirsch’s chapter really touches on a lot of those things talks about enduring truths through the ages, that content matters, that we recognize that look, there’s been some missteps along the way, you know, educators and educational establishment has spent years arguing about things like, what’s the best way to learn to read?

[00:36:08] Chris: And, you know, honestly, these debates are settled at some point, phonics works, you know, you look, say, this is the biggest picture, right? Looks/say doesn’t work as well. I understand that there are different ways of learning that different kinds of intelligence, a lot of nuance involved, but there are some basic truths that one can map out over time that aren’t difficult to grasp and that really ought to be applied. And it becomes for someone like Hirsch, I think, who’s seen a lot of this, it must be enormously frustrating, as well as to a lot of historians.

[00:36:36] Albert: Chris, I want to ask you one more question. And then afterwards, actually, if I could ask you to pick a passage from somewhere in that book you to read to our listeners. But have one more question. This last question for you and it comes from the last chapter, which is entitled learning for self-government. You alluded to this earlier. It’s provides a report card of various nationally recognized civics programs. For instance, we the people, iCivics, you mentioned Hillsdale and the 1619 Project. Could you dig into a little bit more about the greats? How some of the other programs did? Which programs did well, which ones did poorly? And explain a little bit more about why I know you touched upon this a little bit, but yeah, tell us a little bit more about this last chapter.

[00:37:20] Chris: We have a report card, which folks will find on page 148 of the book facing that chapter, Learning for Self-Government. And some of the winners, if you will, Hillsdale College’s 1776 curriculum gets an A-. The 1776 Unites curriculum gets an A. Florida’s K 12 Civics and Government Standards gets an A. The Jack Miller Center, A-, and Teaching American History from the Ashbrook Center gets an A. So those are the winners, if you will. There’s several with Bs, and then we go down to the bottom of the pile where we have Generation Citizen, which gets an F, and the 1619 Project, which gets an F.

[00:37:56] Chris: And, I hesitate to get too deep into it because it’s a subject —you look at what went into any curriculum and you have to be impressed, right? When you go to your local bookstore, whether it’s a chain or an independent, and you see how much work a historian puts into a book, even a book like The 1619 project, you’re like, wow, that’s a lot of information. And then you start reading it and you’re like, well, wait a second. You know, this doesn’t really add up. This doesn’t really jive with my understanding of what the American Founding was all about. And there does seem to be some bias here. So, it takes a lot of time to delve into these things and try to perceive what exactly is wrong with a given curriculum, because on the surface, they all look pretty good, in some ways, and they’re teaching kids stuff, right?

[00:38:41] Chris: Maybe not teaching them exactly what the vision that we want to share. But I think that if you look at the title of our book Restoring the City on a Hill and folks may, you know, look into that. There’s been a lot of talk over the years about what that phrase meant. Of course, it comes from, ultimately, from the Gospel of Matthew, but it was used in this [00:39:00] context by John Winthrop when he talked about, you know, Massachusetts would be a city on the hill.

[00:39:05] Chris: And it’s interesting, the original reference, of course, in the Gospel says that “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” You think about the phrasing of that. It can’t be hidden. Well, here in Boston, we have Beacon Hill, and it’s pretty high up. And Massachusetts has taken this leadership position over the years. So, we’re kind of on the hill, and if we’re not doing well, well, those results can’t be hidden, right? I mean, they’re out there for the world to see. When you have declines in NAEP scores and you have declines in standardized testing and schools start throwing out the SAT and they don’t want to hear about it there’s probably a reason for that. Maybe they’re a little disappointed. It’s hard to hide that. because we are there as an example. So, what we’re trying to do with this book is say, let’s restore our position. I mean, I know there’s differences, you know, between the Puritan [00:40:00] outlook and ours today — and that’s probably a good thing. The Puritans came here and they established education at some point, but their idea of freedom of religion was freedom to believe as they did.

[00:40:11] Chris: You know, they weren’t happy if you were a Quaker or, you were a witch or something else. You weren’t welcome. Over time, of course, that understanding changed, and we now view that phrase and understand that position as speaking to American exceptionalism, speaking to the idea that the United States is, was, and remains a special place, a place where folks from all over the world want to come. And they want to come here and share in the American Dream and the opportunity that we have, precisely because we are grounded in certain values, and those values include education, and free thought, free expression, so as different as we may be from three and four hundred years ago, the folks who founded the country, we have a good thing going, and it’s Pioneer’s view, and the argument set forth in this book, that getting back to those classical liberal values, if you will, is very, very important, and that you don’t get there if you let special interests call the shots. And you don’t get there if you think, well, this country is fundamentally flawed, and we just have to scrap it all and start over. That’s not what we see from immigrants

[00:41:20] Albert: Chris, I want to give you the last word and give the opportunity to read a passage that you’d like to share with our listeners from this book.

[00:41:26] Chris: Sure. So, the concluding chapter, The Enduring Wisdom of the Founders, really tries to sum up the argument of the book and dispenses or sets aside all the stats and all the report cards and the grades and all that, and talks about the movement that we’ve seen. And this is something that certainly Learning Curve listeners have become very familiar with over the last several years — is the movement towards greater choice in education empowering parents. And we talk in this chapter about concluding really with a coalition of, for, and by the people. So, I’ll read a few of [00:42:00] these paragraphs on the last page of the book. And this is talking about parents, this coalition of Americans who don’t want to wait any longer for reform. They want to grab those opportunities for their kids.

“They recognize. that filling school curricula with material that pays homage to every special interest and identity group may soothe feelings but cannot bring us any closer to understanding the causes of our national greatness. They see that more than a million immigrants come to the U.S. every year eagerly and legally, drawn here not by any light or transient cause, but by a deep yearning for the liberty they can find nowhere else. They realize that the endless debates over education cannot obscure the fundamental truth that the American experiment in democracy continues to serve. As a model to the world, above all, they understand that ensuring the future success of that experiment requires cherishing our past and teaching our history to the rising generations.”

[00:42:56] Charlie: That’s great, Chris. Thank you so much.

[00:42:57] Chris: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.