Do high schoolers know enough about civics?

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 4, 2019

A bill being considered at the Minnesota Legislature would require 11th- and 12th-graders to take a civics course for credit.

The proposed legislation is supported by local legislators but is being met with apprehension by Glenville-Emmons Superintendent Jerry Reshetar, who is questioning the proposed legislation based on several reasons.

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The bill would also require a civics test, including questions from citizenship tests given to immigrants seeking to become legal citizens.

“It kind of heightens the reason to teach the course, too,” said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, a co-author on the proposed legislation.

She said it is unfortunate immigrants taking the citizenship test are required to know answers to questions lifelong citizens do not know.

“Most young people would not be able to pass that test,” Bennett said. 

Reshetar said school boards should have discretion on requirements and asked how existing civics courses would factor into any proposed legislation and whether rural school districts could fill the need.

To Reshetar, students are already receiving sufficient civics instruction. He added the Legislature is placing more requirements on local school districts that sometimes need more flexibility in how they operate.

Under the bill, students could take part in experiential learning to fill the requirement, meaning they could serve as an election judge or engage in other community civics activities.

Bennett cited a National Assessment of Education Progress survey that found only one in four Minnesota graduates are proficient in civics as one reason why she supports the bill.

“Obviously the way it is being taught right now is not working,” she said.

Bennett noted the number of required civic credits would be left to school districts and said if Minnesota does not “have an engaged public, the citizens, our government is on the road to death.”

“It’s really critical that young people really understand our government,” she said.

Bennett expressed confidence the bill will pass this year. The proposed legislation has been heard in the Education Policy Committee and held over for possible inclusion in an education omnibus bill.

“It has quite a few authors,” she said.

Bennett said though she agrees with school districts that there are too many mandates, there are “dire need mandates.”

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said the bill “seems like a good idea,” and civics courses are important to high school education. He noted he has not seen all of the details of the bill.

“I would support the bill, and we’ll see where it goes from here this year,” he said.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk, a former civics teacher, said though he did not know enough about the bill to make a specific statement, he thinks students should be exposed to the workings of government, adding he believes “too many” students are ignorant on the issue.

“It’s probably a good idea that we mandate some sort of civic graduation standards,” he said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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