Truth be told, as an SGA senator, I may be a little biased toward a push for civics classes for high school students.
However, my bias does not lessen the importance of the values civics classes instill in high school students.
A real and serious concern of mine is, “What steps are public school systems taking to ensure high school students are graduating high school as effective citizens?”
As of right now, not enough.
Make civics classes a graduation requirement.
According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, 33% of Americans cannot currently name at least one branch of the United States government.
If you couldn’t tell, this is a huge problem.
Although many students may often find government confusing, boring, and dry, civics classes provide knowledge about the fundamentals of our government while also making students better citizens and smarter voters.
Mandatory civics classes in high schools nationwide, students would introduce students to topics concerning the foundation of the United States government, American political ideologies, civil rights and liberties, and other government-related topics.
According to NPR, 27 states in their most recent legislative sessions considered bills that would expand the teaching of civics. States such as Florida currently have a half-credit government class requirement for high school graduation, according to Education Commission of the States.
Last November, the Massachusetts State Legislature signed Act S2631 into effect, which will require students to complete a hands-on civics project as a graduation requirement. It also creates a program in which student volunteers organize voter registration on their high school campuses.
The legislation also requires schools to teach specific subjects as part of civics education.
Although this bill brings Massachusetts one step closer to a more promising future for civics education, it just simply is not enough.
Yes, a hands-on project is a fantastic way to get students involved!
However, advocates for civics education, including myself, push for a different approach – guided discussions, greater involvement in student government, intensive stimulation, and actually having students interact with their legislators.
I strongly believe that school systems need to have an entire class focusing on civic engagement and not simply try to incorporate it into already existing classes. By giving civics its own class, it can grow to its full capacity and truly focus on the problem at hand – lack of civic engagement and knowledge.
Don’t get me wrong – I completely understand districts do not have unlimited resources and spending to fund civics classes, but when American citizens do not understand the basics of our government, something needs to change.
Luckily for me, I had an amazing government and politics teacher in high school who not only taught us the nitty gritty of government and politics, but taught us the importance of voting, what our vote means, and how citizens can truly make a change within the government.
One key component for proper civics education, is having enough funding. Although Act S2631 includes the Civics Project Trust Fund, which will be responsible for funding quality civic learning in Massachusetts, the main concern is getting enough money for this fund in the first place.
There is a common misconception that students are not interested in politics. Yet, teenagers are currently helping to drive the most change in our country and around the world.
We saw it after Stoneman Douglas with the March for Our Lives and again when DACA was threatened by the current administration.
Younger generations are willing to get involved in politics if they are given the chance.
With the introduction of mandatory civics classes, we will be allowing students to take ownership of their future.