(TNS) — Academic studies and surveys regularly show that large percentages of Americans know very little about civics. But more alarming is that many people aren’t afraid to display that ignorance, especially on social media, in this era of poisoned political discourse.
Part of the problem is the ongoing abandonment of civics education, which no longer is a core subject in many schools.
Some state legislatures have taken notice. In 2015 Arizona became the first state to require high school students to pass a civics test — the same one administered to immigrants seeking naturalization — to be eligible to graduate. Since then, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, West Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin have adopted the requirement. And this week, the Illinois Legislature passed a law requiring civics education in every middle school.
Pennsylvania also has upped its civics game, but only marginally so. Gov. Tom Wolf last year signed into law a bill proposed by state Rep. Karen Boback, a Harveys Lake Republican, that will require high school seniors to sit for a civics exam drawn from the naturalization test beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. To her credit, Boback wanted passing the exam to be a graduation requirement, but her colleagues watered down the bill so that the test will have no bearing on graduation or academic standing. The state thus became one of 18 that rejected civics literacy as a graduation requirement between 2015 and 2018, according to the Education Commission of the United States.
Boback was motivated partially by a 2015 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which found that 70 percent of adults were unable to name all three branches of government while believing that a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could be appealed. Almost 40 percent said that the president unilaterally could declare war.
Lawmakers should recognize the threat that civics ignorance poses to the future of the commonwealth and the nation, and mandate more rigorous civics education, culminating with passing the test to graduate.
— The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre