Lawmakers in multiple states are pushing legislation to ensure students understand how government works and to understand their responsibilities as citizens before they graduate from high school.
Massachusetts lawmakers introduced a bill in mid-March – “An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement” – that would require all public schools to teach American history and civics, including topics like the election process, Bill of Rights and the functions of local, state and federal government, WWLP reports.
“We’ve had a remarkable outpouring of young people in response to the gun tragedies,” Secretary of State William Galvin told the news site. “I think that converting their anxiety, their concern, their deep passion into actual policy means making sure they understand how the process works and making sure they’re registered to vote.”
Lawmakers, educators, and students alike recognize the urgency of these concerns. For students school shootings are perceived as a life or death issue, for others democratic vitality hangs in the balance. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture recommend that at times like this it is wise to take a step back and ask “How should we think about the moral formation of children today? What is the path and process by which children are formed as well-integrated individuals who are caring, honest, and trustworthy—healthy human beings living virtuous and meaningful lives as civically minded and committed members of a just community?”
Senate Bill 2355, currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would not require students to pass a civics exam, but would require two student-led civics projects, a requirement that would go into effect for freshman next year.
In Florida, a Constitution Revision Commission is recommending a proposal to inject additional language into Article IX of the state constitution that requires the legislature to educate students about civics.
“As education is essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the legislature shall provide by law for the promotion of civic literacy in order to ensure that students enrolled in public education understand and are prepared to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a constitutional democracy,” the Florida recommendation reads.
The sponsor of the legislation, former state Senate president Don Gaetz, told the Tampa Bay Times the state already has a law that requires schools to teach civics, and students to pass a test, but the proposal to change the constitution will ensure it stays that way.
“The Legislature changes its mind,” he said. “Especially education issues go in and out of fashion. The constitution enshrines what we don’t change our minds about.”
The Florida proposal is expected to be on the November ballot. For more discussion on creating a moral ecology in schools see the Institute’s new research study, The Content of Their Character.
For teachers and principals interested in student moral and character formation, information can be found at the UK's Jubilee Centre website.