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New Goldwater Report Offers Path for Arizona to Save Civics Instruction

June 27, 2023

Political activists have toppled statues of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant, tried to scrub Abraham Lincoln’s name from elementary schools, and attempted to literally rewrite the story of the American Revolution to the detriment of students of every race and background—all as our children’s knowledge of the country and Constitution continues to falter.

But now, education leaders in Arizona have an opportunity to revitalize the civic literacy of our students. To that end, the Goldwater Institute is proud to announce the release of a new report, “Reclaiming the Constitution in K-12: How Arizona’s Social Studies Standards Fail to Prepare Our Students for Citizenship.”

Produced by the Institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy, the report documents the failures of Arizona’s current public school state standards to promote baseline knowledge of American civics, and offers a solution for the Arizona State Board of Education and Arizona Department of Education to reinvigorate civic literacy in Arizona.

Specifically, the report documents four broad failures of the current standards:

1. Arizona’s social studies standards omit nearly all emphasis on an understanding and appreciation of core constitutional principles. Concepts such as federalism are completely absent from high school social studies framework, leaving students unaware of core pillars such as the 10th Amendment and the primary importance of state rather than centralized political power under the Constitution.

2. Arizona’s standards fail to educate students on the global, historical roots of institutions such as slavery and American actions to eliminate it. Such absences—including the complete omission of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation in the high school standards—induce schools to instead promote revisionist narratives such as the 1619 Project that portray slavery as a uniquely American evil still defining the nation today.

3. Arizona’s social studies standards fail to ensure students are exposed to the horrors of communism and related totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Despite directing students to learn the impacts of the Cold War on “third world countries,” for instance, the standards indicate zero instruction related to the death toll or repression of populations within Marxist regimes. Such omissions leave students ignorant of the comparative prosperity and liberties secured under Western democratic capitalism.

4. Arizona’s social studies standards push activist terminology like “Latinx” and induce schools to incubate political activism among their students, rather than more disciplined civic literacy, in the form of “action civics.”

The Arizona State Board of Education now has the opportunity—working in concert with the Arizona Department of Education and entities identified by state lawmakers in recently enacted legislation, HB 2008—to undertake the revitalization of Arizona’s public school social studies and civics standards to correct these and other deficiencies.

In 2015, Arizona became the first state in the nation to require public high school students to demonstrate proficiency in civics by passing the U.S. citizenship exam,. And last year, the passage of HB 2008—sponsored by Rep. Quang Nguyen—called for the development of new civics standards and instruction on the oppression of those who have suffered under communism. As this new report documents, state education leaders now have the tools to implement such improved standards, with offerings like the National Association of Scholars’ model K-12 state standards: “American Birthright.”

Efforts to strengthen Arizona’s social studies standards must first of all recognize the fundamental importance of choice and variation in the state’s education landscape. It is essential that public schools, which include an assortment of dynamic charter school models, retain the ability to craft distinctive curricula, representing a variety of learning models—whether STEM-focused, classically oriented, or otherwise. Moreover, for the rapidly growing population of students on the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program or students otherwise engaged in private or at-home learning, government takeover of curricular programming remains a nonstarter.

Recognizing these pillars of Arizona’s education landscape, however, it is essential that state leaders ensure that publicly operated schools transmit to students at least basic knowledge of the fundamental principles of America’s constitutional republic.

As President Reagan famously declared, “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction.” Our children’s understanding and appreciation of those freedoms must not be taken for granted, and state leaders must not delay in coming to their aid.

You can read the full report, “Reclaiming the Constitution in K-12: How Arizona’s Social Studies Standards Fail to Prepare Our Students for Citizenship,” here.

The Goldwater Institute has published a new book to teach children of all ages about the inspiring principles of the American spirit and to instill a renewed appreciation for our constitutional republic. To buy a copy of “A is for the American Dream!” for your children or grandchildren, please visit here.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.



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