In addition to focusing on building students’ understanding of civically important content, Common Core articulates standards for speaking and listening that develop students’ ability to participate in democratic debate:
- Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
- Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a fair hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
These skills—analyze, delineate, evaluate, communicate, challenge ideas, promote divergent perspectives—are without a doubt valuable on college campuses as well as in many modern, knowledge-economy careers. But the deliberate choice to define these advanced literacy skills by illustrating their application to seminal texts of American democracy highlights Common Core’s dual purpose of also preparing students for the increasing intellectual demands of citizenship in a complex world.
The standards do not cover all the content or address all aspects of civics education, and they certainly are not a panacea for all that ails civics education. But the Common Core makes an essential claim regarding American education: Preparing young people for government “of the people, by the people, for the people” means more than a course in government or civics, and more than basic skills in reading and math. To enjoy the privileges and shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, young Americans must master the content and analytic processes needed to fully participate in democratic processes. While some of this is undoubtedly covered in good history and civics classes, the innovation of Common Core is to explicitly connect knowledge of the principles and rules on which American democracy is based with the development of the practical skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as in math, that students need to be discerning, empowered citizens.
Studying seminal documents of our democracy and the analytical approaches needed to deeply comprehend their meaning does not privilege any particular political position. Schools, of course, should never seek to impose or encourage fealty to any party or faction. Quite the opposite: Common Core envisions every American possessing a personal understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution so they can make their own judgments about what these documents mean.
Educating young people for citizenship should feature prominently in how we talk about and think about the Common Core. And citizenship should be part of how students are tested on the standards:, At least one writing task on the high school language arts assessment should engage students in analyzing and arguing an issue with reference to at least one foundational document of American democracy, among other texts. Taking these steps will not directly address the immediate political challenges Common Core is confronting right now. But these signals will make it more likely that states, districts, and schools implement Common Core in a way that reinvigorates the democratic purposes of public education, and this could ultimately pave a path back to bipartisan support for education policy.