Schoolhouse Rock may be making a comeback –– or at least some of our young people may finally become educated about how our government actually works.
An editorial in The Seattle Times this week praised a new law mandating that students in Washington state take a semester-long civics course, starting in the 2020-21 school year.
Not a bad idea, since many kids these days have trouble naming even a handful of state capitals or cranking out a well-outlined term paper, never mind understanding how a bill is passed into law.
“My high school was more concerned with making society more tolerant — they didn’t really care whether we knew how government functioned,” one Boston-area college freshman told LifeZette. “Maybe they don’t really want kids to know how they can use the government for causes other than liberal ones.”
That’s about to change in Seattle.
“This is positive news for our democracy. Students who enter adulthood understanding government and their role as citizens are better equipped to participate in elections and hold officials accountable,” wrote the paper’s editorial board.
The new law, House Bill 1896, will require most students to take a separate high school civics class. Previously, students could circumvent a civics requirement by taking a variety of other social studies classes. Students who cover the topic in-depth, as part of a class such as advanced placement or international baccalaureate coursework, will be exempt.
Defined as the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, “civics” may even be making a comeback nationwide.
CommonWealth magazine reports similar legislation is currently moving along in Massachusetts, where proposed legislation is mandating that every young person engage in at least two student-led civics projects.
Still, there’s some catching up to do.
In 2011, according to The New York Times, fewer than half the nation’s eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights — you know, the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, which articulate the privileges and immunities of individual citizens.
This could help explain why so many college students today are in a perpetual fog about the meaning of the First Amendment, including free speech (even hate speech), freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and the freedom to petition the government.
The new law, meanwhile, will also require that students spend time with and complete the integrated civics portion of the naturalization test that immigrants must take before becoming citizens of this country.
Some of the items covered include American geography, federal holidays, and symbols — all things that could serve to unite a diverse populace.
It’s refreshing also to note that the bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. Laurie Dolan, a Democrat, enjoys strong bipartisan support — something all too rare these days.
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.